The radical change in viewing habits that has overtaken the media industry means that fewer and fewer people are watching scheduled broadcast TV together at home in small groups of friends or family. In fact the downward curve in this kind of ‘traditional’ viewing is so sharp that it’s possible to imagine it disappearing altogether if current trends are extrapolated.
That probably isn’t going to happen, because people still value TV as a shared experience. Certain types of content really lend themselves to viewing with others, and at a scheduled time, rather than on-demand. Premium sports events watched in a bar with other fans, for example, or the latest eagerly-awaited episode of the season’s hit drama series. Neither of these would provide the same satisfaction to a solitary viewer: sharing is part of the enjoyment.
But if the overwhelming trend among younger audiences is for highly selective on-demand OTT consumption, often on hand-held devices, how can sharing remain part of the experience?
Today’s teens and young adults are habituated, after years of intensive social media use, to interacting socially at all times, but the media industry has given them few opportunities to do this within the framework of the OTT service itself: comment and discussion on a piece of content takes place instead on the mainstream social media sites. So the direct exchange and shared experience that is possible when people gather around a screen is lost, but there’s also a lost opportunity for the service provider when audiences go to social media sites to react to content.
The discussion and interaction around content is not only gratifying to the audience; it’s also a valuable resource to the provider. By being a lot more proactive and building a platform for shared experience into their offering, providers can give increased value to the viewers. They can also use the data gathered from this interaction in many ways, to maintain a closer connection to the audience in every way.
To make this possible, Vimond has recently launched Vimond Connect, a social TV solution that integrates a discussion platform within the OTT service. It allows the audience to enjoy the same kind of experience of being in a social group while watching content and being able to carry on a conversation with other viewers. But Vimond Connect does not just weld a standard social media platform on to the service; it is specially-designed to facilitate spoiler-free interactions between viewers who may be watching a piece of content at different times. This asynchronous discussion is carefully managed so that viewers experience conversations as if all the contributors were watching simultaneously.
When a viewer posts a comment while watching a piece of content, it is anchored to that precise moment so that subsequent viewers see the comment only at the same point. If they then respond to the comment, a continuing discussion can take place even if the poster of the original comment is not using the OTT service at the time; the conversation around a piece of content can therefore take place over an extended period. With facilities that allow viewers to identify and create communities sharing common tastes and enthusiasms, Vimond Connect fosters a sense of social activity that is directly linked to the content and the service provider.
This closely-integrated social TV platform is primarily designed to recreate a sense of engagement for the viewer, but it also generates data that is useful to the service provider, and which opens up potential for new paths of interaction between consumer and provider. The service provider can for example see in great detail what types of content – and what moments within the content – are driving the most discussion and interaction. The data can disclose not only that a program is popular with a certain demographic, but also that interest peaked for an identifiable sub-group within that demographic at 17:22 into the program.
This is potentially very important for a number of reasons. The type of viewer who is very active on social media sites also tends to consume media in a highly selective way, picking key moments to view on the strength of recommendations instead of viewing the entire piece of content. The audience discussion quickly flags the points of greatest interest, so that viewers who would not otherwise consume the whole program will nevertheless dip into it to watch the parts rated most highly by their peer group.
If the service provider wants to tap into this trend and learn from the data in order to shape the content offering, that is now a possibility. There are also some very important implications for advertising, with the ability to connect directly with an audience (and even segments within the audience) at the point of most heightened engagement, knowing what it is that is causing this engagement. There is a huge opportunity for providers who can identify the right way to connect in this space.
With the Vimond Platform for online services there is already the capability to ‘heat-map’ the whole program to provide advanced ways for advertisers to reach tightly defined audience segments. For example, in a cop show where a certain brand of car is featured, a hidden or explicit opportunity can be provided to click on the car to get more information every time it’s onscreen. This completely new way of interacting with the audience is unobtrusive, but very personalised.
It also provides much more precision to advertisers in the context of an audience that cherry-picks a few moments from a show, based on community recommendations. Let’s say a motor manufacturer sponsors a show in which the car is onscreen for a total of 12 minutes, but an identifiable proportion of audience only consumes 90 seconds of that show. With a solution that tracks exactly what the audience figures are for every second of the show, the sponsor can see how many have connected with the sequences featuring the car. This could potentially give rise to a new form of metered payment model, based on audience figures and the response to click-through opportunities from targeted groups.
These and many other ways to use viewer data make the integration of social interaction into the the service highly valuable to the media provider. The ability to create a much more personalised service for the viewer, and make viewing an intrinsically social activity with the social interaction being part of the service, will lead to a profound change in the relationship between the provider and the audience.
For the major part of its history television has been a semi-monopolistic business with the broadcaster in secure possession of the frequencies, and transmitting to a more or less captive audience. Today, that position no longer exists, and it’s much easier to can supply audiences with content. But while the consumer has a vast array of choice, most of the services available have the same content, similar pricing and packaging, and providers are searching for ways to stand out with something new and different. So by offering an environment where people experience gratification not only by having the right content but also a rewarding social experience, providers can now give themselves an edge. The two great opportunities are letting people find the content they want quickly and easily, and letting them have a rewarding social experience of it.
Despite the protestations the industry makes about tackling the radical change in viewing behaviour, the evidence is that broadcasters and established media organisations don’t realise how serious the change really is. The established broadcasters, who own the segment and most of the content, still haven’t figured out a good way of bringing the social element into their offering. They are racing to launch OTT services in an attempt to retain audience share, but today it’s not enough to be just another Netflix.
It’s impossible to remain relevant and competitive as a broadcaster with a top-down, one-to-many communication strategy. It’s a two-way street now, and Vimond Connect provides the first solution that enables broadcasters to entwine social media interaction with content consumption for a service that keeps the provider and consumer in constant contact.
Helge Høibraaten, CEO of Vimond Media Solutions