by Helge Høibraaten, CEO of Vimond Media Solutions
Covered by SCTE Broadband Journal, March 2016
Any survey of human history would highlight the importance of paradigm shifts – moments when some great change occurs to the established way of doing things. The development of writing in ancient Babylon, the introduction of dual-entry accounting systems in medieval Lombardy, and in relatively recent history, the change from sail to steam, or from horse-drawn carriage to internal combustion and the motor car. It’s a common feature of these shifts that in the early phase there is a great deal of resistance to the change. Those with a strong vested interest in the old order not only fail to acknowledge the potential of the innovative technology, but often don’t understand it at all. Stuck in the traditional chains of value, which are hard to shake loose, the old order finds it hard to see the new opportunity. And so usually, it’s the outsider who takes it.
The media industry today is undergoing one of these paradigm shifts, and like the advocates of sailing ships and horse-drawn transport, most in the TV industry have been slow to understand and accept the inevitability of what’s coming. When the idea of TV over the internet was first raised, the objections were many: the internet would not provide the capacity or be able to deliver the quality; viewers were comfortable watching the television and would not want to sit at a computer to watch; it would be too expensive to transport TV over IP; and so on.
People in the television industry are so used to dictating, and not to listening to what the audience says and what it wants. So it’s not surprising that innovation is coming from outside the broadcast industry: it’s a mental shift that’s easier for outsiders to make. If we look at the way Youtube has created – in a very simple way – a new category of social experience of video, it’s clear that there are huge opportunities for those who are prepared to be first movers.
Today’s teens and young adults are habituated, after years of intensive social media use, to interacting socially at all times, but the TV industry has given them few opportunities to do so when consuming media content. There have been some very simple interactions, such as audience voting with SMS, and these have given people a sense of involvement, leading to a whole category of shows built around the idea of audience voting.
But other than this there hasn’t been much. The industry has been talking about the second screen experience for some time, but for the most of the established broadcasters the response to this phenomenon has been to see the second screen as a way of luring the viewer back to the first screen. Nearly all of these approaches have failed, although very niche applications such as second screen apps for Tour de France viewers have capitalised on a niche audience’s enthusiasm for technical and statistical data to accompany the on-screen action.
Such examples apart, the notion that people will seek to find an app for the show that they are watching is misguided. Younger audiences are using their mobile devices while watching TV, but they are using them for activities that are completely unrelated to the TV – mostly, to stay in the loop of their social media activity, which is a crucial part of their lives.
In fact the consumption of linear TV among the young has declined so fast that the notion of using the second screen to win them back is really a blind alley. Just a few figures here can point to the scale of the shift. Research published by Morgan Stanley and others shows that in the USA, viewing of linear TV consumption among males in the 18-24 age group has fallen by 50% since 2002, and by a staggering 25% in the past 12 months.
Instead of viewing second screen as a tool for drawing these lost audiences to the first screen, the industry should be finding ways to combine first and second screen, to provide the audience with the social interaction they want, and enrich the experience on the screen where they consume the content. For young people, that’s every screen – TV, computer, iPad, phone – and they use services fairly indiscriminately across all those devices. The challenge for the industry is to switch to thinking ‘what can we do to lift that experience?’, rather than ‘how can we get this audience sector back to watching linear tv?’
In the old world of 20th century TV, the social aspect was important. You knew if you watched a show, that most people you spoke to the next day would have seen it too, at the same time as you did. Now, large sections of the audience watch alone, and consume a given piece of content at a totally different time from others.
During recent months Vimond has been trialing a social TV solution that aims to bridge the gap between the old world and today, to create the same kind of experience of being in a social group while watching TV and being able to carry on a conversation with other viewers. This solution enables viewers to discuss content asynchronously, and experience this conversation as if it were a live discussion, with all the contributors watching simultaneously. Apart from providing gratification to the audience, this system also generates data that is useful to the service provider, who can see in great detail what types of content – and what moments within the content – are driving the most discussion and interaction. In this way, greater detail is provided than ever before; the broadcaster can see not only that a program is popular with a certain demographic, but that interest peaked for a targeted sub-group within that demographic at 17:22 into the program.
Several consequences flow from this. One is the potential to satisfy the craving for instant gratification among the young. The audience discussion quickly flags the points of greatest interest, so that viewers who would not otherwise consume the whole program would nevertheless dip into it to watch the parts rated most highly by their peer group.
This leads to some very important implications for advertisers, who can potentially 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 any provider who can identify the right way to connect in this space.
With the Vimond Platform 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.
What happens if the advertiser sponsors show in which car is onscreen for 12 minutes, but an identifiable proportion of audience only consumes 90 seconds? 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. So a new form of metered payment model could arise, based on audience figures and the response to click-through opportunities from targeted groups.
For the section of today’s audience that uses social media to discuss content supplied by broadcasters and other media service operators, this discussion takes place independently of the supplier. But the discussion and interaction is re-shaping the way the content is consumed, and it’s our contention that the media service providers should be a lot more proactive in the discussion by building it in to their offering in a way that gives increased value to the viewers. By allowing the audience shape the way the content is consumed, and using the data derived from social interaction around the content and consumption patterns, service providers would be able to maintain a closer connection to the audience in every way
For a large part of its history, television has been monopolistic, with the broadcaster in secure possession of the frequencies, and transmitting to a more or less captive audience. Today, that position has been blown away, and anyone can supply anyone with content. But while the monopoly has been replaced by profusion, a lot of the services available to today’s media consumer have the same content, similar pricing and packaging, and it’s more and more difficult for them to stand out from the crowd. So if service providers can offer an environment where people experience gratification not only by having the right content but also a rewarding social experience, they give themselves a way to stand out. 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.
Media giants say they are tackling this radical change in viewing behaviour, but the evidence is that they 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.
You can’t stay relevant as a broadcaster with a top-down, one-to-many communication strategy. It’s a two-way street now. Fighting the way people want to experience the content is not the way to go forward: it’s what the music business tried to do, and the newspaper industry, and what happened to those industries should be a warning to ours.