Audience fragmentation has been a feature – perhaps a dilemma – for channel owners, schedulers and advertisers for a long time. Everyday there is a new piece of research implying everything from ‘linear TV is so over’, to ‘chill, most viewers still want, and watch, most TV on a TV in a traditional way.’
It’s no wonder that those SWOT analysis whiteboards inside broadcasters, producers and platforms are in such constant use.
I just returned from MIPCOM, where, of course, Content is King, and it is a right royal get together. But content doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and there were many presentations and panels on OTT, content everywhere and packaging strategies.
I think what emerges is that while Content may be King, there is actually a hierarchical aristocracy and the higher up you are, the more insulated you are from audience unrest.
Across all genres there are essentially two species of content: that which is Attractive and that which is Distractive. Popular live sport is Attractive – you need to come to the show (on any device anywhere, if you wish) and watch, otherwise the whole experience is hugely diminished. Almost equally, major hit drama and major hit talent shows are recreating the shared simultaneous viewing experience, even if that is driven by security fears (from the broadcaster) and social media spoiler fears (from the viewer).
Leave aside news (sadly that could be an axiom for the industry), and everything else is distraction; crying out for our attention and to distract us from another choice being offered in a bewildering cornucopia almost too big to be properly conceived. Sometimes – and, yeah, I get this is a generational thing, that content in itself has distraction built in (it’s often called engagement) with a relentless pressure on the viewer (user?) to interact. When did entertainment become such hard work?
That interaction brings us to the friction. Who are they interacting with – the channel owner, or the platform on which they are seeing it? I would say that channel owners whose content is in the distraction category (and that’s the vast majority) face real dilemmas right now about how to take their business model forward, and this was evident in some of the discussions at MIPCOM.
They want – they need – to reach their target audiences, some of whom are pretty niche, beyond the borders of the platforms they have affiliate agreements with. So, OTT versions of their content proliferate, sometimes even in the form of branded platforms carrying several of their channels or in cooperation with others. They want a direct relationship with viewers and they want to capture those viewers engagement. For now they are saying – hoping – they can manage the targeting of these propositions so there is no detriment to their pay-TV affiliates and it won’t affect their relationship. Good luck with that.
Choices will have to be made. People used to talk about bouquets of channels on offer from platforms – in the centre are the must-haves; sport, movies (for which we now substitute hit TV drama), and, perhaps, hit reality. The petals then move steadily out to the periphery, a world of make-weights mainly there to make claims of ‘100s of channels’ true.
The real duds are already going and many more will follow either killed off by tougher carriage deals, or deciding to go it alone. Before long some much better known names, who have built media empires in what has become this dangerous middle ground, will have tough decisions to make, or will have them made for them.
Of course, pay-TV operators won’t be able to pocket the savings, as the cash will be needed to point in the direction of the sole remaining items to differentiate them from OTT and, increasingly, the networks, the most old fashioned TV in the world; live sport and top quality drama.