EDITORIAL: THE “NEW” FUTURE OF THE TV NETWORK
May 05, 2017
The TV experience is changing as we speak. Traditional media networks are no longer the epicenter of trends, viewership or word of mouth. TV has lost the solid ground it had retained for 50 years since its inception. TV’s massive must see days are gone, Its groundbreaking message is no longer making shockwaves, Networks hegemony in certain territories is no longer a sure thing, and cable became a crazy maze of thousand of channels that are ready to be forgotten without even knowing they existed. How did all this happen and where is traditional TV going?
Let’s look at what happened in the US in mostly around the world during the last 20 years (I know many people know about this, what it’s always good to refresh our memory). While TV networks were investing in new series, competing among them and releasing content in a linear fashion as usual in the fall:
• People realized they could consume content whenever they wanted via YouTube from their computer using the Internet.
• People realized they could produce content and actually become famous and rich without even being part of the industry – in other words not traditionally famous, but a YouTube sensation. A global parallel system that created a star revolution.
• TIVO replaced the old VCR and allowed people to store massive hours of content to watch whenever they want while skipping commercials. It became the first step towards TV viewership freedom and control.
• TV series like “24” and DVRs magic gave birth to binge watching.
• Studios and networks realized people were not watching when the network wanted but rather when people wanted. Delayed rating measurements started. The problem with rating measurements seemed to be fixed and TV was “saved”.
• Blockbuster video disappeared and Netflix took over the home video business with an innovative mail-renting service.
• Cable boxes, VCRs, game consoles, and TVs got smart and YouTube made it on the TV screen together with a group of apps some named OTTs. Among them: Netflix, yes the home video-mail service.
• People started buying movies and series via iTunes and Amazon.
• Netflix took advantage of the new viewing habit and became the ultimate binge-watching streaming platform. People were not only watching movies through their online service but also their networks’ series.
• Netflix decided to produce its own original content and released all episodes at once. A breakthrough launching strategy that was tailored towards the new TV binge watching habit which disrupted the market.
• YouTube stars became true stars and began crossing over to TV. Some of these YouTube stars even rejected gigs on TV.
• Viewers’ monthly fees for on-line streaming began to finance high-end series, which became available for them to watch as they pleased.
• Other platforms popped up: Amazon, Hulu, among others. Yes, Amazon became a content creator and producer. Who would have thought!
• YouTube became the biggest platform for video content consumption globally; and for free.
• Cable subscriptions started declining. Apple TV, ROKU and other set up box solutions appeared in the market.
• Brands, more than ever started producing their own content and for their own community of followers, clients and users. They also jumped into the OTT wagon with their own channels such as Coca Cola TV and Red Bull TV.
• Millennials started cord cutting and bypassing established media platforms of distribution and opted for lean Internet TV based services to watch the content they wanted.
• Social media became an incredible promotional tool and the term viral turned out to be the holly grail for any kind of promotion. A worldwide trend in Twitter became an important live measurement for TV show success, because it was viral!…did you hear about Sharknado’s viral effect?
• Internet based content apps flourished and smart TVs brought the best of all worlds (internet, cable, terrestrial, etc.) into one single device.
• People became more in control than ever and 50 years of traditional media dominance were finally gone.
All these caused a very interesting yet alarming situation: TV programming and scheduling became quasi-irrelevant.
Despite the new state of the market, networks have not changed the way they launch and promote their programming. Even though people are already deciding what they want to see when and where (for more than 5 years already), TV networks still have their programming strategy focused on fall launches at specific times, all competing among each other in a blood bath for the attention of an elusive and gradually eroding audience that year after year seem to care less about what linear TV says.
The audience became fragmented as a result of the new technology disruption and adoption, changing forever: content consumption. Nowadays it’s very hard to find people who know exactly the time slot of their favorite TV show, and less than probable to find someone who knows or has seen all of the shows launched in the fall. While some people still pay attention to schedules many do not care anymore but instead pay attention to show names and platforms. The way they find out about a show is a real game changer. What show and what platform became the questions of choice. The days of: what channel and what time? Are gone. Launching a TV series today is more similar to launching a blockbuster film but with a platform attached.
The unfair part of this situation is that extraordinary content is being produced, with multimillion-dollar budgets, but the fight to attract an audience to watch something at a certain time in the way it happened in the 80s and 90s is no longer effective. People don’t get to see all the fantastic new series and stories being developed and produced. Series just go by unnoticed and although the brand power of the most important and established networks is still there, their power is also eroding in terms of effective content and audience reach.
Among the hundreds of shows that are launched in the fall, including networks and cable TV, many of them will not make it pass 5 episodes before getting the axe. Nevertheless, millions of people may have been interested in watching the series if their launch strategy would have been executed differently, extending as a result, its life cycle and economic outlook. Let’s remember that the success of the series in the US triggers its massive global distribution. If the series does not succeed, the series worldwide sales disappear in a heartbeat.
Obviously the audience has already spoken, they are no longer watching TV as we knew it, they are in charge and they want you to get it. They literally talk to the TV, they pick, they click, they search, they download, they pay, and they hit play.
The audience is no longer letting big established media companies decide or tell them, watch at my time schedule or don’t watch it at all.
The audience is speaking in all senses. If we see our context today and how people have found their voice to speak out loudly, we can now recall that documentary titled: ”The revolution will not be televised”. As a matter of fact it is happening over the Internet; People are speaking on line, where they feel in control and against the establishment. They want an alternate world to flourish and succeed where they feel in charge and heard.
– See recent election shockers: Brexit, Trump, anti -system reactions and sentiments. People want to demolish the status quo and traditional media is part of the status quo.
– Look at AirB&B, Uber and Lift’s success. The public is finding ways to get what they want, differently and easier while taking advantage of the connected world.
– See how the people’s darlings: Netflix and Amazon, became media firms using their subscribers financial muscle.
– Most importantly the biggest producer of content around the globe became “the people as a whole”. It is no longer Bollywood either.
– People are leading media content production, consumption, and exposition (YouTube channels).
All of these facts are anti-system, disruptive reactions. So what’s in the future for traditional media?
A new industry normal is flourishing, and it’s determined by the audience’s desire to watch TV as they please, not when TV tells them to do so. It’s no longer a secret that “on air promotions” are not the most effective tool for creating awareness. The utilization of a social dynamic multiplatform, ignited by the brand power of major media players is creating the expected content awareness. So, brand power is still the best promotional vehicle, the problem is that it now depends on your ability to embrace all platforms (social, traditional, non-traditional). Let’s say, I have this extraordinary content and I want you to tune in and watch it whenever you want to watch it. This is the new normal. Netflix and Amazon have already shown the path, but who among traditional players is going to follow?
HBO took a big step forward by launching HBO now and HBO go, and TV networks have made available their own OTT services with certain advantages so now people can stream and binge watch almost simultaneously with the linear release of the entire series. CBS all access eclipsed its traditional competition by launching the series “The Good Fight” exclusively for its subscribers. Now there is no need to DVR a series, the go, has it waiting for you.
Netflix went beyond any platform scheme and took notes from YouTube and Film studios and went global, making its launches a simultaneous hit Worldwide. One single push, and the content is available across the planet. But the content had a notable feature, it is of extremely high quality and it is very high end. In 2016, the “Narcos” series became a global sensation, not via traditional distribution like with most studios, but via the on-line global release of the series through Netflix Worldwide. Narcos’ billboards could be spotted in Madrid, London, Los Angeles and Mexico all at the same time. The same happened with “Stranger Things” and “The Crown”.
Netflix together with YouTube paved the way for a new state of the industry: Global happens now. Amazon is following and Hulu is of course on the same track. On the other hand, YouTube continued showing the world how its audience is becoming more sophisticated which means they require higher quality global content but featuring their new online-star system via YouTube Red.
With all these new global-local players creating shockwaves, where do the networks giants really stand? Where are NBC, ABC, FOX, BBC, Televisa and Telemundo?
Imagine in a no so distant future, any of these powerful brands, launching globally its new series and content in a binge-viewing model using a self-branded OTT platform with a global reach. Imagine a global NBC or ABC platform. Viewership exposure to their content would skyrocket beyond the 10 Million viewers they can expect on a good night in the US. Imagine the network, airing the series on their linear platform for just promotional purposes, repeating the same episode during the week to promote the OTT platform instead of the TV channel, so that people can get a taste of what the platform really has? People could see all the content on the platform and if they wanted they could watch the linear emission as well in the channel, which would run the series through a second window on a daily or weekly fashion. It’s like if “Stranger Things” would have been airing weekly on a network but fully available, from day one on the OTT platform globally. Could such model be possible, could that save the networks by embracing a wider audience all at once?
OTT has become a way to cut the middle-man: the distributor and the MSO. Even the advertisers have become some how irrelevant for the platforms to create and produce the content. People are paying subscription fees to access this OTT content platforms, not cable services, generating the necessary cash flow for these platforms to produce high-end, highly differentiated and out-of the box content.
So imagine if the networks started charging a subscription fee domestically and internationally for people to watch the hottest US series on their global OTT platform? What would happen if established brands such as Nickelodeon started charging to the same parents, who pay 5-dolars a month for Disney’s “club penguin”, to pay for the Nickelodeon platform globally to enjoy the launch of new kids series instantly? The channel would still exist but its purpose would be another: a promotional tool.
Is it that we are close to the collapse of traditional media platforms? Are we near the biggest shake up ever in terms of TV Channels and their geographical reach going global right away? Is this eventual model re-shuffling the base for new TV and content distribution models?
All these sound like cataclysmic consequences and impossible right now, more if we think that this could lead to the simplification and maybe disappearance of international cable channels as we know them and distribution operations all together. The change is already happening and the overlap will protect certain lines of businesses, but the audience will get angrier and angrier at the limitations and new media players will benefit and take advantage since they have nothing to lose. The non-traditional companies born as lean on-line platforms with immediate global access continue enchanting and talking to viewers rightfully letting them be in control and even financing the content they want to see.
Even though it sounds scary to pretend the content will be all in English and released globally by the biggest, the beautiful part of current events is that this is reinforcing local production of content to be placed in platforms such as Netflix (yes, once again) reaching its viewers worldwide despite limitations of language and precedence. YouTube of course reshaped the viewers’ tolerance to watch on-line events, content, movies, series, and any type of video experience from whatever is coming.
Traditional media, the system, needs to figure out how to move its gigantic infrastructure, to take advantage of their brand power to re-gain and rebuild a fan base that is bigger now than before but scattered. Geographical barriers are no longer there, and its notion is probably the one orthodoxy the industry is going to need to defeat to reinvent itself within the new media landscape.