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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Moving TV content online complements; it doesn’t cannibalise

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/

My opinion is not as dogmatic as the title of this post might suggest, but on balance – for most shows, most of the time, at this point in time – the benefits of moving content online (both the original broadcast and additional material) outweigh the drawbacks.

1. Is there a link between the two platforms?

Firstly, to be able to complement or cannibalise, traffic for the two platforms needs to be dependent on one another.

This is plainly the case in the UK, where growth in online performance mirrors TV ratings.

Over the past year, according to Comscore, Channel4.com saw traffic spikes in January and June – when Celebrity Big Brother and Big Brother respectively were broadcast. ITV.com saw spikes in November and May. X-Factor and I’m a Celebrity… are shown in November, and the May schedules contain Britain’s Got Talent.

In addition, when asked, most people on TV websites are there for a specific reason. Some people are just browsing, or have been redirected from somewhere else, but mostly people are looking for information or content around a particular show, series or genre.

2. Won’t moving TV shows online reduce the audience that watch it on TV?

Maybe. Probably. But not certainly.

There are three main reasons for my belief that benefits of fragmentation outweigh drawbacks.

i. The Internet has a different core audience and user experience to TV. The overlap between TV and online is smaller than that between terrestrial and multichannel TV (particularly as digital switchover gets closer).

If one is worried about fragmentation, the proliferation of repeats on the same channel, the +1 channel and the digital family must surely be of greater concern.

ii. Watching TV online is about catching up; not replacement. By far the most popular reasons for watching TV shows online are that the original broadcast was missed, either because the viewer was away from the TV or because they were watching something else. Few choose online at the expense of TV.

The research that Thinkbox and the IAB carried out earlier in the year back this argument up, although their findings have to be caveated with the audience (16-54 heavy/medium Internet users with multichannel TV).

Similarly, research from the IMMI (link is a pdf that directs straight to the report) in the US indicates that few people start watching a TV series via catch-up. They initially watch via TV but move online at a later date – possibly because they missed the broadcast or because they happened to be online when they wanted to watch it.

immi-research(Click through to see a larger version of the chart)

iii. At this stage, the majority prefer watching content on TV.

The Thinkbox/IAB work found that 3 in 5 say that screen size limits their enjoyment of watching TV online. Until people figure out how to plug their Internet connection into their television, the experience isn’t going to be the same. And as TV moves ahead with high definition broadcasting, it will be interesting to see whether the online network providers can cope with matching that data quality.

Furthermore, simulcast still isn’t universal and for some shows the live experience is integral to the enjoyment of the programme.

In summary, people will continue to watch TV shows via TV if they can. But if they are unable to, moving the content online offers them a convenient opportunity to catch up at their leisure.

3. Do viewers care about additional content online?

My answer to this is an emphatic yes. One of the great things about the Internet is the low cost of experimentation, so sceptics can run mini-trials without any great outlay.

Initial wisdom suggested that this would only work for some shows. The Heroes 360 experience has been phenomenally successful, but the Heroes audience is primarily young and tech savvy. Similarly, the BBC has provided additional online content for shows such as Spooks and Doctor Who, where people can play games and find out additional plot points.

When done well, this content may be very powerful. In The Truth About Marika, the conspiracy theory was so convincing that a quarter of the show’s audience actually believed it was real.

But engaging with TV content online is becoming a mass activity. The growth of laptops has enabled people to consume TV and Online content simultaneously, as this chart from Thinkbox/IAB suggest (again clickthrough for a larger version).

If people enjoy a show, they will go online immediately to find out more about the storyline. Not just for Heroes, but for other shows. In the weekend after a major character’s death in Coronation Street, alternative versions of the death were viewed 650,000 times.

This approach has twin benefits. It rewards the biggest fans with additional information on their favourite characters and storylines. But it also creates new advocates. Casual fans consuming this content online, either by accident or design, may be won over, increasing the chances of them not only watching the TV broadcast themselves but also promoting it to their friends.

And word of mouth isn’t a bad thing to be able to harness…

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Penguin – “We Tell Stories”

Penguin we tell stories logo

It’s great when companies experiment. It is even better when the company that does the experimentation is not one that you would have necessarily expected. After all, experiments don’t always succeed. Yet, you often neeed a failure to reach a success. And it looks like Penguin may have done that.

Fresh from their experiments with a wiki novel last year with A Million Penguins (which, despite all the PR it received has gone down, I think, as a noble failure), Penguin are back with a new endeavour.

Over at We Tell Stories is the first in a series of 6 non-linear tales devised to exploit the structures of the Internet. So, in Week 1 we have Charles Cumming taking The 39 Steps as inspiration for The 21 Steps, which takes places within Google maps.

Gimmicky? Totally. But I like it and, in this instance, it works. It is short and breezy – something that one can either return to in installments or consume entirely in one go. And without giving away too much of upcoming post that I have had planned for a while (yet still not written), Penguin have really taken a step back to look at the medium and to find ways in which to maximise both its features and its constraints. For that, I applaud them.

And not content with just experimenting with the form, Penguin have gone and included a viral ARG element to the project

But somewhere on the internet is a secret seventh story, a mysterious tale involving a vaguely familiar girl who has a habit of getting herself lost. Readers who follow this story will discover clues that will shape her journey and help her on her way. These clues will appear online and in the real world and will direct readers to the other six stories. The secret seventh story will also offer the chance to win some wonderful prizes in addition to the prizes on offer on WeTellStories.co.uk, including The Penguin Complete Classics Library, over £13,000 worth of the greatest books ever written.

I will be following the progress of this with great interest.

sk