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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…

sk

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The four types of Online Video – which is best to advertise around?

This has been something I’ve been pondering for some time. It is still a work in progress, and feedback or suggestions are welcome.

I believe that online video can be categorised into four broad categories:

Reference – Largely, this is the how-to guides such as Videojug which relay advice and practical tips. They will have a steady, but most likely small, stream of visitors looking for specific content. For how-to, specific content is related to the genre or topic but not necessarily the producer.  I am also grouping the long tail of video on demand into this category. Arguably it could be a fifth type as the content producer is now key, but I believe the specific nature of the search is enough to group it within this category. People that watch Buffy on the WB (US only) will go there specifically looking for Buffy – few viewers will arrive there via another method with another show in mind

Scheduled – Web series and TV catch-up fall into this category. The Secret World of Sam King had a new video every weekday; the latest episode of Spooks (UK only) arrives on the iPlayer shortly after it is aired on BBC1. Similar to reference videos, people will seek out scheduled videos with the specific content in mind. The key difference is that time is now as important as a mindset, and viewers are more likely to visit after an external prompt – such as a TV guide for catch-up, or email reminder for a web series – rather than a simple desire to view.

TopicalThis differs from reference videos because they represent the long tail, whereas topical videos are the short head. TMZ will get a spike in traffic whenever a celebrity has a “moment” (such as Mel Gibson or Michael Richards), and the news sites will see growth whenever there is a major story such as an election (NB: the link refers to unique users, but the trend holds for video). Topical videos continue to get small levels of traffic in the long-term, but nowhere near the levels of when the story is breaking. Portals and news sites will be the primary vehicles for this type of video as their superior resources will ensure the fullest coverage.

Viral – Youtube’s bread and butter. A viral video can be attempted by anyone, but success is far from guaranteed. They may be corporate (Nike has a good track record at viral videos), user generated or a combination. If you ignore the fact that Youtube is now the primary mechanism to consume music for free, the top videos on the site include a stand-up show (Evolution of Dance) and a home video of a newborn and his toddler brother (Charlie Bit My Finger). Not content people would necessarily have predicted to have enjoyed the success they have done. Virals don’t seem to have many rules – they can break instantly or after bubbling under a surface; they can come and go or they can hang around.

But like Creative Commons licences, these categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Examples where content can straddle multiple categories include:

Scheduled/topical – Liam’s death in Coronation Street had three alternative endings uploaded to ITV.com after the episode showing the chosen fate aired. It received 650,000 views over that weekend

Reference/viral – the Japanese art of T-shirt folding has circled the Internet on more than one occasion

Viral/topical – political out-takes such as the Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview or John Prescott punching a protester.

Viral/scheduled – Web series such as Kate Modern that encourage interactivity

Viral/scheduled/topicalTina Fey-lin got the short head, but the long tail shows no sign of abating

Of these four broad types, which would be the best for video advertisers to target? The best choice will be campaign dependent but each format has its advantages and disadvantages

NB: A previous post of mine details the advertising options available around online video. Given the swift evolution of the medium, I may need to write an updated version soon.

Viral – these tend to have the biggest numbers but success or failure cannot be legislated for nor accurately planned. It would therefore be best for open-ended campaigns, but even then the quality or content of the viral video needs to be carefully moderated

Topical – these will be short-term so the campaign needs to be perfectly timed with an immediate call to action

Reference – likely to be special interest and so the audience will be more targeted and efficient. Good for niche brands, but the numbers may not be there for those with a more mass appeal

Scheduled – using the traditional TV model, these can be planned in advance to a greater degree of accuracy. But TV flops show that predicted audiences are an art rather than a science, and the large growth in online gives an extra degree of uncertainty compared to the gentle fragmentation of TV audiences. Scheduled content means quality can largely be vetted in advance and so the advertiser has reassurances of their investment, but this sort of model may come at a premium.

However, this premium can be justified. When asked to choose, the vast majority prefer professionally produced content to amateur work, and people are also more accepting of advertising around this content.

As an employee of a TV owner making forays into online video, I am biased but I do believe that for the most part advertising around scheduled content is the best method to use. There is nothing preventing multiple video formats being utilised (after all, each has unique advantages) but in most situations, I believe scheduled content should be the primary focus.

Viral clips may provide mass reach, but scheduled content has the advantages of

  • Easy incorporation into a media plan
  • Assurances over the quality of content
  • Acceptance from viewers willing to sit through ads in exchange for free, premium content

A “best practice” ad model is yet to emerge, but there are interesting experiments going on, and it will be fascinating to see how this develops.

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/atencion/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/

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