The persistence of channels

Channels and stations have existed for almost as long as the platforms that host them. Andrew Jerina, writing in this post, believes that channels are a waste of money, given the nature of our on-demand world. The post was in relation to BBC 6Music, and he makes some valid points, but I wholeheartedly disagree that channels are redundant.

Channels still play a valuable role in the navigation, identification and selection of content and I strongly believe that channels will persist.

This response is largely centred on television and radio stations, but several of the points are equally valid to other media – particularly print.

The rise of on demand and the “emancipation” of content won’t destroy the need for channels. Content is integral, but it is not the only constituent of a channel. A channel’s identity is the sum of its distribution, content, branding and audience. And channels maintain several advantages that cannot be as easily or effectively replicated through other means.

These include:

Incumbency – As I stated in my prior review of the books 2.0 event, I dispute the notion that friction is friction. Behaviour is highly entrenched and difficult to change. We are path dependent people and will rarely end up with what might be considered an optimal solution. Instead, we move to a better situation to our current one, if we move at all. We are comfortable with navigating by channel surfing, and it is unlikely to ever disappear

Belonging – As the outcry of 6Music shows, people relate to channels. Certain channels are seen as “for me” – whether E4, Scuzz or Radio 3. This isn’t necessarily a unique strength to channels, but a strong channel identity can facilitate a more coherent and longer-lasting relationship than a programme or platform brand can.

Signifier – Near-unlimited choice is an overwhelming prospect. The paradox of choice means we can be paralysed with uncertainty over making the wrong decision. This is also why Sky and Virgin offer channels in bundles – it simplifies the choice. Channels (either individual or groups) offer a simple filter to act as a starting point. Rather than search individual programmes or personalities, we search through channels. Even then, people aren’t going to surf through 600 odd channels. We have repertoires. A strong, coherent channel brand – whether Discovery, 1Xtra or Disney, projects a certain image that can be more impactful and relevant than a genre label such as “drama” or a single programme strand.

Destination – Following on from that, a channel in itself is a destination. Rather than queuing up a selection and making individual choices, we can just turn on a channel and remain there. Families may spend an entire evening watching ITV1 and a workplace may keep Magic FM on for the entire day.

Halo – A channel brand may be strengthened by its content, but equally the programmes can benefit from the channel identity. X Factor may be huge, but would it be as huge if it were on another channel? Even if it were on BBC One, I suspect not. A content brand is never as big as a channel brand. Hence Channel Five being unaffected by the loss of House to Sky One, or Channel 4 not seeing a significant decline in audience for other programmes during the Shilpa Shetty/Jade Goody incident. Richard & Judy succeeded in changing terrestrial channels, but couldn’t take an audience with them to digital.

“Goldilocks” size – the Goldilocks principle is where something is just right – neither too hot, nor too cold. A channel is about the right size to promote its programmes – and trailer are one of the primary ways we still find out about new shows and whether we think we will like them. Most production companies won’t have the scale to cross-promote its offerings, while the competition for space at the platform level would mean that space would be dominated by those that have the resources to pay for it

Open access – channels are additive (unless the spectrum capacity has been reached). Having access to Radio 2 won’t preclude access to Radio 4. However, this isn’t the case with platforms. With a couple of exceptions – notably Hong Kong, with its fragmented media landscape – we tend to have one platform and stick with it (e.g. Sky or Virgin). Either-Or. If platforms control content, they would be more likely to prevent it being on the other platform in order to increase their own sales (Sky Sports, for example). With channels competing across and within platforms, this isn’t the case.

This has been quite a one-sided post, and of course there are drawbacks to channels. But I strongly believe they will continue.

In future, could we create our own channels? Yes we could – our systems could be highly personalised with social or semantic programme recommendations. But, as with online consumption, this can create balkanisation (which I’ve previously written about here. It also requires an acceptance of rationality and logical choices, and an element of user input to define the parameters. Things not necessarily congruous with the lean-back medium of television or the audio wallpaper of radio.

My point of view may not resonate with the online masses, who largely seem to be of the opinion that social-powered on-demand is the way of the future. I don’t think I’m a Luddite, a conservative, or a traditionalist. But for something to become not just mainstream behaviour but standard behaviour it needs to offer a clear improvement on something. And, personally, I think channels are just fine.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the-g-uk/3755118573/

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Five predictions on the future of TV

  1. Scheduled broadcast television will always constitute the majority of viewing
  2. The majority of viewing will always be passive
  3. Simultaneous social media activity will remain niche – it will primarily be a substitute for when people aren’t physically in the room with you
  4. A form of modified Pareto principle will persist (maybe not 80% of viewing on 20% of channels, but 60% of viewing on 5% of channels is believable)
  5. Watching TV on a “computer” will peak in a few years – it will be doubly squeezed by web enabled “television” and “mobile” devices

Any other predictions, or disagreement with the above?

sk

Selective reporting

I like the IAB. They’re nice people, and do good work. I’m even a member.

But… Internet overtakes TV to become UK’s biggest ad sector ?

No.

As I pointed out this time last year, their reporting is a bit disingenuous (click through to see a nice chart – a product of my ability to devote greater time to blogging).

The headline finding this year is that online represents 23.5% of all UK spending, whereas TV represents 21.9%

However:

  • Online conflates search, classified, display and email
  • Press display and classified (conveniently separated) combined account for 29.5% of ad spend
  • Display represents less than a fifth of all online spend
  • If my mental arithmetic is performing better than it was previously (no guarantee), online video advertising is about 2/3 of a % of all online advertising
  • Despite PWC auditing, the data is still ultimately self-reported. Online video spend was caveated last year because many respondents didn’t notice the change to the survey, and grouped video into display (as they had done in previous years)

There are still plenty of good stories within the data – online advertising is the only growing medium (though this is driven entirely by search).

But why let the truth get in the way of a good story.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/expressmonorail/

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Would you compromise on your TV picture?

A project I recently worked on looked at the concept of IPTV and web-enabled TV services. It was a great project that, since it was commissioned and thus proprietary, I sadly can’t go into details on. However the issues involved are fascinating, and pose some difficult questions for companies looking to operate in this space.

Background

Traditionally, TV pictures are transmitted via a designated area of spectrum. There is a finite amount of space that channels can purchase, and then their content is broadcast to anyone within range.

IPTV sees the bottleneck reversed. There is near limitless space to upload content to and then transmit, but the delivery – via broadband pipes – is finite and limited.

The issue

When we watch TV, we expect a certain standard of delivery. And our expectations are pretty high. Unlike computers -with viruses, server downtime and dodgy connections – TVs just work.We have a good, uninterrupted picture, and the hardware shouldn”t fail us.

What constitutes a decent picture on our TV sets is pretty subjective. We all have different standards, and the picture we are used to receiving depends on a couple of factors

  • Method of transmission: Satellite generally broadcasts in higher quality than terrestrial, which is more variable
  • Quality broadcast in: As well as standard definition, we have varying qualities labelled as high definition (I believe 1080p is the benchmark?), while people watching on their computers will be used to lower quality
  • Size of the screen: The bigger the TV screen, the worse the picture (in terms of sharpness) as the same amount of information is stretched over a larger area

The picture you receive becomes a problem if IPTV becomes popular. With more people using their broadband to view TV shows more often, there is a chance that the broadband will reach capacity, and that the transmission will stall or fail.

There is essentially a trade-off between the quality of the picture you receive and the likelihood that the service will fail. The lower the picture resolution, the less data is transmitted and the less chance that capacity is reached at your local broadband exchange.

FYI: In terms of the picture we currently receive; on standard TV it is 2500-3000KB/s (I don’t know the exact number). Online it is generally anything from 500KB/s upwards (though there may be services offering rates below this)

The options

A trade-off isn’t necessarily the right word, because the issue doesn’t rest on an A vs B matter. The situation could be potentially resolved by any of the following:

  • Offering IPTV at a continual lower standard than “regular” TV
  • Offering IPTV at regular definition with viewers accepting transmission may be intermittent
  • Using a technique called adaptive bit rate where the quality of a stream varies according to your broadband speed (though this could result in noticeably poor quality at times)
  • Innovating other areas of delivery, such as viewers having to partially or fully download a programme before watching
  • Forcing other programmes using the internet connection (e.g. online gaming, torrents) offline to give IPTV sole access
  • Restricting access to IPTV only to those that have a certain broadband speed (e.g. 8MB/s)
  • Restricting access to IPTV to a finite number of people on a first-come first-served basis

These all have benefits and drawbacks. But would any be acceptable to the viewing public? These measures run contrary to the trends of hi-definition pictures on massive flatscreen TVs – can IPTV take off?

Largely, it depends on what the IPTV service is. If people are buying a new service on the promise of thousands of channels, then they may be a bit disappointed to find that Youtube XL is still broadcast in grainy quality. But if it is an additional channel or service on an already existing platform (and most platforms have, or are getting, internet connectivity) then they may be more forgiving.

A solution?

What would I choose? I couldn’t stand an intermittent service and I am in favour of everyone having the right to choose. A decent picture is important when watching TV, but if I really want to watch something I will tolerate it (case in point: watching England-Andorra in 500KB/s on ITV.com). So I’d actively choose and use lower, or adaptive, quality.

Would you watch IPTV if it meant having to compromise on what you were seeing on your TV screen?

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31333486@N00/

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Links – 1st March 2009

Firstly, thanks to everyone that read, tweeted and commented upon my previous post on “Research vs Planning”. It’s dispersal backs up Ana Andjelic’s point on how word of mouth spreads through random spikes within overlapping spheres, and not through concentric circles of influence.

Reading material from the past week to consider include:

  • Noah Brier muses on ratings systems, and how we each have our own idiosyncratic interpretations of them
  • Are some brands, products and companies unsinkable? No matter how inferior or dated, they will carry on indefinitely? This look at Wimpy fast food “restaurants” would suggest that it is possible. Incidentally, I live 10 minutes away from a Wimpy and despite a nostalgic desire to visit for a lime milkshake, I haven’t yet managed it.
  • A Business Insider post contains Videojug’s ideas on why web adverts should be more like TV commercials. Essentially, they argue moving away from the print notion of wallpaper ads to a TV notion of interruptive ads. This goes against the “engagement vs interruption” advocates, but that school of thought, in my opinion, is a slightly Utopian mindset that won’t scale to the entire marketplace.
  • On a related theme, an Advertising Age blog wonders whether it is time to forget measurement in digital campaigns. A slightly misleading title, as it really refers to DR metrics, but a thoughtful post on how the internet has changed over the past 15 years, yet measurement hasn’t.
  • And finally, a couple of interviews worth reading – Robin Wright in the Guardian, and James Murdoch in More Intelligent Life

sk

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Buying online advertising alongside TV

Over the last few months, I’ve visited a lot of media agencies (nearly all of the bigger ones) with my presentation on online video on demand.

The overwhelming theme that has emerged from the presentations is that there is very little information on VOD out in the market, and that agencies are desperate for knowledge on the format.

Today’s announcement doesn’t help matters.

With such a new format, uncertainty is inevitable. Even in agency structure, it is apparent that no consensus has yet emerged. In some companies, VOD is bought by TV people; in some it is bought by digital people; in others a new team has been created specifically for the format.

Different structures lead to different conversations and different outlooks.

My number one recommendation – no matter what the set up – is for digital, TV and VOD guys (they may be the same people; they may not be) to be in continual conversation with one another.

This is because TV and VOD complement one another.

In simplistic terms, online catch-up increases reach and additional made for broadband content increases frequency/immersion/engagement.

Online doesn’t work against TV; it isn’t independent. It is positively correlated.

Furthermore, as different platforms, the advertising is consumed differently. TV is about mutual viewing and simultaneous consumption and conversation. Online is about opt-in and a high level of involvement. Reach and attention.

Therefore, those that are booking TV well in advance should look to online as a means of adding to the campaign – either incrementally or through deeper engagement.

Whichever the aim, money shouldn’t be redirected from TV to online. Campaigns shouldn’t be spread thinner. Incremental spend is required to accumulate the benefit.

Buy catch-up to increase reach. Buy made for broadband content to increase frequency and tap into the most engaged advocates of a show.

Not all agencies have this overarching level of communication across their buying teams. They should.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidclow/

PS I’m here this weekend, so there won’t be a link update.

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Scheduling online video is a good move

TV Week reports that online video providers are increasingly looking to their TV counterparts for best practice. This is a sensible approach – while the two platforms are different (and should be treated as such) there are plenty of lessons to be learned.

Find that advertisers wait for audiences before committing isn’t a major discovery, but one of the moves announced is very savvy.

Regularly scheduling transmissions is a very good move.

Benefits of online video include the asynchronous nature, letting people choose what to watch when and where they please. But unless people are aware of what is available at any given time, how will they know to consume it?

Video consumption may be impulsive (as Tania mentions in the comments to my previous post), but that impulse is prompted. It will either be driven by an external notification such as a comment or an advert, or a memory.

I’ve found that people tend to visit TV-related sites with specific content in mind. Their visit may not have been planned, but their journey is determined by the content they know is available. Few visit to generally browse – going back to a point in my previous post; it is content driven. People’s first visit to Hulu will be prompted by word of mouth, a search or a publicised piece of content (e.g. Tina Feylin). They then become aware of the variety of content on offer (living in the UK, I am very jealous), and this memory gives another reason for subsequent visits.

TV, to an extent, follows the same path. Channel-flicking is more prevalent but people do plan in advance to watch specific shows. Push factors include

  • TV Guide – people looking at a schedule to see what is on at a point where they plan to view
  • Rituals – they know their favourite shows or strands are on at the same time on a given day
  • Conversation – personal, word of mouth recommendation is a major factor
  • Adverts/Trailers/Bumpers – giving a teaser of what to expect

TV has that live, event feel to it that online video doesn’t. The mass viewing with watercooler chat is an important element of TV. Online doesn’t scale as well, but among niche groups (or tribes, as the buzz word du jour would have it) there may well be a hunger to immediately consume and deconstruct new content. And the opportunity should be provided.

rss-feed-iconTherefore, as well as a regular schedule, prompts should also be incorporated. These could be email reminders, an RSS feed, text updates or an online TV guide that incorporates web series/online video on demand. Forums may be asynchronous but they do operate to the rules of time and as proved by many commenters, there is that urge to be “first”.

This is definitely a move in the right direction. From an advertiser perspective, will it make it easier to plan? Partially, since the timings of availability are known. But there will still be the long tail of consumption well after this, as people find out about the show and catch up. (Though people will presumably watch the show in order, and so the campaign can still be progressed over time in the intended manner.)

The key is the call to action. A schedule isn’t enough – a specific prompt is vital to driving consumption. We see it with TV driving people online, and this will be no different.

sk

SIDENOTE: I see that Yahoo!’s record video views were driven by a combination of topical and viral videos. This is unlikely to be consistent as topical videos are event driven and virals are inherently unpredictable (see my work in progress typology), but it means that when a perfect storm hits, the spikes will be dramatic. Congratulations to them for a great month.

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