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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“All you can eat” offers

I’ve been thinking about subscription models recently – specifically unlimited usage models.

It isn’t right for all business or all sectors, but generally they seem a good thing. Service industries, for instance, would struggle to cope with an increased demand without a commensurate increase in revenue. And premium good sellers would be reticent to participate in a model where price is to an extent commoditised.

Subscription models can be effective where:

  • The product is disposable (in the sense that it is impermanent) yet potential customers are price sensitive. Each purchase is a transaction, and this transaction requires careful consideration. People will only buy when they can guarantee they will get their money’s worth – they will generally be unwilling to risk a substandard product
  • A product suffers from a great deal of indirect competition. The customer doesn’t face a zero-sum choice in product A or product B, but has a range of alternative sectors to choose from. Growing the market is arguably more important than growing share.
  • A new product category is introduced and people aren’t aware of or don’t understand the benefits that they can receive from changing their behaviour
  • Complementary products are able to benefit from an increase in use of a separate product

Subscription services can transform industries:

  • Film rentals: No longer do people have to decide whether each title will be value for money. With an unlimited subscription from the likes of Netflix or LoveFilm, they can afford to experiment. Not only does this benefit the company, but the industry as a whole grows
  • Mobile phone packages: The mobile internet only took off when unlimited data charges were introduced. This post from Vic Gundotra of Google has some nice stats showing growth resulting from these new packages
  • The food industry originated “all you can eat” offers, but this is too short-term to create real value. People still eat a meal; they are just encouraged to eat more food. Rather it is the more long-term offers that create more value e.g. free refills encouraging people to stay in a coffee shop longer, where they then buy more snacks. I wonder if there are any examples of monthly subscriptions for restaurants? This could work well e.g. pay a monthly fee and then eat there as often as you wish.
  • While not quite “subscription”, loyalty/reward cards can help retain long term business. Chris Stephenson has a great example from Starbucks.

I have actually been persuaded to participate in two subscription services recently:

  • At Cineworld I pay £12 a month for unlimited screenings. This has changed my behaviour for the benefit of both Cineworld and the film industry. Last year I went to the cinema twice. In the past month I have been 5 times. I have purchased overpriced snacks there, but most importantly I am not cannibalising revenue. I am a new customer and I haven’t yet been to a sold-out showing – so the marginal cost of me sitting in an empty seat to watch a screening is effectively zero. A win for cinema and a loss for the other entertainment industries where I am now spending less time
  • I have paid $80 for a season’s access to MLB.TV where I can watch live, archived and “condensed” versions of every baseball game (as the regular season before play-offs is 162 games per team, that is a lot of content). I like baseball but I am not a diehard fan. However, Sky Player’s sports package (£35 a month for non-subscribers) seems overpriced for the marginal cost of adding a newuser who unable to have a dish installed in his flat. It is their prerogative to keep premium pricing, but they risk losing out to specialised services such as MLB.TV and Footyonline.TV, (£23 for a season; HT Graeme Harrison). Infrastructure and rights issues notwithstanding, could Sky not offer single sport or genre packages online, and look to upsell with additional services? That would have persuaded me to buy.

Subscriptions make me question the long-term viability of some services. iTunes has been phenomenally successful in its transactional model, but if someone gets a subscription model correct (or if Spotify can make an ad-funded model work), will that spell the end? Purely transactional models seriously inhibit overall consumption – for instance this is the primary reason why the French VOD offering is so far behind that of comparable countries (they have little free catch-up; it is predominantly pay per view). Is iTunes capping legal consumption of digital music and video?

Finally, is there scope for unlimited subscription models in research? For the large part, no. Industry currencies and syndicated surveys cater to a niche, but research is rarely objective data and the greatest value is derived from the service i.e. interpretation of results, not the results themselves. Companies such as Mintel and Forrester may be able to build a small amount of face time in their fees, and then upsell further consultancy or ad-hoc research, but for the most part I view this as a potential limitation to the core offering.

However, where there is indirect competition, a struggle to communicate benefits or opportunities to upsell complementary products, subscriptions appear to be an enticing prospect.

sk

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

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Green button advertising approaching launch

Channel 4 have announced that they are going to be marketing upcoming shows through the green button service on Sky. Sky’s own forays into green button – originally planned to launch last summer – are imminent.

The green button service is an interactive feature whereby viewers can bookmark content as they view (in real time or recorded). An advert that is interacted with – along with associated content (extended cuts, behind the scenes etc) – is downloaded onto the DTR hard-drive to be watched at a later date. It is effectively advertising on demand. This differs from red button services, which immediately transport you from the content you are watching to the interactive area.

Will it work? The idea is initially counter-intuitive. People choosing to watch more advertising? But we know from the viral/spreadable media successes that viewers can choose to watch adverts.

That is online, where people can remix and repurpose content. Will viewers interact to the same degree on TV? An article in the New York Times says that the market isn’t yet ready for internet TV due to cost, reliability and questionable demand.

But interactive services aren’t the same as having full internet capability, and viewers do seem willing to experiment. Figures from Sky show that more than 93% of digital satellite households pressed red to interact with their TV in 2007 – 16% interacting with adverts.

Although the most viewed interactive advert in 2007 was Cadbury’s Gorilla the campaigns using red button tend to be response-led, with relative success measured by requests for vouchers or for further information. Sky said that 40% of its interactive campaigns are from car manufacturers, who are able to measure sales conversion from the ads.

The appeal of green button appears less about direct response and more about branding. It is essentially viewing advertising as content consumed for entertainment. This is not going to be suitable for all brands or categories, but offers an interesting challenge to companies seeking to broaden their involvement in content marketing and storytelling.

Not only will advertisers have to convince viewers that their content is worth watching and interacting with, but with an on-demand service they also have to move from impulsive to considered consumption. I may see a potentially interesting ad and bookmark it, but will I choose to go back and watch it later?

Downloading content also contrasts with the current trend of streaming. Whether it is putting everything in the cloud, or Spotify emerging as a potential challenger to iTunes’ dominance, owning is partially being supplanted by streaming/renting. Unless I can actively edit or mash-up an advert, is there any benefit to having it stored on my hard drive?

Green button appears to be in direct competition with the Youtubes and microsites that facilitate streaming. Youtube already offers advertising-on-demand, with people able to interact with, share and comment upon advertising. The environment may not be suitable for all brands, but it is cheap. Microsites and branded areas aren’t’ so cheap, but the entire experience can be micromanaged. Green button services are going to have to find a USP that differentiates them and justifies a price premium.

That function may be targeting. I’ve already covered targeted advertising in detail but demographic information could be the pull. If Sky are able to integrate their Skyview panel information with green button, advertisers will know exactly who is viewing and interacting with their content. And that information is valuable.

It remains to be seen whether green button services can make an impact in the period before television and the internet fully integrate, but I anticipate some innovative case studies emerging in the field over the next couple of years.

And not just those looking to prove their environmentally friendly credentials by using “green” advertising.

sk

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

Online video working with TV

Far from being a replacement to the traditional broadcast model, online video acts as a strong complement. Online video can be used to increase both reach and frequency, and the highly immersive environment offers multiple benefits.

2008 was a watershed year for online video. Ever faster and more reliable broadband connections are improving the online experience, with people now more likely to view the internet as a source of entertainment as well as information. This has helped fuel massive growth in video consumption across the year, both in long form and short form video.

As online video consumption becomes more common, we are seeing an increase in diversity among those viewing. Online video is no longer the sole preserve of tech-savvy students – two thirds of the online audience aged 55 or older have ever watched a video clip, while a third have ever watched a full length TV programme.

The distinction between clips and full length content is an important one to make, as each offers a different proposition. People watching TV shows online are catching up on content that they have missed. This is not replacing TV viewing – the online experience still has some way to go before it can match the widescreen, surround sound, HD offering of the living room. It is instead about taking control of the schedule. People catch-up on content they missed – either because they were away from their TV or watching something else. This suits some content better than others. Sport and reality entertainment are about the live experience; while the frequency and habitual nature of soaps are also best suited to TV. However, entertainment and drama flourish. Particularly shows that have a strong word of mouth following or ones that are aimed at an active segment difficult to pin down to a TV schedule. Ultimately, catch-up is about improving reach.

Short-form content, such as clips of outtakes or interviews, is about increasing engagement. Those that watch additional content online are likely to be the biggest fans of a TV show and heavily invested in the plot and characters. Short clips, with instant gratification, can be enjoyed multiple times and are very social, with people sharing links and commenting on them. This level of social recommendation adds further interest for the viewer.

Online video is a different platform to broadcast television, and thus the effects of advertising change. TV benefits from the powers of event broadcasting – shared experiences among masses of people at the same point in time, creating watercooler moments. Online viewing is just as social, but it is asynchronous. With closer proximity to the screen and people actively choosing to interact with certain content, levels of attention are generally high.

Preliminary lab tests indicate that advertising around short-form clips perform stronger than long-form content in traditional advertising metrics such as awareness, affinity and purchase propensity. Furthermore, advertising around identical long-form content performed stronger when broadcast online than when broadcast on TV. This doesn’t mean that online video is better than broadcast TV. It simply means it is different. It also highlights their complementary nature. TV excels at mass reach and watercooler moments; online video has a smaller but highly engaged audience eager to share content and information asynchronously. The next step involves quantifying these complementary benefits.

sk

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

Could targeted ads work on TV?

I’ve been exploring the concept of targeted advertising on television. Loosely defined, it is the ability to purchase advertising space against a diverse array of groups that go beyond the traditional trading audiences.

This post accumulates the background information I’ve collected on the topic and speculation (mostly mine) on how theory may become reality.

Because it is such early days, I’d love to hear the thoughts of people (media side, client side, planners, buyers, researchers, interested parties) on the subject. Do you think it will work? What would you like to see and what would you like to avoid?

(Disclaimer: I have no involvement in targeted advertising – this is purely background research. This is preliminary work and any errors are fully attributable to myself).

1. Background

Traditionally, trading television advertising is a complicated beast, but Thinkbox have a gentle overview of the topic here. Essentially, there are several criteria that advertising can be bought against – channel, time of day, region (for analogue channels) and so on. Specific trading audiences can also be bought but unlike other criteria they can only be estimated.

To use a simple example, I may want to purchase 300 ratings against Women on ITV1. My advertising would be placed in shows that would be expected to deliver the required number of female viewers. However, only when BARB viewing figures become available do I know how many ratings were delivered. If ITV1 delivered more than 300 ratings that I am in debit; if they undelivered then I am in credit. The difference is carried over to the next advertising campaign I run.

However, as we all know, TV is changing. On-demand and IPTV, to give two examples, are changing the concept of what TV means.

The concept of targeted advertising emanates from this seachange. As it is still (largely) a concept, definitions are loose and the vague. Targets could theoretically be grouped according to demographics, lifestyle, behaviour, attitudes or a combination thereof. While an internet connection is the likeliest means of delivery, it is not the only option.

Whoever delivers effectively targeted advertising first will have a tremendous competitive advantage. The future is up for grabs.

2. The Players

In the UK, the platform providers are best positioned to introduce targeted advertising

In the US, Project Canoe is looking to develop consistent metrics which in theory could then lead onto targeted advertising

It is also theoretically possible for non-platform providers to offer targeted advertising. These could include

3. Strengths and weaknesses of targeted advertising

With the concept still fluid, it is difficult to come up with specific answers but broadly speaking: (NB: Several of these came from a Mediaweek piece by Barry Llewellyn of Packet Vision)

Strengths may include

  • Ability to target a more tightly defined audience – less wastage
  • Greater relevance for viewers
  • If ads are interactive, there will be greater accountability for direct response
  • Frequency of exposure can be capped
  • Advertising watersheds could be removed in adult-only homes (e.g. alcohol advertising in the afternoons)
  • May be more affordable for niche advertisers with small target audiences
  • Greater flexibility in pricing options – pay by impressions or acquisitions?

Weaknesses may include

  • The whole concept will succeed or fail on the quality of the information captured
  • Different platforms offering different options could hugely overcomplicate matters; can a consensus model emerge?
  • The current pricing model will be completely destroyed; with a near infinite number of targets a new system, such as Google style keyword auction bids, will need to be introduced and accepted
  • Similarly, how will total advertising audiences be audited? Everyone could be seeing different adverts around the same programmes. BARB would also need to be overhauled
  • No-compete clauses can severely inhibit the ability to target e.g. a beer brand may pay a premium to ensure it is the only beer brand in the spots they have identified as being key
  • Unpopular targets may get the same few ads on continual rotation e.g. will 65+ C2DE spinsters only get ads from the COI?
  • Serendipity of appealing to people outside of the perceived core audience is lost – do targeted ads have the same attraction to brand-based advertisers as direct response?

4. Potential methodologies

Largely speculation on my part, but potential ways to target ads include

  • Geographic/geodemographic information – the most basic targeting option. Homes can be targeted geographically through IP address or MOSAIC/ACORN postcode information. Geo targeting may only be attractive to local advertisers, but these could make up a long tail of demand. Alas, these methods are far from flawless. I’m a male 16-34 ABC1 (highly desirable, if I do say so myself) yet live on a council estate – would I ever see Leffe, Audi or Playstation 3 adverts?
  • Registration data – when homes purchase a new TV or set top box, they could be asked to register not only demographic information but also lifestyle/behavioural information (additional information would need to be opt-in). This gives a richer understanding of viewers beyond demographic profile, but there will be ambiguities over individual and household information and usage, and the data needs to be regularly refreshed in order to be useable (for instance, my cat may die and I may get a dog instead)
  • Return path behaviour – Interests can be inferred from the types of programmes that are watched, or the types of website that are visited. For instance, if I watch a lot of DIY shows, an ad for Ikea may be suitable. This is achievable but it is an art rather than a science. What if it is my girlfriend watching the DIY shows, not me. I could get all the DIY ads during football, and she wouldn’t get any during Hollyoaks. This type of targeting can be quite transparent and with an uncanny valley, is the method most likely to irritate.
  • Panel information – whether a panel like Skyview or an extension of BARB, a sample of viewers can be recruited, with advertising targeted around their behaviour. This could be extrapolated to all viewers through programme audience profiles or registration information. However, this would only effectively be targeting a small proportion of viewers, with the majority guesstimated. With around 35,000 Skyview homes representing over 4m households with Sky+, the level of accuracy may not be high enough.
  • Opt in system – give people the choice to submit information – either through an in-depth registration or regular surveys. By communicating the benefits, people may actively choose to receive targeted ads, creating value for everyone. This could be achievable, though the proportion of those opting in may be too small to be useful. With an opt-in, several additional steps could be taken to ensure accuracy e.g. a BARB style remote control (each viewer needs to “sign in” by pressing a button) could be introduced so advertisers know exactly which members of the household are watching.
  • Social profiles – Bringing social networking to TV – such as this BBC/Microsoft prototype – offer a lot of information that could be harvested. People like to communicate their favourites, and this could be utilised. And with users logged in to their profiles, advertisers will be sure of at least one viewer in the room. This could work – Joost is currently the number one contributor to Facebook Connect – but again, it would only be a limited dataset and a lack of take-up may prohibit effectiveness

5. Implementation

We should be seeing several prototypes and trials following in the wake of the Inuk experiment. Due to the difficulties of implementing targeted advertising within live broadcast, I believe targeted ads will initially concentrate on on-demand and interactive content (whether red button or the electronic programming guide).

There appears to be a first-mover advantage, and so the stakes are high. Virgin would seem the best placed to lead the way – the internet is already connected to the box and with subscription fees they are partially shielded from any effects to advertising revenues – but I wouldn’t rule out any of the other players leading the charge.

Indeed, the first implementation may not even be within advertising. What if I could let Sky know which sports I like and dislike, and then get a customised news ticker on Sky Sports News? I’d certainly opt into that.

6. Further thoughts

This is an early stage outline of how targeted ads appear from my perspective. I’m really keen to hear other people’s views on the subject. Do you think targeted ads will take off? What would you like to see? What problems do you envisage?

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated

sk

Image credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pbo31/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/melilab/

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Keeping up with catch-up

I don’t own a DTR (it is a heritage from working with Digital UK in the past that I persist with that name, even though most people I speak to use PVR) or DVD Recorder, and my VCR only works when the TV is turned on (it is a combo). I also happen to spend more evenings out than I do at home.

In the past, this made watching TV series difficult. Particularly with the trend towards series narratives rather than standalone episodes (am I correct in thinking that X Files was a major influence on this move?). There would be little point even attempting to watch a series.

I would end up waiting for the DVD. With a show such as Spooks, that was risky. The DVD would come out a fortnight before the new series started on TV. I would be in a race to finish the DVD before the new promo shows were published. “Who’s that person”? “Where has that character gone?”. Very frustrating.

However, that was in the past. I now have online video to catch up.

This means that, for the first time ever, I was able to keep up to date with Spooks. Indeed, I was even home last Monday night and so got to watch the final episode on TV.

And I can also look forward to watching Demons next year without worrying about whether I am home when it is broadcast.

Demons is a new drama series, and this highlights two other benefit of catch-up. Series stacking and wait-and-see.

My prior reliance on DVDs has influenced my viewing behaviour. Particularly with cliffhanger shows such as 24 or Lost, I have to watch several episodes at once.

SIDENOTE: This may be the reason why I didn’t think Series 2 and 3 of Lost were as bad as other people say. Watching 4 or 5 episodes at once dulls the effects of the odd terrible episode.

And given that I am out quite a lot, I have limited time to watch TV shows and am wary in investing in a show that turns out to be terrible.

Catch up gives me time to measure up a show through listening to reactions of critics and views. The iPlayer has enabled full series stacking for some shows (including Spooks) and the 30 day window on ITV.com and 4oD means that I can wait until 4 episodes in to decide if a show is worth watching.

I lose the “watercooler” chat the following day (for the interim period), and some spoilers may be revealed, but this is a trade-off I’m happy to make for some types of programme. Liveblogging and office banter may make Event TV shows like X Factor even more interesting, and to some extent these shows are “VOD proof”. But other shows benefit from their exposure to catch up.

For me, using VOD to catch up on a drama or comedy either that week or that series has actually led to me watching more TV. I may not be the most representative viewer out there, but this isn’t something that should be overlooked.

sk

Image credit: Me (I rent – the curtains aren’t my choice)

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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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