Established TV service providers are facing an increasingly competitive and converging marketplace, in which social media platforms and virtual platforms are angling for a slice of TV viewership. These disruptive online companies are creating affordable, flexible offerings that offer viewers easy-to-consume content on their terms.
This convergence in the TV sector has ramped up this year as Twitter announced the partners for its live-TV offering, including companies such as the NFL and the PGA Tour, which typically distribute their live content through partnerships with major TV networks in the U.S. Following the success of virtual platforms that offer skinny bundles such as Hulu and Sling TV, YouTube launched its own premium subscription offering, YouTube Red. In June, Facebook announced it would be branching into original programming, ensuring that the majority of the leading social media networks all now figure in some capacity in the TV business.
The TV sector now has many new market entrants and a vast number of ways to watch video online, so how can TV providers compete, attract and retain audiences?
The bulk of digital TV audiences are younger millennial or generation Z viewers who have grown up on a steady diet of online video via social media platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. These audiences are typically “cord-nevers” — consumers that have not had a traditional pay TV service — who instead opt for either cheap monthly subscription services or consuming online video on social media sites on a daily basis.
This popularity of short-form video is down to better mobile internet connections that mean viewers are now able to watch video clips on the go using their mobile devices. Furthermore, online short-form video combines all the action and the “wow” moment in less time and therefore becomes highly entertaining to watch.
Social Media Catching Up to Linear TV
Many social-media video platforms now have a huge reach that now rivals linear TV. For example, consumers in the U.S. spend more than 1 billion hours a day watching YouTube. This almost matches TV viewing in the U.S., which, according to Nielsen, accounts for 1.25 billion hours of TV watched and recorded each day. TV providers looking to attract digital audiences need to build offerings that appeal to the changing viewing habits, lifestyles and interests of these digital-native viewers.
While online video is appealing to younger audiences, it is also reaching a saturation point. Recently it was reported that 500 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every day. And YouTube is only the tip of the iceberg, with a host of platforms from Twitter to Twitch, Musical.ly, Snapchat and Facebook all popular places to create and upload video.
Currently, these video channels rely on algorithms to point viewers toward the most interesting or relevant content. Yet, in the case of YouTube, its algorithms still only surface a small amount of video hosted on the site. In fact, around 5% of the more than 350 million available videos on YouTube drive 95% of all views, according to online video marketing guide ReelSEO. This makes it hard for viewers to find “hidden gems” because they are not surfaced or promoted. Furthermore, while algorithms are important and useful for fast and effective search, people often crave something different from the status quo.
For TV providers, this presents a huge opportunity to be more creative with their programming. Without the editorial judgment of human producers, directors and other creatives, the sea of content across the internet is almost impossible to navigate. TV providers, though, have been providing a “lean-back” viewing experience for many years, and now it is possible to use the content that digital savvy audiences are watching online and apply this to linear programming by curating shows that showcase the best online video has to offer.
But online short-form video doesn’t just have to be collated into shows; it also offers ways for TV providers to take further advantage of digital convergence to drive engagement and market to new viewers.
Just as short-form video is easy to consume on the go via smartphones, it is also easy to share with friends over social media. Using short-form video as part of the TV experience can therefore help TV service providers to dominate the social conversation and take advantage of digital convergence and the interactive experience. For example, showing viewers a video that is captivating or entertaining is likely to drive them to then share links and recommendations with their friends.
Similarly, short-form video can be powerful when used as an add-on for existing TV services to entice younger viewers to engage. The Sky Sports service in the U.K., for example, has mixed its live offering with video apps that deliver multiple simultaneous viewpoints in motorsports, ranging from the drivers’ cockpit to the pit lanes, as well as continually available instant replay. These shots build engagement through in-the-action snapshots that capture the attention of viewers. From a business perspective, this drives more customers toward new online platforms and experiences that also offer additional revenue for broadcasters through advertising or paid services.
It is a misconception that millennial audiences don’t watch linear TV at all. This group of viewers actually covers a broad spectrum of consumers, from university students to young families. Older millennials actually watch three hours and 16 minutes of television each day, according to Nielsen, and almost another hour and a half on a TV-connected device. However, their tastes and behaviors remain different than those of older generations. TV providers must understand each life stage to serve up the right content at the right time of day.
For TV providers, convergence can work both ways. While younger audiences are increasingly watching TV online, TV providers now have the opportunity to adapt their content to appeal to the tastes and interests of these viewers. It is even possible to go one step further and for these providers to help those viewers discover on TV what they might never have found themselves online.
Curt Marvis is CEO and co-founder of QYOU Media, a licensor and curator of internet video content for distribution partners such as Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tata Sky, Liberty Global, Vodafone and T-Mobile.