CES 2019

Brands, Platform Agility Will Buoy TV’s Future

Executives from Viacom, Sling TV, Discovery and Group Nine said Wednesday at CES that holding on to audiences in a fragmented video ecosystem comes down to leveraging quality brands and embracing the platform agnosticism that their audiences already follow.

LAS VEGAS — How does a TV brand survive and thrive amid the current turbulence of fragmented audiences and proliferating platforms?

Keep a close ear to the ground as to where audiences are going, hold faith in the brand’s value as a signpost of quality and adopt an agile, platform agnostic approach to where its content is iterating, a panel of industry executives said here on Wednesday.

Nancy Daniels, chief brand officer for Discovery and Factual, said her biggest challenge for 2019 is “finding the audience and getting them what they need.”

But that audience has splintered across linear TV, cable bundles and OTT skinny bundles, not to mention social platforms where many TV brands have been courting younger demographics with bite-size content.

“In today’s world the consumer is winning because of the plethora of choice,” said Tom Gorke, head of distribution of development for Viacom. “We see a great segmentation of the audience than has ever occurred in television.”

In the noise of all that choice, “brands act as a filter or a signpost for quality,” he added, giving TV one of its best advantages in the new ecosystem.


“Having a brand means something, and that’s what’s going to ensure the future,” Daniels agreed.

But that’s not to suggest that strong brands can ensure any kind of complacency. Daniels said Discovery saw a downturn in overall ratings in 2018, its own headwinds compounded by an aging audience and programming brands that are strong, but aging themselves.

“It’s really hard right now to make a huge hit,” she said, adding a key part of her job is finding those next strong brands to sustain Discovery.

Discovering content that keeps the viewer captivated is one of the industry’s most important challenges, agreed Andre Kudelski, chairman-CEO of NAGRA. He advised broadcasters to “walk in the shoes of the viewer” by using the kind of audience analytics that digital platforms particularly offer them and adjusting programming accordingly.

TV programmers need to understand that it’s all about the storytelling, and not the platform, added Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media. “The companies that are going to be really successful will have that agnostic approach,” he said.

And that agnosticism is especially important because audiences haven’t yet settled into any fixed pattern of where they’re distributing themselves. “We’re still in the early days of where the consumer migrates,” said Warren Schlichting, group president of Sling TV.

Equally difficult will be predicting where new monetization opportunities will migrate. “Money continues to sit in the pockets it has always sat in,” Lerer said.

But he’s optimistic that cross-screen opportunities are going to be ever more appealing to marketers. “Marketers want bigger and better cross platform solutions,” he said.

Noting the healthy skepticism that digital platforms outside of established oligarchs like Facebook, Google or Amazon may never deliver a meaningful ROI for television brands, Lerer said there are hopeful signs of change.

“What we’ve learned over time is digital audiences end up spending time on a few digital platforms,” he said, rather than moving between a multiplicity of single websites. Larger platforms, for their part, are better understanding the value of premium content, and are likelier to embrace partnerships that reflect that.

OTT, too, represents a valuable front for TV brands said Sling TV’s Schlichting.  “It’s brand-safe, and you’ve got a highly engaged viewer,” he said, not mention tons of data on that viewer.

Whatever the platform, though, TV brands won’t have the option of clinging solely to their own medium to secure a healthy future.

“If you’re just sitting waiting for the TV business to get better, you’re totally screwed,” Lerer said.

Read more CES 2019 coverage here.

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