The companies that provide Web and mobile platforms say their TV station clients should prepare for the opportunities — and challenges — of connected TVs, enhanced social media and mobile devices that allow for content tailored to users’ profiles and physical locations. The key to success may be managing the content workflow in the newsroom.
TV stations can anticipate a digital landscape dramatically altered by connected TV, enhanced social media capabilities, geolocation and the rise of the tablet device, according to the major vendors who provide them with digital platform services.
Executives at the five biggest players in broadcast’s digital platform field — WorldNow, Inergize, EndPlay, Internet Broadcasting and Broadcast Interactive Media — say that the near future will see a further expansion in mobile devices in consumers’ lives and a greater call for a “contextualized experience” of local news sites — one customized around users’ profile information, content preferences and location. And some vendors note that these trends call for a serious overhaul of newsroom workflow.
“I think you’re going to see enhanced functionality in mobile based on how that device can be used differently from a traditional website,” says Jason Gould, senior VP and GM of Inergize Digital. “There’s geolocation, interactive elements and a number of ways you can go with mobile in terms of niche market relationships and how you target with mobile versus a traditional website.”
Gary Gannaway, founder and CEO of WorldNow, said that even the term “mobile” will have to be redefined in a world where more and more devices become Internet connected. “There’s a big migration off the desktop, but it’s not necessarily mobile because right now what is mobile will be embedded in refrigerators and appliances, at bus stops and in gas stations.”
Chief among those appliances are the connected TVs, opening up a whole new front and challenges for vendors and broadcasters, Gannaway says. “As connected TVs really start to get distribution in the marketplace, we can finally unlock the real value of video online because we can unleash it on a bigger screen. But it has to have the interactivity that is appropriate to the medium.
“A lot of our time and focus is being spent on what we believe will be a connected TV world, and where it starts — back in the newsroom — is having the integration of systems so that the same systems you use to produce your video packages today can also pull in content from the Web like Twitter and Facebook comments and related videos and build that interactive content.”
Timur Yarnall, CEO of Broadcast Interactive Media, says connected TV technology may hit the mainstream sooner than expected. “I think the TV everywhere process is only going to accelerate, and I would say the cord-cutting phenomenon has been underpublicized somewhat.
“As viewers have more and more options to watch content whenever they want, I think having a cable subscription is going to be less important and it’s going to be vital that broadcasters can deliver their content anywhere and on demand.”
That raises issues of retransmission consent dollars and how successful broadcasters may or may not be in negotiating rights to serve network programming online, Yarnall says. If they’re unsuccessful, “it’s important for them to look at developing alternative content channels.”
According to Elmer Baldwin, CEO of Internet Broadcasting, broadcasters will next need to focus on “a more contextualized, personalized experience,” drawing together the rising trends of local, mobile and social.
“Every one of our station clients has built a community, and you’re going to see those being deeper and richer relationships, whether it’s Facebook or Google Plus or within the context of their own mobile applications or their own social features or capabilities,” he says. “Those all have to be integrated and they will.”
But how might a more contextualized experience actually look to the consumer?
Baldwin cites an example of a user showing an interest in a particular political topic. The content management system (CMS) might serve up a number of related stories and content pieces around that, cross-referencing them with the user’s location to offer up geo-targeted content. “We could actually tailor the experience on the fly when you’re showing deep interest in a particular topic,” he says.
It’s a prospect seconded by WorldNow, according to Robert Forsyth, lead digital architect. “We need to be able to customize the presentation in real time at the player’s viewing point to take advantage of all these real-time conversations and interactions going on around the content itself.”
Which ultimately loops back into social media. “Broadcasters and publishers are figuring out that they have to have strong hooks into social,” Inergize’s Gould says. And for WorldNow’s Gannaway, integrating social into the CMS is a more user-friendly way for newsroom staff to foster a more interactive news environment. “You have to have technology that’s easy for the people in the newsroom to use.”
Of course, giving users access to content on a range of different devices and protocols presents its own ongoing challenges for vendors to work through. “What’s likely is that Apple’s protocol will dominate the market,” says Phillip Huyn, CTO of EndPlay, “but until that happens and it becomes the standardization out to the marketplace, how do you deal with these multiple manufacturers and being able to provide the same user experience across all of those different devices?”
Tailoring that experience to the strengths of individual devices, particularly the wildly popular tablet, presents one of the most immediate concerns for digital platform vendors, Gannaway says. “There’s a kind of sameness to so many of the interfaces that are on the iPad today, so you really want to find something to break through.”
But for the vendors who design these interfaces — and the broadcasters who use them — the race for early, engaging innovation is high stakes, Gannaway says. “I think that for the early adopters who put out a good product on mobile, the loyalty is going to be harder to disrupt.”