The opening session at IBC features broadcasters from around the world talking about how they’re finding ways to cut through the noise of other media — both traditional and digital — with their news, entertainment and even brand to establish themselves as a go-to destination for the content people want to consume. The panelists (l-r): David Butorac, Phillip Luff, Fran Unsworth, Thomas Riedl and moderator Ray Snoddy.
The fundamental challenge facing broadcasters in an era when an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide have smartphones isn’t all that different than the one they have faced from the beginning of television — it’s just a lot bigger and more complex.
That challenge is finding a way to cut through the noise of other media — both traditional and digital — with their news, entertainment and even brand to establish themselves as a go-to destination for the content people want to consume.
During the opening keynote at IBC 2015 in Amsterdam, “The Future Is Now — Broadcasting in An Age of Challenge,” three of four presenters —David Butorac, CEO, of Middle East and North Africa pay TV provider OSN in the United Arab Emirates; Phillip Luff, managing director, U.K. and EMEA, Scripps Networks International; and Fran Unsworth, director, BBC World Service, U.K. — each identified their unique views on tackling this and other challenges, while Thomas Riedl, head of global Android TV partnerships for Google, offered his perspective on the fragmenting market for video.
The keynote panel was moderated by British journalist Ray Snoddy.
To cut through the noise of competitors and build viewership in the face of OTT competitors like Netflix, Butorac says OSN has concentrated on developing a premium based on timeliness and technology that consumers value.
A total of 750 free-to-air television stations are available via satellite in the Middle Eastern and North African markets OSN serves. “It would be like standing here in Amsterdam and being able to watch every free-to-air broadcaster in Europe on a single box in a single language. That’s the market we operate in,” he says.
To compete, OSN differentiates itself by showcasing the best programs shortly after they have aired in the market where they originate.
“Seventy-seven of our international series were aired within 24 hours of U.S. or U.K. release,” he says.
Series like Game of Thrones and other important shows air on OSN in the same minute that they air in the United States “so that we can showcase it to the consumer in glorious high definition the minute it is showcased anywhere in the world.”
Timely delivery of first-run content plays an important role in how OSN addresses the challenge posed by Netflix and other OTT services, he adds.
“They [Netflix] offer a premium library, they don’t run off of first-run, except for the content they create for themselves. As a broadcaster what we need to do is make certain that we keep that first-run, live action happening so the OTT platforms come as an as-well-as not an instead-of platform,” says Butorac, adding that OSN has rolled out two of its own OTT services.
In a similar way, the BBC World Service faces an increasingly diverse and growing number of broadcast and new media voices with which it must compete, says BBC’s Unsworth.
For example, 15 years ago in Afghanistan there was no nationwide TV channel, but today there are 68 private stations operating, as well as a national state TV broadcaster, she says.
Before the fall of the Taliban, BBC World Service was the de facto national broadcaster in Afghanistan, reaching more than 80% of the population. Today, that’s down to just above 40%, which Unsworth calls “still very good.”
But, she added, “you can see the competitive environment, and it’s getting tougher. And it is the same story all over the world.”
In the international arena, Unsworth says remaining prominent as “new media explodes in size and diversity around us” is one of her news organization’s top challenges. “We want to be heard in that din.”
Another is reaching audiences on a diverse set of devices, ranging from shortwave radio, television and radio to smartphones and the Internet. “We want to make sure we are on that platform [the audience’s platform of choice] with them.”
It’s estimated that nearly 2.5 billion people around the world have smartphones, she says, and many are using their devices to access the BBC. “Already half of all the visitors to the World Service websites every week get there on their phones,” she says.
BBC must determine how it will “serve all of the people” as it moves forward, she says.
“Should we, for example, forget about traditional radio via transmitters and assume that radio will be something on smartphones? Should we move away from very expensive TV as people get video from all sorts of other services?” she asks rhetorically.
Pointing out that the biggest audience increase registered by the World Service came from TV news bulletins in languages other than English, Unsworth says TV and radio “are not legacy media” for the BBC.
“They are not the steam engines and typewriters of broadcasting,” she says. “They are still the best way to reach mass audiences globally.”
Scripps Networks International’s Luff says his organization “is taking in stride” disruptive technological changes like OTT.
Luff, who is responsible for Scripps’ Food Network, Travel Channel and Fine Living channels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says “the sky has not completely fallen” due to OTT. Rather, over-the-top distribution of content means “more video is being consumed than ever irrespective of what device” it is viewed on.
To the degree that this video consumption whets the appetites of viewers for the lean-back experience of actually watching television, viewing video online is a good thing, he says.
There is “a great deal of interest in video, in entertainment and information,” Luff says, “and I think that really plays to our call, which is delivering great entertainment with a lifestyle focus.”
The question for Scripps and other more traditional broadcasters is whether millennials will gravitate away from their smartphones to view content in favor of the TV as they mature.
“We are wondering what will happen when a millennial grows up” and has a family, a house and a mortgage, he says.
Google’s Riedl had a very simple message for the audience gathered for the opening keynote: “Think about how to make Grumpy Cat happy.”
With Grumpy Cat, a YouTube phenomenon projected on screen, Riedl told the audience that today’s consumers of video content are very demanding. “They use mobile phones every day,” he says. “They know what a good user experience looks like.”
Riedl says consumers have become spoiled by ease of use and ease of accessibility, and that successful consumer electronics as well as video content will have to satisfy the expectations formed by their smartphone experiences — regardless of whether the remote control has been around for 50 years.
The content market is also changing dramatically, Riedl says. “What we are seeing is a fragmentation of the content landscape.”
Smartphones delivering instant access to video content that consumers are looking for means “people [are] doing the deep dive into individual preferences.”
Riedl points to a statistic released by YouTube at BitCon in the spring as evidence that this deep dive into personal preferences is taking hold among the youth.
According to Riedl, eight out of the top 10 identified by U.S. teens were YouTubers –not Katy Perry on YouTube talking about her latest music video, but YouTubers creating content.
Despite Grumpy Cat, fragmentation in the content landscape and deep dives into videos satisfying individual tastes, the outlook for broadcasting is bright, says OSN’s Butorac.
“Bill Gates back at the turn of the century told us that our broadcast industry was dead and the Internet was taking over. Let me tell you, I think we are in exceptionally good health. And so long as broadcasters like us can take advantage of new technologies [like smartphones and OTT services], can leverage those new technologies, we think the future is very bright.”
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