TVN Special Report | TV’s Mobile Apps Embrace Customization, Notifications
Even though they’re often stuck at home now, TV news viewers are still turning to mobile apps for information, and broadcasters are striving to deliver the right content to their users and to monetize the experience.
Whether broadcasters rely on a single all-encompassing mobile app or specialized apps for news and weather, utility and a good user experience are essential. Good content supplies the usefulness while personalization and the supporting technology affect the experience. And the more the viewers use an app to engage with a broadcaster, the less broadcasters are losing out to social media platforms like Facebook, and the more the monetization possibilities increase.
Graham Media Group’s stations each offer specialized apps while ABC Owned Television Stations use a single app approach.
Graham develops its apps in-house in order to have “as much control as possible” over the ultimate user experience, says Jonathan Beard, director of digital product development at Graham Media Group.
With the idea that specialization can deliver excellence, every market has, at minimum, news reader and weather apps, but other apps are also common. In some of Graham’s markets, “the hurricane app is the most downloaded app,” he says.
The approach for ABC Owned Stations is for standalone mobile apps for the group’s eight stations because “consumers want everything in one app from the local media they trust,” says Jennifer Mitchell, SVP of content and partnership, ABC Owned Television Stations. “We believe separate apps would hurt the overall value proposition of the product itself and negatively impact the frequency and retention of the main app.”
As part of the Walt Disney Co., ABC Owned has “vast resources” available for building out apps in-house, although occasionally third-party vendors will be brought in for design or capabilities, she says.
Separate Or Single Apps?
Apps vendors are seeing a mix of requests from broadcasters.
Rodney Thompson, senior strategist for digital weather products at IBM, says clients tend to want one of three things: a dedicated weather app, weather integrated into a news app, or two apps to serve different types of viewers.
Baron Services’ Michael Mougey, VP of broadcast sales, says he’s seen a trend toward broadcasters seeking a single digital app to “unify the marketing muscle.” Yet in some locations, either the weather in their market is so severe or the weather represents a “significant monetization opportunity,” he says, that broadcasters opt to maintain a separate app for weather.
No matter whether the app is all-encompassing or specialized by topic, designed in-house or supplied as a white-labeled app, users want useful information and interesting content.
ABC’s stations have been using their mobile platforms to provide audiences with up-to-the-minute COVID-19 coverage of news conferences, as much of the video is not available on linear TV, Mitchell says.
But even if the latest news is available on the app, it does no good if the user isn’t aware of it.
Nikhil Modi, founder and CEO of Whiz Technologies, which develops apps for broadcasters and newspapers, says push notifications make it possible for media outlets to engage with their mobile app users.
During the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, broadcasters saw “a tremendous explosion in usage for both the apps and the push notifications,” Modi says. “The push notifications went out like crazy.”
These push notifications can be clicked on immediately, shared or even saved for later viewing. Analytics can also provide insight, such as who opened content, how much time they spent on it, latency between push sent and opening, percentage of opens and how many people received the push, Modi says.
Weather apps can be useful to users who have location tracking services engaged, particularly in locations where the weather can vary substantially across mere miles, says Thompson. KSL Salt Lake City offers the KSL Weather app, which has to provide accurate forecasting details for a region with two significantly different weather patterns. Using precise locations, the app is able to highlight when and where significant weather will affect a person, he says.
It “knows what’s normal for right where you are for this day and this time” and if the weather will deviate from that normal, it will “tell you if you’re going to be negatively or positively impacted,” Thompson says.
Precision and exact locations are essential, he says, because in Salt Lake, “a mile could be the difference between a T-shirt and a jacket.”
Broadcasters also use specialty apps, which can result in high engagement, Modi says. WDSU New Orleans offers the WDSU Parade App, which tracks the city’s parades, year-round.
“It has tremendous engagement when the parades are going,” Modi says.
Customization And Personalization
One of the biggest ongoing trends for mobile apps is customization.
Currently, users of the ABC apps are personalizing their mobile app experiences through specific questions about the type of content they want to see, Mitchell says, but the move to “implicit personalization” is on the road map for 2021.
“We’re constantly evolving the level of personalization we can provide,” Mitchell says. While users currently opt-in to topics, the goal is to “gather data in the background as people consume data in the app, to intelligently be able to serve up the content without asking them” to give them “a better personalized experience over all.”
She compares it to how Netflix can suggest new videos after a consumer has watched a few, and says consumers are starting to expect that type of personalization from their mobile apps.
Beard says it must be “frictionless” for users to personalize mobile apps. Too much effort, he says, and the end user hits “the frustration threshold.”
Instead of presenting too many choices at once, he says, Graham’s apps only ask for decisions when relevant, such as when a user wants to submit an image but hadn’t yet established user credentials allowing them to do anything beyond browsing content.
Over the course of 1Q 2021, he says, those who are participating in Graham’s nascent membership programs will be able to customize their experiences through the mobile apps.
End users of mobile apps provided to broadcasters through Whiz are able to customize their home page, Modi says. Two users with different topic preferences using the same broadcaster’s app would have different home views, which can benefit not just the user but also the broadcaster.
“What we’ve found from the analytics is that most people tend to be on the home page and look at things that originate on the homepage. If it is not on the home page, it is likely the user won’t know about it,” Modi says, adding that an estimated 90% to 95% of page views originate from the home page.
The technology supporting broadcaster apps figures heavily into the overall user experience.
Beard says one of the fundamentals in its digital strategy has been a solid foundation. As such, Graham has moved to the Washington Post’s Arc Publishing content management system platform and invested heavily in video infrastructure, he says.
The two efforts “massively improved page load speed and user experience, which put us in a really good place,” Beard says.
Part of the investment in video also made possible a “choose-your-view experience” that debuted as a proof of concept for the Fourth of July 2020 for the Orlando station.
“We had dozens of livestreams” from cameras capturing different aspects of Orlando’s fireworks display,” Beard says. Viewers were able to “pick and choose” from one livestream or another from a single dashboard in their app during the hours-long event. The capability is now being used in multiple markets, he says, and was recently used for the Space X launch watch party.
Keeping Users On Platform
One of the goals of mobile apps is to promote user engagement on the broadcaster’s platform rather than on social media.
While social media platforms can be useful for broadcasters, Beard says, it’s “critically important for broadcasters to recognize how vital it is for all of us as an industry to not just give our content away on other platforms,” he says. Instead, he says, broadcasters should think about judiciously using such platforms to “drive traffic to your own platform.”
Engagement on a broadcaster’s platform might come from participation in membership programs and exclusive events, “choose-your-own video” events or follow-through on push notifications. Engagement may also come through app-enabled technologies that make possible experiences similar to those on social media platforms, such as chats during a live event.
Whiz has introduced Live Chat in its apps, which makes it possible for viewers to interact with a video host through a chat window below the video. The features, he says, are similar to those on social media platforms but are within the domain of their broadcast network.
When the engagement accrues to the broadcaster rather than the social media platform, it’s possible for the broadcaster to monetize the app.
Modi says the Whiz apps can support dynamic ad insertion with no latency or loading screen, as well as initial ad pop ups when a user opens the app.
Baron’s Mougey says weather apps can be sponsored for a set period of time by a company that wanted to be seen as one that “keeps the community safe” as a “strategic philanthropy” opportunity.
While an app can be sponsored as a whole by one entity, Beard says, more often certain elements or types of sponsorships are sold. In Jacksonville, Fla., a power company sponsored a special kind of pin in the app’s map to indicate real-time downed power lines and places where storm supplies were still available, he says.
Apps “cost us money to develop and cost you to buy it,” Thompson says. “We’ve got to make it lucrative for you … they have to make a lot more money on it than they spend.”