Television for the New Generation – Dynamic Playout as Creative Art (Part 1)
We all know that traditional broadcast television is in decline. It is much, much slower than many might have thought perhaps, but in decline nonetheless. Whilst the average age of viewers increases every year, teenagers and twenty-somethings watch significantly less linear TV except for certain live shows (especially sports). For now, with the combination of catchup and VoD, together with the uncertainties of online metrics and advertising impact, broadcasters have been able to maintain their positions in terms of revenue but clearly complacency is not an option. Take for example the brick and mortar retail industry which until recently was in a similar position of gradual decline due to the impact of online shopping. While most of retailers didn’t know what to do about it, it had been a sufficiently slow enough decline that, most of them could live with it. Until now! In the UK where I live, 2017 would seem to be a watershed year for retail, and not in a good way for the high street.
Clearly in the long run, unless the younger generations can be brought back into the TV fold, sooner or later, it is a losing battle. The billion dollar question is, of course, how to do bring them back, while at the same time, holding onto the older demographic that is currently the core audience of the broadcasters?
So what are these Millennials and Generation Z’ers doing, watching and reacting to? In terms of content we have:
- Short form video such as YouTube Channels or Red Bull and medium form such as ViceTV
- They still engage in long form TV, especially for mega-productions such as Game of Thrones but almost always as catchup or VoD.
- Live or pseudo-live TV - reality shows or sports but not news
- They get their news via social networks and apps
- Whatsapp, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat for personal interaction, LinkedIn for career and business
- Facebook as well but largely as a place for consuming media but not for posting personal content
- Viral advertising or influencers far more than traditional spots
- Podcasts, with radio probably only for the car
- Gaming, whether mobile, online or consoles
Authenticity and immediateness and being able to relate and participate, are the keys to engagement. To these generations professionalism and polish are secondary (the exception being the mega-productions such as Game of Thrones).
Just as important as WHAT, is HOW they consume this media. Most of us now (and not just Milennials or Gen Z) consume multi-channel media. We watch linear TV or VOD while WhatsApping and looking at our social feeds. We use Wikipedia or IMDB for info relating to what we are watching whilst also glancing at a news feed or maybe even reading the news (those of us who are a bit older…). In a room where 2 or 3 people watch something, each experiences it in their own way because of the multiple channels and threads.! Ultimately the traditional television set in the corner of the living room has become one of many devices for consuming, or should we say interacting with, media and content. Which device is appropriate in each moment depends on both the content itself and the user context.
The characteristics for what Gen Z’s want for the new television are vastly different from what went before. They are looking for sharability, the new new thing!, surprise, user input, the radically politically correct AND the politically incorrect (depending on the situation), spontaneity, emotional connection more than narrative.
The problem facing broadcasters is how to mesh the above with what older generations want and expect, which is basically a “lean back” experience which includes:
- Ease of use. They just want to turn it on and it works. Content is easy to find, largely based on either schedules or specific already known titles if catch up or VoD
- Radio still being an important medium especially in the car
- Trustworthiness or what each perceives it to be – Fox News viewers and CNN viewers would each consider their own option trustworthy and the other not, while many younger viewers would say none of the above.
Until recently the solution that most traditional broadcasters have adopted is to simply target channels for the different demographics. The traditional flagship channels have catered for older viewers, whilst specific youth oriented channels have been created which are often theme based such as HayU, or sometimes more general such as BBC3. More latterly, some players in the industry are starting to refer to these as brands, with the intention of creating brand recognition and trust at a more intimate level than the traditional corporate logo. Many would argue that this is the easiest solution; it doesn’t require cultural change for most of the organization while allowing for flexibility and experimentation in the newer channels. However when looking at this approach one has to consider the following:-
Is this the best long term solution?
Does it resolve the basic issue of slowly declining audiences for broadcasters?
Whilst it possibly does postpone the day of reckoning, it is not the long term solution. It creates what we might call brand ghettos. They become separate silos, with little artistic cross-fertilization which results in more difficult audience sharing between these channels or brands. Broadcasters may have content that might appeal to parts of both demographics but face the dilemma as to which siloed brand to place it and how to get audiences from the other to cross over? As each channel operates almost as a separate brand entity, there may be even be disincentives to share audiences.
Does this separate brand solution help with the increasing challenges that broadcasters face around costs? Again, probably not. When each brand operates at least partly on its own, each has its own overheads, some of which could, in an ideal world, be shared. As such, Broadcasters continue to live in a channel centric world rather than a content centric world.
So, could there be another answer? In broadcast organizations, Playout is obviously one of the most important functions, it ensures that programmes go out exactly according to schedule and in the most automated, risk averse way possible, with the number one goal of avoiding the dreaded black screen! What this means is that it is a purely automated technical function with very little room for adaptation to changing context, to audience shifts and to people’s opinions. But today, technology is making it possible to, in real time, know what the audience is doing and at least to a certain extent, what it is thinking! Technology can also allow us to be far more flexible and spontaneous in what is going out to audiences while still maintaining a high level of risk avoidance. We are now in a position to create a television for the new generations but that allows the older demographics to remain in their television comfort zone.
This is to be a series of blogs that will outline a proposal for a radical new way of engaging with viewers , taking full advantage of social media, analytics, and the web, removing the shackles of traditional Playout function and releasing and whole new form of creative interactive programming responding to viewers behaviours and opinions instantly!