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The Next Episode

1 Jul, 2017 By: Nicole Urso Reed Response

What will television look like in the near future? Industry experts predict opportunities and challenges in customized, time-shifted programming.

What shows are you watching?

With so many new must-watch shows, it’s no longer assumed that friends, or even members of the same household, are watching the same ones. And even when they do, it’s not necessarily at the same time.

Streaming services and video-on-demand (VOD) offer the convenience of flexible viewing schedules, but they also sacrifice some of the fun in experiencing plot twists and cliffhangers together. Sure, there are plenty of blog, podcast, and Facebook fan destinations to digest details with others online, but they’d be ripe with spoilers for anyone a few episodes behind the pack.

So, as millions of viewers wrap up House of Cards season five, which was released on Netflix May 30, where should an aghast season two, episode one viewer turn to decompress after seeing what happens to poor, unsuspecting Zoe Barnes?

Though built for an era of highly social users, digital entertainment can be a siloed experience, especially when more and more choices come into the mix and personalized recommendations are pushed to the top. But new developments are underway to make it social again — and, along the way, marketers are finding opportunities, too.

Spoiler-Free TV

It’s the new rule of social media (and real-life) etiquette — no TV spoilers without warning. Whether it’s a personal tweet or an article posted by a major publication, it must be assumed that not everyone is caught up on major plot developments, even if they happened several episodes or seasons ago. It’s the inherent challenge of social TV. But now, a new app called TV Time offers a solution for people who want to discuss their favorite shows and watch them at their own pace.

TV Time is another step toward giving consumers exactly what they want: ultimate control over their video consumption. Led by former Myspace CEO Richard Rosenblatt, the app is — at its core — a tracking tool.

“Since our app launched close to five years ago, our community has tracked more than 5 billion episodes across 60,000 shows,” says Dan Brian, COO at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup. “We’ve got millions of people checking in 33 million times every month — mainly 18-to-24-year-olds coming in everyday to track and react via memes, video reactions, comments, and more to their favorite shows. And, we’re an agnostic platform so we collect data across all content creators and distributors, from Netflix to ABC to Hulu. No one else in the world has this data at this scale, and we want to make it available to our partners.”

Users only see comments and reactions from others who are watching shows at the same pace, so it’s 100-percent spoiler free. TV Time also creates original content — videos, articles, and podcasts — based on popular shows, and they’ve lined up celebrities from some of the top-watched series, including Lori Petty — “Lolly” from Orange Is the New Black — to jump in and engage with the community.

No specific ad products have been announced yet, but given its content and the audience targeting TV Time can achieve, it may be primed for some marketing opportunities.

“We definitely see that as an opportunity in the near term,” says Brian. “Every month, we send out more than 60 million notifications letting a person know one of their shows is coming on. That’s a highly targeted community (e.g., fans of the show Flash) and we see sponsorship or brand integration opportunities around the event. In addition to that, we’ve got an editorial team that’s producing content including podcasts, articles, and videos around these TV shows. Plus, we’ve got more than 300,000 reactions (memes, video reactions, gifs, comments) created every single month by our community. If a brand — whether it’s Domino’s Pizza or ABC’s latest show — wants to get in front of this highly sought out demo at the point they’re most engaged, we have the perfect offering.”

Mixed Media

Creating solutions that are mutually beneficial for publishers and advertisers, and keeping consumer experience top of mind, are attitudes shared by one of the eldest new-media pioneers, Hulu.

Rooted in traditional broadcast TV, the company started as a free streaming website 10 years ago and grew into a pay-TV operator, which now produces original programming and recently introduced live and on-demand TV from more than 50 channels, including news and sports streamed via internet-connected devices like Apple TV. Customized add-ons include Showtime and Cloud DVR with unlimited simultaneous recordings and the ability to stream them to supported devices.

At the same time, Hulu has enhanced the consumer product experience to make it more personalized, intuitive, and, of course, ideal for serving up relevant advertising.

“All along the way, I think the thing that set us apart was our ability to personalize our experience and our advertising,” CEO Mike Hopkins told Fortune just before the launch of Hulu’s live TV service. “Being able to offer customers advertising that’s relevant to them is something we’ve been at for almost 10 years now, and something that I think we’re getting really good at, and I think will be a differentiator for us in the future, too.”

Each streaming service provides a different experience and unique benefits for its customers. Netflix, which earlier this year crossed a milestone of 100 million subscribers, plays to its strength of original content and a huge selection of movie and TV titles.

Similarly, Amazon Prime Video, which is included in every annual $99 Amazon Prime Membership, delivers an extensive library of movie and TV titles as well as original programming. Plus, members get access to its premium music streaming service, free two-day shipping, and the option to add on channels like Showtime and Starz. Amazon is also starting to roll out live-streamed TV, and some of those subscription channels are available to watch live, making it an attractive option for cord cutters.

PlayStation Vue is another option for streamed live TV viewing and it provides access to more than 45 cable and broadcast channels, with Cloud DVR and no annual contract. And then there are the popular skinny bundles like DirecTV Now and Sling TV — pared down cable packages for the cord cutters who want affordability and convenience without long-term commitment.

As viewers migrate from traditional pay TV to these and other digital video alternatives, advertising dollars are shifting, too. According to eMarketer, digital spending will soar from $83 billion in 2017 to $129.2 billion in 2021.

“While TV will command a strong $72.7 billion in ad spending this year, increases will be sluggish through 2021, hovering between 2 and 2.5 percent each year,” according to eMarketer’s U.S. ad spending forecast for 2017. “As ad dollars are further allocated to digital, TV’s share of total spend will decline from 35.2 percent in 2017 to 30.8 percent by 2021.”

Main Streaming

It’s quickly gaining traction, but over-the-top (OTT) entertainment is a fragmented market. And while the prospect of premium video served up to an audience with detailed demographics appeals to advertisers, the question now is about scale.

In recent years, major digital brands, from Squarespace to Airbnb, have aired commercials on broadcast, network, and cable TV to reach a much larger audience than they could with online advertising alone.

“TV is still the dominant force in advertising. Streaming services haven’t caused us to make any significant shifts to our media buying,” says Peter Feinstein, president and CEO at Phoenix-based Higher Power Marketing and a member of the Response Advisory Board. “The only OTT that we’ll even consider buying is Hulu.”

Feinstein isn’t (yet) a believer in the value of much else in OTT ad products. He says it’s hard to get scale in an industry that’s so fragmented, which makes it tough to make a media buy pay off for the client. Hulu, he believes, is the exception because an impression is only counted when a commercial is watched in its entirety, “which is a very big deal,” he says.

Hulu is setting out to prove that OTT entertainment is not always a solitary experience, and that scale is perhaps even greater than the numbers show, because there are often several viewers gathered to watch a single device. According to a recent report from Julie Detraglia, vice president and head of advertising sales research at Hulu, three-quarters of viewing via a connected advice happens in the living room.

“Research from Hulu indicates that two out of three of our viewers watch with someone else at least once per week, and one in five do so daily,” Detraglia reported. “59 percent watch with a partner or spouse, 31 percent with children, another 30 percent with friends or other family members. We also know that our viewers are more likely to choose Hulu over regular TV when they are relaxing with loved ones (58 percent versus 29 percent) or when they gather with family (47 percent versus 38 percent).”

While the team at Hulu knew that people watched together, until recently it didn’t yet have the measurement capabilities to show it in the numbers. An ad impression, counted only when the commercial had been seen in its entirety, was counted in the same way as traditional models — by the screen.

“But with viewers overwhelmingly gathering in living rooms, it is mission critical to accurately measure those eyeballs,” Detraglia said. “First, to enable more holistic, consistent measurement across platforms and, second, to provide better insight for advertisers on the total reach, frequency, and efficacy of their streaming campaigns.”

“To that end,” she continued, “last year Hulu announced a partnership with Nielsen to create a solution and extend Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) to the living room. Through this solution, we can now get complete measurement of viewership to streaming campaigns across all connected devices — all verified by a trusted third-party source. Nielsen’s methodology tags, collects, and calibrates the data, leveraging Hulu’s robust first-party subscriber data and other third-party sources as the foundation for measurement. This solution represents a sea change in the way that digital streaming has traditionally been measured and a giant leap forward in the pursuit of holistic cross-platform audience validation.”

The magic of TV, Feinstein says, is that it converts prospects into customers. Going back to the fundamentals of DRTV, if a product demonstrates well, solves a problem, and can be purchased impulsively at a reasonable price point, there’s a great chance that it will resonate with a vast audience.

“I’m not a huge proponent of hyper-targeting for TV,” says Feinstein. “There is no compelling evidence that I’ve seen anybody deliver that shows me that I should be risking my clients’ money for hyper-targeting when in reality the power of television is its ability to make markets out of prospects, not out of buyers. Online, I completely understand the concept and the need for hyper-targeting.”

The audience for streaming services is undeniably growing, but in order for a few to stand out and offer the kind of significant scale that cable networks do today, Feinstein predicts a good amount of consolidation in the coming years.

“You’ll be able to buy both their first-party data as well as the integration of third-party data, and you won’t be limited into extreme hyper-targeting,” he says. “You’ll be able to open that up a little bit and have it make sense. I just need to make sure that the conversation stays open to everybody understanding that hyper-targeting is a great idea for online. It is the wrong idea for TV and video because you remove video’s power to make a market.”

In the meantime, with a variety of services offering premium and original content, and peppering in live streams, consumers are left with an abundance of choices and might need some help sifting through it all. TV Time is betting on it.

“I think Facebook and Google, the two biggest places to advertise online, have proven you can get both great targeting and great scale,” says Brian. “As marketers get smarter and brands require more data driven results, they will continue to turn online. We see this as a huge opportunity at TV Time, and our goal is to provide very targeted advertising solutions for the biggest online TV audience in the world.” ■

About the Author: Nicole Urso Reed

Nicole Urso Reed

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