Some time back I wrote about the nature of Live Linear TV and how that continues to evolve into a better interactive experience. My assessment was that it won’t necessarily die out the way Ted Sarandos predicted. You can read the article here but I did promise to discuss how actual Live TV broadcasts are being impacted by competitors and substitutes.
Just to set the context, Live Linear TV (or just Linear TV as some call it) is a continuous broadcast of scheduled content and it may contain News or Sports-related Live Events broadcast from a venue (though it’s never really live since some countries provide censorship control and it could be delayed several seconds). So while Live Linear TV is still a relevant proposition, it is fascinating to see how the two contrasting event types are being impacted differently via online viewing.
Suffice to say, everyone knows who’s performing better. Sports is still one of the kings of content. NFL and Premier League viewing continues to be rated premium in the eyes of consumers who are vested in the idea of the interaction but prefer the lean-back view and auditory sensations. NBC Sunday Night Football was the first sports program to take the top spot of most-watched programs on US network television. And it has held that spot for three years running to 2016. Likewise, the Superbowl itself has dominated the past three years with a 110+ million viewership statistic.
Twitter did surprise many when it signed a USD10 million, 10-game NFL venture — the biggest in a slew of summer deals it signed with sports leagues, including MLB, the NBA and NHL — is likely the beginning of what will eventually become a major shift in how sports are consumed, experts say. I’m not so sure. But I don’t think the networks are shivering in their boots about this.
By contrasts, news could be struggling to stay relevant in its context. The legacy of the studio-bound newsroom watching events unfold from afar (often with a correspondent) seems too formal for viewers who want to be ‘in the moment’. With a smartphone camera and internet connectivity, Citizen Journalism is creating eye-witness moments that are disturbing, yet eerily intriguing. Combine hardware with a social media (eg. Facebook Live/Periscope) and suddenly you have a hungry audience waiting to log on when something happens live. And what is that doing to TV news broadcasts?
For now, it doesn’t seem to be such a threat. MSNBC revealed viewership growth for the week ending 6th February this year, as captured by Nielsen. The cable network reported +78 percent growth year-on-year. Similarly, Fox Business Network posted a +58 percent increase year-on-year. Is it Donald Trump attracting the headlines with his new government or are just more people tuning in to news? The NYT times seems to agree, by the way, with their report here.
Despite that, my prediction is that news channels are still under threat and will continue to evolve and embrace more citizen journalism. The notion that sometimes, citizens have better access to breaking news means mandating ways to incorporate that into their digital strategy. Whether it be Facebook Live or other outlets, it need not matter. But the statistics of FB Live speak for themselves. Buzzfeed’s countdown to the US presidential election generated over 862,000 shares and 55 million views. If that wasn’t enough, the Atlanta Buzz report on people giving police officer hugs garnered 967,000 shares and 38 million views. Even simple live casting of the NBC News electoral map update drew in 271,000 shares and 36 million views. The Facebook TV app just announced is another step towards making live video easily accessible to its users.
So while Twitter does the unthinkable and launches an app for Apple TV just to make sports viewing more social, the onus really is on OTT news services to step up before they become irrelevant. They can either work with or without social media, but in the end social media might just put them out of work instead.
How’s that history-making? Firstly, let me tell you what Astro First is. Astro First is actually what we call NVOD (Near VOD). A series of linear channels that screen movies (one for each channel) at scheduled intervals. You subscribe to the movie (and channel) of your choice within a 48 hour window period and you watch again if you have time or continue at the next slot. Users with a PVR box and no internet connection subscribe to the service via SMS.
Despite its low-tech approach, Astro First was phenomenally successful when it launched last year, primarily because it offered the convenience of viewing local movies within 2 weeks of their cinema release. Subscribers loved it as they saved money going to the cinemas and hefty additional ticket fees. We enabled it on our VOD Store this year on Byond PVR boxes with the ease of remote-enabled purchase.
However, our initiative on Facebook has huge implications: Firstly, Now ANYONE can watch Astro First titles by simply purchasing it from our Official Facebook App and watching it immediately from a PC or Mac. In fact, after making some tweaks, you can a watch it on a whole lot of mobile or tablet devices simply because we make the browser the prime viewing platform (it’s a web app, not native ‘store-based’).
Secondly, it’s revolutionary because it allows all the Facebook features like posting comments or sharing of key moments (curated by Astro) from the player page, generating interest from friends as well as ensuring much of the content inside is viralized. This actually helps content providers or studios leverage the full effect of Facebook in spreading ‘love’ for a particular movie.
Warner Bros actually made the first leap into this ‘social cinema’ experience when the Dark Knight was released 15-months ago. I believe Malaysia is the first country in Asia to try this out. It’s early days yet so we don’t expect a tidal wave of users to come in. What we expect is to delight customers with more ways for them to consume their favourite content. Currently the app is Geo-filtered so only Malaysians will be able to enjoy the service. Hopefully, this will change in the near future and enable more Malaysian movies to be viewed by Malaysians abroad.
The ‘Cutting The Cord’ momentum has been picking up steam over the last couple of year. First it started with Warner Bros announcing a potential long-term deal to stream movies over Facebook, starting with the Dark Knight. Then Miramax recently announced an FB App to stream its movies. Now Netflix has bounced back from recent criticism to announce this mega-deal with DreamWorks (get Netflix stock now!) worth at least USD30 million. The fact that DreamWorks chose the streaming method instead of continuing its Pay-TV deal with HBO is a surprise. “We are really starting to see a long-term road map of where the industry is headed,” the New York Times quoted Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, as saying.
Given that statement, is the announcement really a surprise? Netflix is going to be the dominant cord-cutting leader purely because of its audience base. It has 20 million subscribers and profits of USD161 million in 2010. It operates in 45 countries streaming its famous USD8 a month flat fee. Sure, it has rivals but none can currently compete on its decade-old proven platform to stream premium content effectively.
But Facebook will definitely become the second formidable cord-cutter. With 800 million users, most of whom are active, the idea of streaming movies for 30 Facebook credits (USD3) may prove too tempting for Hollywood studios. By virtue of being social media, the network effects of friends liking what friends are watching will create a viral solution (or called passive peer pressure), that’s unstoppable. The only problem Mark Zuckerberg faces is ensuring that a streaming service can be put into place in the social media site without major hiccups. But if he does, then watch out.
Netflix’s DreamWorks content will only start reaching customers in 2013. By then the floodgates would have opened for other content providers.
Asia-wide shouldn’t be late in following this trend because Netflix has stated that they will conquer the world territory by territory. And if not them, somebody else. Watch those Connected TVs get into the action and look-out for more intense diversification from Pay-TV content aggregators. ‘Cutting The Cord’ is a race and the content providers are front of the pack.