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The End Of Live TV? (As We Know It)

Studio

Will ‘On Air’ for some soon just be ‘Online’?

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 our without social media, but in the end social media might just put them out of work instead.

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Why Live Linear Streaming is still King

netflix-samsung

Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos controversially said in October 2015 that, in 10 years time, he felt linear TV will be dead. Surprisingly, the response to that was muted except for certain observers like nscreen Media which posted an analysis to the contrary. The publication rightly pointed out that recent Pure Play OTT services that have launched with a heavy linear focus, showing it is still a valid proposition (in the context of this post, I’ll be referring it as ‘live linear’ since non-live channels that are programmed from a VOD playlist, do exist).

The industry trend has been to also introduce ‘lite’ OTT packages that actually focus on live linear streaming, catering to potential ‘cord-never’ customer segments. And don’t forget that TV Everywhere services still get great audience engagement from the linear channels that are streamed out – people want to watch TV on the go almost as much as they watch time-shifted content (from my personal working experience anyway).

But back to the Pure Play examples. These include Sling TV which was launched by parent company Dish TV, offering a variety of linear channels from Pay TV providers. Another giant weighing in is Sony Corp with Playstation Vue, which offers  a large variety of linear channels as well. Both services also provide VOD content.

Pluto.TV with lots of live linear and play-listed channels to choose from, and each with its own programmed schedule, is also making waves. The company just announced 20 new channels from content providers such as IGN, The Onion, Legendary Digital Networks, Newsy and World Poker Tour. In Europe, France’s highly anticipated Molotov service promises over 100 free and paid channels contained within a stunning user interface. It’s the latest to be launched and it definitely won’t be last.

Next year Hulu is promising a new live streaming-plus-on demand bundle designed for the younger generation. According to several reports, Hulu is negotiating with the various studios and content owners to stream ESPN, Disney Channel, Fox News, FX and others.

So it is hard to believe – from the current trend – that linear viewing is dying. The problem has not been that live linear is out-dated, live linear as we know it has not evolved into the interactive, intelligent lean-back experience it could potentially be. The Pure Play providers are proving it.

Sadly, broadcasters are still struggling to hold on to terrestrial viewing and the all-important revenues they  derive from it. Many are holding on to their golden geese of premium live sports, news channels and exclusivity. There’s no denying that these continue to represent the main reasons why people won’t churn away from TV so easily. Many broadcasters are grappling with ways to monetize TV Everywhere, especially if they are AVOD-based. It’s a constant battle to keep CPMs up.

But they should not ignore the huge potential being afforded to live linear streaming, with its ability to offer targeted advertising and interactivity. Initiatives like HbbTV promise a set of standards that result in the best of terrestrial viewing with broadband-based interactivity (ranging from companion device pairing to multi-audio and subtitling). However, the ‘h’ stands for hybrid and that is what it is: a transient state. A compromise that leverages legacy technology. Ultimately, terrestrial TV’s limitations mirrors a decaying castle under siege. At some stage it will simply give in. A fully connected world delivers too much potential to be ignored. The problem is that we don’t know when this utopian state will happen. We know that it will happen though.

Ted Sarandos was representing an iconoclasts view of the world. Ironically, Netflix has become an icon of SVOD in the way broadcast was, and still is, to the Baby Boomer generation. It’s premature to share his ebullient views but we know that live linear has a valuable place at the moment.

In my next post, I’ll even talk about why I think these two bastions of live – sports and news – are under threat. But for now, broadcasters can still breathe a little easier.

Now anyone can fly… and watch

Hunt for your downloads now. Not wi-fi networks.

Hunt for content now. Not wi-fi networks.

The big news just out is the introduction of Sky Go Extra, the successful OTT offering from UK broadcaster Sky. For a small fee of just five pounds a month, customers can now enjoy the option of downloading their favourite content for offline viewing later.

Why a lot of viewers will love this is because it satisfies the biggest complaint they have about their OTT services – the lack of service portability whilst traveling overseas. When you’re overseas, the rights to view your Pay TV subscription via OTT is usually forbidden, so that latest episode of Mad Men Season 5 will just have to wait till you fly back home. For some, it also means added costs in those darn long-haul flights where the episode or movie might be available but you have to rent a tablet just to view it (and not many of us fly business and get that tablet provided for free).

Another bonus with offline viewing is that (if the timing is right) you get to download your content in HD and play it back in HD. You’re no longer at the mercy of dodgy wi-fi networks in cafes or moving trains or even in the airport lounge that’s sharing its network with too many other users.

Operators too, might just save on CDN costs as they face more predictable consumption forecasts and manage their bandwidth commitments. The theory behind this is that you forecast a delivery to a customer just once; this is better than streaming where you need to factor in ‘replay’ or ‘repeat’ viewing behaviours.

So it all bodes well for Sky and I’m sure the addition to ARPU will be more than just marginal. To paraphrase the tagline of a home-grown airline, perhaps now anyone can fly… and watch content they’ve already paid for.

I know I’d look forward to that.

Launching On-The-Go

Astro’s foray into a multi-screen experience begins

In the previous video I shared you would have seen Irdeto’s Cedric Monier waxing lyrical about the wonders of multi-screen experiences, including great interactivity, features like ‘book-marking’ – watching a movie on one device and then taking off from where you left on the next one, and others. It was actually a great pleasure to meet Cedric when he visited Kuala Lumpur to guide Astro on its development of Astro On-The-Go (our own multi-screen product).

Well, that was months ago. Somehow, it seems like yesterday. Just two days ago we finally launched it to the media at our favourite venue again: the Double Tree Hotel. Barely 14 months after we launched Astro Byond IPTV, here we were, ensuring another product got off to the best possible start.

Astro On-The-Go aims to make watching our DTH content easy simply by allowing it to appear and be synced to our PCs, Tablets and Smartphones. Should you own an Astro Byond PVR and have access to our new VOD UI, you’ll be able to make purchases into your box. They’ll then appear on your devices too.

The current launch doesn’t include Android devices and iPhone. The latter will be targeted in the next phase over the next few weeks. That should be launched within months. But the buzz that reverberates from within the company is great and we’ve got an amazing marketing campaign that will really put it into the minds of consumers. Plus, we’re all keen to see if the VOD viewing behaviour here is just like what’s been observed in Europe and the US – that linear viewing actually consumes the bulk of video consumption online. That and many others. The journey continues.

When TVs are Smarter than Content Aggregators


As if their struggles weren’t enough, apparently it’s now going to be even harder for half the world’s population over fifty to win the battle against obesity. That’s because the new generation of Smart TV’s certainly haven’t made their job easier. Chief weight-loss adversaries include the Samsung L8000, which offers a multitude of Apps and richness in content delivery. Plus, cool Social TV interaction. I had a chance to sample its goodness when we got one in the office recently. Cool apps like Skype (must use with the Freetalk camera) make it great to use for video conferences or virtual classrooms but I also had a chance to sample the app provided by our local newspaper The Star (to see if I could avoid buying a paper copy from now on). No luck. Either the feeds went down or they intentionally want their app’s articles to just have a little more text than the headlines. Okay, maybe they want you to pay for it but it was never made explicit. The app was a tease, plain and simple, with no effort by the app owners to really provide a freshness and low-hanging fruit to port over to either the sale of a full digital copy or in-app purchase to full version.

Granted, it is probably easier to monetize video content on Connected TVs than other OTT solutions like tablets or the PC. And broadcast operators have it easier. The Netflix App is straightforward and delivers the same content. Non-broadcast media companies will find more challenges getting their Apps to be adopted and to monetize what is essentially still a new platform for them.Still, is this for a want of trying? If you can’t make a decent proposition on a Smart TV, don’t. Find a strategy or avoid the space and the hit to your reputation from a dead app. Given that app stores are getting noisier, you’ll just be adding to that. So get a product managers now and give him/her a mandate to make Connected TVs more compelling to a paying audience.

And once you do, avoid partnering up with Weight Loss centres. That’ll be a losing business for sure.