Karin von Abrams
eMarketer Senior Analyst
Friends, not cannibals.
The two-day DDB conference in London, sponsored by Broadcast magazine, brought together representatives of the UK government, the BBC, BSkyB, ITV, Virgin Media and other broadcasters with executives from Hulu, NBC Universal and Google. Media agencies and consultancies also took part.
Inevitably, the spotlight was on the relationship between TV and online viewing.
First, some remarkable facts:
- Google is effectively the UK’s eighth-most-popular TV channel in terms of audience attention—and its revenue per hour is 30 times that of commercial channel ITV1. (This from Kip Meek of Ingenious Consulting Network and a consultant to the team behind the “Digital Britain” report.)
- The BBC iPlayer carried 44% of all video streams seen on UK PCs in 2008, according to David Elms, head of media practice at consultancy KPMG.
- Outright piracy is rampant. Oxford Economics calculated that in March 2009 alone, online theft of UK TV content was worth £531 million ($982 million). Moreover, 25% of all online TV piracy is estimated to take place in the UK.
So is TV at war with the Web?
Broadcasters have certainly felt hard done by, as they saw their expensive content posted online without their say-so. Ad revenues for commercial broadcasters have fallen sharply and continue to tumble. Broadcasters also feared that people viewing online would spend less time watching television.
That turns out not to be true.
Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC Universal, shared details of NBC viewers’ media behavior during the 17 days of the Beijing Olympics. Extraordinary usage around the clock enabled NBC to gather a wide range of data. Working with research firm Integrated Media Measurement Inc. (IMMI), the broadcaster monitored a number of individuals watching Olympics coverage on TV, the Web, a mobile phone or a video-on-demand (VOD) device.
Among the conclusions drawn at NBC:
- The Web and other new technologies are ushering in a new “golden age of media,” in which multiple media usage is the norm.
- TV is still king—across all generations. Viewer numbers and audience engagement levels are higher than ever.
- Consumers expect multiplatform content—though most will not consume it on all devices.
- Technical capability does not equal consumer interest. If you can’t offer simplicity and a great user experience, don’t bother.
- Broadcast TV and the online channel can be best buddies. The Web does not replace traditional TV; it complements and extends it. NBC found that the more platforms viewers had, the more TV viewing of the Olympics rose.
- Cross-platform ads really work, boosting brand recall and message recall in viewer samples by 40% or more.
- Mobile TV viewing is coming to the mass market. But not yet.
Similar data on viewers’ perennial loyalty to TV content came from a study by the UK Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) and broadcasting industry body Thinkbox. So the war is off, and a new consensus is emerging among TV broadcasters and content owners: If you can’t beat them, join them. The new mantra is about monetizing content across various platforms.
Broadcasters still struggle to do this, of course. But at least they are developing business models that tackle the problems head-on.
For example: Carolyn Fairbairn, director of corporate development and strategy at ITV, said that the company saw two ways to grow profits in the brave new multichannel world:
- Selling more content globally, including online
- Moving viewers away from personal video recorders (and the ability to skip ads) and toward VOD
ITV estimates that VOD will account for between 12% and 20% of all UK TV viewing by 2012. Another estimate, from UKTV, puts VOD viewing at about 10% of the total in 2013.
ITV is counting on the chance to insert pre- and midroll video ads into VOD content. It is also following the development of micropayments—which may give broadcasters a chance to claw back some of the revenue lost to the online channel.
Finally, it was heartening to see satellite broadcaster BSkyB unfazed by the threat of “new media.” Rob Webster, director of channels and operations, said that Sky considers its subscription model “absolutely sustainable.”
Meanwhile, Sky will continue to promote high-definition (HD) television—partly because even non-HD television viewing appears to rise in HD households—and will develop “addressable ads” for launch within two years. Because it can profile the viewing interests and habits of its subscriber households, Sky will be able to sell ads matching those interests and charge advertisers a premium.
For now, in the UK at least, TV and Web are sitting at the same table.
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