The future of television: part 1
In the first part of a two-part look at the future of television, Seb Rennie explores how Australian broadcasters and marketers are adjusting to the continued trend towards non-linear viewing.
Over the years television has been the victim of various gloom and doom scenarios predicting its death. First the VCR, then the DVD followed by the DVR, were all said to sound the death knell of television, but predictions have a way of oftentimes being proven false.
Of course, television as we know it has changed significantly. From the big, bulky, wooden box at the centre of the living room, to the sleek, high-tech screens of today, it’s not just the platform that looks different. The very concept of what television is and our entire viewing experience have also changed.
More and more of us are consuming our favourite TV programs on a time-shifted schedule, at our leisure, often away from the living room. Whether on a bus, the office or our favourite cafe, we can take the TV experience with us anywhere, thanks to tablets and smartphones.
Non-linear viewing – as this trend is known – is an important step in the evolution of television. But it has not yet reached critical mass. The majority of viewers in Australia and overseas are watching television the way they always have – scheduled TV programs at the time they are broadcasted by the relevant channel. Or linear TV viewing, as we call it.
So as important as video on demand (VOD) and catch-up TV are in giving viewers a choice in how and when to watch the content they want, just like VCRs and DVRs did before them, they are a way of supplementing viewing – not killing television. The majority of non-linear viewing currently is being done by people who didn’t watch much, if any, television before. In other words, these new devices are expanding TV audiences and strengthening the role of television – TV is not a dying medium.
In fact, TV in Australia is the healthiest it’s been for a while. The multi-channels have reinvigorated the TV networks while Foxtel posted 8.5% growth in the 2011-12 financial year.
What does all this mean for marketers? In the longer term, particularly once the National Broadband Network is introduced, non-linear viewing will gain the scale it needs to reach critical mass, therefore increasing opportunities for more advanced advertising. By this, I mean greater targeting, increased interactivity and different selling methods.
For now, marketers must recognise that non-linear TV is a growing trend and start planning, together with their agencies, how they will use these new platforms more effectively to deliver relevant ads to a targeted audience. In the short term, new platforms should be used as a supplement to established routes to market, just as they supplement the overall viewing experience. As time progresses and the scalability and opportunities become clearer, then investment and innovation (especially addressable TV) will increase and improve.
So how are Australian broadcasters adjusting to non-linear viewing? While resistant at first, all five of the major TV networks are offering some form of catch-up TV. Similarly, Foxtel has been offering online video to subscribers since 2009, which has now expanded to mobile with a free app allowing subscribers to watch live as well as catch-up content.
SBS is a master of non-linear viewing. Its Tour de France coverage this year included traditional television programming, online content and a free app, with the different platforms combining to deliver record viewing figures for SBS. In the UK, the BBC demonstrated the future of TV viewing with its multi-device coverage of the London Olympics. In both cases, the different devices supplemented the main event on traditional television rather than cannibalising it.
There are other ways broadcasters can use the non-linear trend to their advantage for deeper engagement with their audiences. The Seven Network is handing back even more power to viewers with its plan to allow Home & Away viewers to dictate alternative plot lines through social media – viewer interaction on a whole new level.
In short, non-linear viewing is a growing trend but it’s not going to kill television in the immediate future. What has changed is the ability of television to interact with other devices. And that’s a good thing for viewers, broadcasters and advertisers.
Non-linear viewing hasn’t reached critical mass yet, but it will. Agencies and marketers should be exploring the opportunities it presents to be well placed when it does.
Part Two of ‘The Future of Television’ takes a closer look at ‘social TV’ and what it means for viewer engagement. Does live tweeting make you a less passive and more active viewer?