Here is my latest piece for the Guardian online “Will mobile kill the video star?”
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Will mobile kill the video star?
The gogglebox, beloved of politicians and advertisers alike for its effortless inducement of states of suggestibility, could be losing its most valuable asset: captive eyeballs. Social media is increasingly the hangout of choice and “off-portal” eyeballs can be hard to quantify and directly monetise. So how serious is the fight to coax the public back in front of the original “small screen”?
To put this into context, while mobile is breaking unprecedented ground in terms of broadcast consumption and interaction, broadcast TV seems to be retaining the lions share of eyeballs: for now. A recent Ofcom report stated, “Despite the hype, the available data does not support the view that the ‘battle for eyeballs’ is yet particularly intense. If X-Factor has an audience of 11 million and its app has around 550,000 downloads, then 95% of eyeballs are still on the first screen.”
Overall though, the trend towards mobile media consumption is clear. While TV is still top dog in the UK, in the US, media consumption is now predominantly digital, with the fastest growth being driven from mobile devices, according to eMarketer.
Martin Ogden, senior strategist at broadcast engagement specialists Spoke, says the slow migration of viewers to mobile and social platforms is a worry for broadcasters. “The broadcasters have realised that they have lost control of the audience conversation, so the broadcasters are fighting to bring them back. It’s working but it’s early days. We are in a transition stage. Broadcasters have to offer a connection with the audience across web, companion apps, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter posts etc.”
Ogden can also see a similar change in attitudes within ad agencies which will impact the wider industry. “The brands want to have all-pervasive ‘trojan horse’ content marketing – in other words, they want to be woven into the whole entertainment format experience. The big ad agencies are starting to become the predominant investors for new broadcast programming. Once the agencies are funding the production companies and new content is reaching consumers OTT (over the top), for example via YouTube, the traditional ‘walled-garden’ model of broadcast media starts to crumble.” Indeed, in this post-Facebook age, the concept of walled gardens seems to go against the grain of the effortlessly cross-platform consumer.
Ray Mia, CEO of Streamworks International says broadcasters have to stop thinking linear, they have to think outside of the (set top) box: “TV is not TV anymore; it’s not just about live or on demand, it’s about content on everything, available anywhere, at any time. Content is king, but delivery is King Kong.” Mia believes radical innovation is urgently needed, because while TV is working for now, unless they place mobile at the centre of their strategies, they’re going to plateau.
Part of the response from broadcasters has been developing apps for smart TVs. Sean McKnight, CEO of startup Roll TV emphatically disagrees with this approach and favours mobile-centric strategies: “Mobile devices are already more powerful than the processors in smart TVs and mobile touch screens are a better interface. Smart TV is also a nightmare to develop for compared to mobile platforms.”
Some broadcasters are responding, developing new show formats to include more social interaction on mobile devices. Jason George, CEO of broadcast interaction specialists Telescope, saw their “Instant Save” feature of The Voice (US) double traffic across the entire Twitter ecosystem. “We have seen a huge shift towards mobiles and social interactivity in the last year, over 75% of the Instant Save interactivity was made from a smartphone or tablet. We see this on all our shows we measure.”
Jason can also see mobile relentlessly driving new business models. “In the next two years we will see the brands innovating much more around 30 seconds spots, for example, by seeing how people can interact in real time via mobile. More and more, broadcasters will display social interactions live on screen. Research will turn into a real-time engagement piece with the audience and a real-time feedback loop, largely driven by the mobile and social experience.”
UK broadcasters have been pushing mobile interaction and companion apps to viewers throughout 2013, with spectacular levels of adoption. ITV’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent apps racked up over 2.5 million downloads in 2013, while mobiles and tablets now account for 43% of unique browsers to the BBC’s flagship news website, and a record 72% of UK BBC Sports traffic last Boxing Day.
Looking forward to 2015, Elaine Bedell, ITV’s director of entertainment and comedy, has high hopes for Rising Star, their forthcoming interactive, musical talent format where viewers vote in real-time during performances via an app which is fully integrated in the show. “The bold real-time voting element means that viewers’ votes control every twist and turn of the live programme, making for an incredibly dramatic, emotional and exciting show.” Crucially it also brings viewers mobile interactions back into the ITV ecosystem.
But will walled gardens for interaction be received well by a social savvy viewing public, used to Facebook connect and open interaction? The tech graveyard is littered with failed branded social spaces. Consumers prefer to hang out where all of their peers hang out, in buzzing digital spaces like Facebook and Twitter. In contrast, branded “walled gardens” can end up as sophisticated but empty interactive billboards, such as Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom. Without mass participation they are a ghost town. More recent arrivals to the tech graveyard are several social TV brands such as Intonow and GetGlue, underlining that open social integration has to genuinely add value to the consumer experience to succeed.
So will mobile kill the video star? Judging by the current wave of innovation and new commissioning models, a disruptive new interactive mobile video star could be just around the corner. But all we can be sure of is change; the writing is on the walled garden. Consumers are pushing the future agenda of TV via their mobiles, and it remains to be seen which broadcasters and tech companies will keep up.
Oisin Lunny is senior market development manager at mobile technology company OpenMarket. You can follow him on Twitter@OisinLunny.