To the new personal, mobile and measurable TV

Eleazar Santos

13 July 2017

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At this very moment the first season of your next favourite series is being recorded. And you’ll probably enjoy it, because the producers know you, what things interest you and what your prime time is. They understand your new entertainment habits, multiple and anarchic throughout the day, and most likely dependent on a screen that fits in your hands.

Amazon, Google, Apple, HBO, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, renowned television channels… no longer differentiate between online and offline. Large technology companies are now insurgents in the media field and, along with incumbents of the industry, are exploring new creative models for content (format, duration), while advertising supports force us to rethink our attribution models and our mix of channels within our advertising investment strategies.

Social networks are competing to stand as the new television platform. They hoard most of our online activities, providing the content that interests us either voluntarily, deductively or even predictively. Not to mention two achievements that traditional TV has so far failed to solve: allowing interaction between the content provider and the audience, and a thorough measurement of the latter.

Programming at my pace

The screen that delights us is getting smaller. Netflix already announced during the Mobile World Congress 2017 that they were considering adapting versions of their shows for smartphone, a high impact trend in emerging markets (such as Asia), where digitisation is generally mobile first.

Mobile has gained ground as our preferred method to connect to Internet; the device used by 86% of users in Spain (where access from desktop has stagnated for 3 years). In emerging economies such as India or Thailand, netizens known as “Mobile-only” (those who only connect to Internet via mobile) make up nearly a third of the total, according to figures from Global Web Index.

The way we use these devices in themselves has also become a novelty. According to Social Media Today, 94% of the time we use mobile phones vertically, which has led us to compose and decode information in vertical format, understanding information in a horizontal format requires extra effort. Most social networks have adapted to become “vertical video friendly” (except for YouTube). This has resulted in a new audiovisual, synthetic language in composition and new challenges in the definition of video.

Verticality is an immersive stake, without wasting a single pixel across the entire surface of the screen. With dalliances between the world of images, videos or 360° virtual reality, this format has improved the performance of creative advertising, forcing the conceptualisation of ad hoc pieces, rather than replications of content originally created for TV.

In parallel, linear TV consumption (where consumers sit passively and consume content whenever the networks chooses to broadcast) is already lower than Internet based consumption, and continues to fall. However, there is a trend of TV channels broadcasting live online, with penetration rates around 90% in Europe, Asia and Brazil.

This phenomenon of on-demand media consumption will be accompanied by an increase in the number of TV and movie subscription services; in Europe this number barely reaches 38% of the online population, with much opportunity to grow. In markets like North America this number has now reached two thirds of netizens.

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Technological entertainers

The reinvention of networking consumption in a vertical format is something we owe to Snapchat. The social network, a “small business” who refused to be bought by Facebook, aspires after its IPO to increase its appeal to advertisers seeking partnerships with traditional media companies like NBC, ESPN, NFL, Turner, ABC , BBC, A&E, Discovery and Vice, among others, to produce programmes to be included in its application.

These programmes would last between 3 to 5 minutes, and the company would be involved in its implementation to ensure the focus of the platform. Appealing to traditional TV executives, Snapchat has also offered to share “detailed data” with their partners. Given past examples of organisations attempting to reinterpret the way their audience consumes media -think WSJ, Cosmopolitan, MTV…etc., Snapchat’s ability to interpret reality on a vertical screen is something that has served them well, and now Facebook is copying -perhaps even improving on, their methods, as fast as possible.  

Facebook has joined the battle with Facebook TV, in flagrant competition (by audience size) not only with Google, but also with HBO and Netflix. Besides the business of broadcasting of football games online, the company has advanced the launch of self-produced series and TV programmes; long duration programmes with similar budgets to those currently on television, combined with other shorter (5 to 30 minutes) online spots produced under tighter budgets.

Facebook’s commitment to high quality content, encourages producers and studios to create content for social networks, for  increasingly captive audiences around the world ( renowned companies such as Condé Nast Entertainment, for example, according to Business Insider). Now, Facebook has also partnered with Apple TV, to get a jump on the living room audience.

Meanwhile, Twitter, in its quest for survival, tries to become a hub of live video transmission. The social network (favourite so far to share TV shows online) issued about 800 hours of live video during the first quarter of 2017, which accounted for roughly 45 million unique users (31% compared to the last quarter of 2016) according to official company figures.The ideas is to reinforce this trend through the latest content transmission agreements in sports (NFL, WNBA, MLB Advanced Media, PGA, etc.), news (Bloomberg, The Verge, BuzzFeed, Cheddar) and entertainment (Live Nation, IMG Fashion, Propagate).

Google has unveiled its new paid YouTube TV, with a subscription fee of US$35 per month for live viewing of major TV channels in the United States. This strategic move is based on the fact that video consumption on its platform has increased tenfold since 2012, to a total of one billion hours a day. It’s only natural for an organisation to take advantage of this. However, vertical screen adaption is something you can currently only enjoy via an Android device.

Other big technology companies also want a piece of the pie. Apple has announced plans to produce original content, and Amazon already includes live channels in its Prime Video service. Borders between businesses dissipate, and competition becomes fiercer. Partnerships in content production, advertising formats, measurability and transparency hold a lot of weight.

Video and data, key advertising

A direct consequence of adapting to meet consumer preference for content viewing on mobile screens is the strengthening of dark social as a non-traceable, viral content consumption channel. Along with the difficulties associated with measurement affecting marketing professionals, differences have arisen between different advertising media and social networks, and continuous criticism has been aimed at the lack of audit and impartiality from these companies.

So far, our analytical attribution models have been based on clicks, despite the complexity of multiple contact points during the customer journey. However, social networks have become eminently visual (in particular, Snapchat and Instagram), with greater potential to inform consumers and increase brand awareness, however they make it more difficult to achieve a click and attribute a conversion.

New attribution models consider both views and clicks. According to a study by eMarketer, among marketing professionals in Europe and US, in the last three years they have placed increasing value on visualisations or viewthroughs as part of the conversion process. In 2014, only 14% of respondents assigned more than 50% of conversions to viewthroughs, while in 2016 nearly half of those surveyed (46%) attributed at least 50% of conversions to this variable.

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Continuous decline (or the non existence, in the case of Facebook) of organic reach on social networks has led us to reject traditional indicators such as fans and followers, and this has given way to reach as the new king of the dashboard. This is a sure sign that social networks are no longer “social”, not as we understood them to be in 2010, and have become a channel of communication, where brands only achieve relevance through advertising. Different kind of advertising bit, but certainly dependent on advertising investment.

Regulation and standards in sight

With the widespread adoption of smart TVs and the revolution of social networks as creators and distributors of content, the advertising industry would benefit from the ability to rigorously measure the impact of this shift on their audiences. This has been an interesting development following recent failures from major social networks, including lack of confidence in Facebook’s measurement metrics and YouTube’s “brand safety” problems in late 2016 and early 2017.

The absence, up to this point, of impartial monitoring of the online advertising industry has prompted large accounts around the world to advocate for transparency, rigour and metrics to ensure the efficiency of investments. Facebook and Google have already agreed to be audited by the Media Ratings Council, a move that is expected to influence other social networks to do the same in a quest to ensure the reliability of its impact and advertising business, as well as to standardise the way measurement is carried out.

We are facing a complex media phenomenon that puts Facebook in a privileged position. It has become creator, content distributor and advertiser; allowing them to control a significant part of the traffic that print media receives today (making their chances of survival even more fragile). The question is whether the incumbent leaders in the television world will suffer a similar fate.