Had Alice Cooper sat through the DTG Summit on ‘re-engineering for tomorrow’s TV consumer’, he would surely have spotted the potential for re-versioning his hit Elected with the new chorus line, “I wanna be connected”.
It may not be the only trade body working to demystify and hone new enabling technologies aimed at driving next generation consumer media habits, but the DTG is one of the best, in no small part down to its ability to bring so many industry strands together.
Opening the session with a look at the ‘tipping points’ of TV, DTG CEO Richard Lindsay-Davies said, “It is not a big leap to imagine services becoming must have or only have. The BBC has led the way on this by moving BBC Three to on-demand.
“The more on-demand we give them, the more demanding consumers are getting,” he added. “We have got to find a way to blend the success of today into tomorrow. We have got to find a way to blend the scale, the certainty, the order, the well understood requirements, and the democracy we have seen in DTV into this highly innovative world. If we don’t do that with critical mass and as an entire industry, we risk losing all the benefits of the market we have today. We now have the likes of Vodafone and Google as DTG members and we know that, increasingly, it is even more important for the widening group of players to come together.”
To focus on the business aspects of an event that mixed technology developments and barriers with future content aspirations, two of the sessions were chosen for the implications of research findings, and for the power of psychological principles when creating content for platforms rather than channels.
Conversation the key to seamless discovery
Charles Dawes, senior director of international marketing with Rovi, looked at consumer behaviour as depicted by a research programme his company conducted across seven of the markets it operates in: the UK, US, France, Germany, Japan, China and India.
First up, only three per cent of the 4,000 respondents had cut the linear TV cord (US seven per cent and UK five per cent). “Little things are changing. In Q1 this year, Comcast reported its best video quarter in nine years and Sky reported its strongest consumer growth for ten years. Many operators around the world are starting to see that uptake in video subscribers again.”
This might be down to traditional providers deploying the right countering strategies to new entrants. His next stats identified that 68 per cent of US broadband customers now subscribe to an online streaming service, up 21 per cent in a year. In the UK, SVoD penetration jumped 70 per cent between Q1 14 and Q4 15.
On the subject of cord cutting, he said, “When we dug deeper, there is a consistent theme – people are frustrated because they cannot get the content they want. The search is on. People spend 19 minutes a day looking for something to watch.”
There is high search tool awareness (79 per cent in the UK) and 18 per cent say they search every time they watch TV. However, 23 per cent in the UK felt that the search function was too difficult to use. It would seem, then, that improved functionality is required.
“We saw that 67 per cent would be willing to upgrade their contract with the pay-TV provider if they could get better search functionality,” said Dawes. “We asked about newer forms of search like voice and conversation. Rovi takes a step beyond the voice input and really allows you to have that flow from one query to the next, as you would in conversation. Forty three per cent said they would frequently use this type of service; over 50 per cent said they would pay extra to have access to this functionality.”
Over 20 per cent of smartphone users have used voice search within the last month, and 50 per cent of all searches will be voice-based by 2020.
How much time do people spend consuming entertainment? Looking at ‘work, sleep, stream’ Dawes said, “The consumer relationship with entertainment is almost as time consuming as working and sleeping. On average, people spend about four hours a day watching video content (in the US seven hours, and in the UK five). When we talked about how entertainment choices affect their lives, 43 per cent said it has a major effect on their overall mood.”
Stat attack: Some 50 per cent of consumers plan their day around favourite content and 19 per cent make that content part of their day every single day. About 44 per cent admit to staying up too late. Some 30 per cent prefer to watch something friends or family have recommended, whilst 70 per cent prefer other sources. The social media buzz factor persuaded 71 per cent to say it had at least some influence on what they watched.
Where do people consume their content? “Around 80 per cent of respondents on all markets said they frequently stream content at home. About 60 per cent say they frequently stream their content on the go, and 28 per cent stream content at work,” said Dawes.
In summary, he stated, “We need to focus on making content discoverable in a simple seamless fashion by using voice or conversation, or recommendation.”
It is not that TV is dead
Web psychologist Nathalie Nahai focused on what it is that consumers want from media creators. “The way that we are consuming video, TV and media is dramatically changing, and at a very fast pace. The main reason for this is it has become increasingly consumer controlled,” she said.
“As distributors and broadcasters, you now gain a huge amount of feedback that you weren’t able to get before, but it is not so good when it comes to the way that people consume your content,” she added. “For instance, fast forwarding through commercials. Ad blocking software is costing the advertising industry an extraordinary amount of money.”
The binge watching trend and shared social experiences are two elements behind consumers becoming increasingly device agnostic.
“It is not that TV is dead, it’s just that we are becoming much more fluid about how and where we consume content, and on which devices. There are various different platforms that we use now – Premiere, Instagram, Vine, Periscope and Meercat – and the point is that these are now all TV platforms,” said Nahai. “Young viewers are not discriminating between one screen and what they see on the next.”
Moving away from specific platforms, she looked at one of the truisms. “The kind of content that we create might well have changed in the way that we present it, but it is still all about the way we tell the story. We are still telling them, just in different ways in terms of delivery and functionality,” she said.
We are moving from an old model with channel schedules and pre and post watershed to extra variables. Beyond the ‘what’ factor of the content come the why and how.
“This is where the psychology comes in. You still have to think about the content you create, but not just the channel. Which platform are you going to use? If you are creating social content, how are you going to distribute that across new online platforms? You then have to give people an incentive for why they should watch your content and understand how they are going to watch it, so you can optimise for that behaviour,” said Nahai.
The very different ways that we behave online to specific content introduces underlying psychological reasoning. She looked at the phenomenon of quirky viral stuff that has little reason behind it, but sometimes records millions of hits.
“How does this work? We don’t necessarily know, but for some reason it reaches critical mass and then propagates,” said Nahai. “The other reason we like to watch and consume content is to have our patterns disrupted. This is basically the idea that when you have an expectation of the way that the story is going, if there is a twist you are much more likely to find it engaging and exciting. There is going to be more of an emotional response.”
Pattern disruption worked effectively for an advert that had 13 million hits, despite the fact that consumers hate ads. Consuming so much content online is all about a change in your emotional state – much the same as reading a novel or chatting around a campfire. This leads to a sense of group participation.
“One of the things I see happening a lot, in terms of trends, is this idea of people having their attention fragmented, but there is still a deep seated desire to feel connected, to have a sense of common cultural discourse,” said Nahai. The desire to talk about events in a timely fashion is exemplified by the site of Tom Hiddleston’s naked bum in a scene from The Night Manager. “When it happened there was a massive storm online. TV is very alive, if you can make it into a cultural social experience,” she said.
Next came the factor of emotional contagion, the idea in psychology that we literally transmit or infect other people with our emotional state. If three people sit quietly facing each other in a room, within two minutes the one who is the most emotionally expressive will have transferred his/her mood to the other two.
“There is something really innate that happens here, so when you make that explicit through video or TV content you get a good emotional impact. The kind of stuff you watch, talk about and share reflects not only who you are, but also who your friends are,” said Nahai. “Our desire and drive to consume and comment on cultural and TV based media have not really changed, but the way we expect this to be delivered has seen fundamental change.
“People are also expecting equal access, and if you don’t give it to them, they are going to get really frustrated,” she added. “There is also the question of a whole bunch of antiquated copyright rules; how can you create a system in which you can allow people to amplify content to the extent that they feel they can share without infringing on copyright? It is a conversation that needs to be had.”
Creating a killer headline
Producers can also enable people to amplify their content. They should use the breadcrumb approach. How do we achieve creative success in the post-traditional TV world? How do we use social video precisely to amplify TV?
“There are several things you can do. First is to work out where and when your target market is active. That does not mean time, it also means which culture, which city. Then you chose the platforms to focus on,” explained Nahai. “For instance, Twitter is very much a less feely platform. If you want people to discuss certain issues that are more newsworthy, that’s where you will see that gravitate to most. Facebook is now moving towards a publishing model, and you are going to find people consuming much more video there. You have to create content for that platform; you can’t just copy and paste what you created for TV and expect it to work elsewhere.”
It is impossible to ignore YouTube – the highest ranking for both musical content and video content. “When you are creating content for these social channels, you need to get in on the game, so (I created) a quick formula so that you can apply some of the psychological principles to the titles of the content you are making,” said Nahai.
“Take a number and/or a trigger word. You then take an adjective, a key word and a promise and you can create a killer headline. For example, how to fry an egg: using the formula you get ’13 unbelievable ways you can fry a small egg with socks’. Even if you hate eggs your brain goes off on tangents and that is the power of curiosity and psychological triggers,” she added.
The other thing that producers have to consider when using the big platforms is the exploitation of thumbnails. “These will act as trailers, because consumers are not necessarily going to see the content in motion,” said Nahai.
A great example of this done really well is Jamie Oliver’s food videos, for which he creates bespoke thumbnails. The click and watch rate with thumbnails has jumped up by 35 per cent. “You have to think of them as film posters, not just screenshots,” said Nahai.
Having talked about YouTube (and the massive amount of audio streaming it is renowned for), Nahai returned to Facebook. “These are dramatically different viewing platforms when it comes to video. We tend to use Facebook when we are in transit, and people are now accessing it primarily through their smartphones and not quite as much via desktops,” she said.
“If you are thinking of designing video for Facebook, you really have to think about mobile video, and formatting for that. YouTube is the biggest platform for video in the world, but when it comes to Facebook it is much more visual, and the reason for this is it has the auto play function which grabs your peripheral vision,” she added. “You are going to focus on the content.”
The other thing the industry has to think hard about is the dreaded skip ad button. “There is your advert and it is gone. That’s not much time to create something that’s going to hook people in. Content that is effective is often something that serves as a starting point for conversation and debate,” said Nahai. “In terms of the younger viewers (25-35), 81 per cent of this group are expecting companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship, and it does not matter what industry you are in.
“If you want to create good content and you want people to engage with your brand, you have to figure out what you stand for and make sure that comes across,” she concluded.