It was widely reported that prior to the February 2013 debut of House of Cards, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos revealed his game plan for the streaming service. “The goal,” he told GQ, “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” He wasn’t wrong. The rise of Netflix from a DVD rental company to one of the leading original content providers is outstanding and is a yard stick for how content consumption has changed.
There’s no denying that the Netflix and Amazon Prime (to name but two) OTT VoD model has had a major impact on how we consume television content. Netflix in particular has become a media powerhouse with an impressive range of original content as well as a considerable film and classic TV library. Making a Murderer, a ten-part documentary that first streamed on Netflix on 18 December 2015, is a prime example of its success and has been one of the most talked about TV shows for a long time. Filmed over ten years and following the story of Steven Avery, it’s had the classic watercooler affect and then some, with people on social media, in bars, at dinner parties and in offices all over the world discussing the plight of Avery and the Manitowoc County judicial system, and giving Netflix another huge boost in the process.
As well as the OTT VoD model, TV Everywhere services have also turned the traditional broadcast TV model on its head. In this instance broadcasters offer their services or content in an OTT manner, or to OTT providers, allowing on-demand access via multiple devices. In November 2015, Thinkbox published a UK ‘Broadcaster VoD key numbers’ report for 2014. The report shows that broadcaster catch-up TV was the most popular OTT service with around a third (34 per cent) of UK connected TV users watching TV programmes or films via a free catch-up service from the public service broadcasters (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, or Channel 5). This figure rose to 45 per cent among adults aged 35 to 44. This compares to watching content via subscription to an OTT VoD service such as Netflix, with 15 per cent of all adults using their connected TV to access these services.
VoD is significant and has not only changed what we watch when, but how we watch. We’ve been taken out of the traditional TV comfort zone where broadcasters push content our way, to a world where we decide. It’s been a steep learning curve but we’ve now reached a point where we have multiple devices to watch content on depending where we are, and we understand the various delivery concepts. But as viewers do we really care how content is delivered? No, for the vast majority, we just want to watch whatever we want, whenever we want and however we want. But more than that, we want to be able to find content quickly and easily. In this brave new world of content delivery and content discovery this last statement is crucial to every media company’s success.
To be certain that they can continue to reach their target demographic, media companies need to ensure brand consistency across all platforms. Viewers need to know that regardless of where they’re looking for content, they can rely on the channel to deliver the quality of programmes that they expect. With so many platforms available, brand consistency is vital.
When launching the new ITV Hub for example, ITV stated that, “the new, dynamic branding and colour palette is based on the dot above the ‘I’ on each of the ITV channel logos – ITV, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4, CITV and ITVBe, reinforcing the message that the on-demand experience is a natural extension of our linear TV channels.” This is important, with some media companies offering so many additional channels and services across multiple platforms and devices, they need to ensure that the brand is immediately recognisable and reflects their mission as an organisation.
Core to this accurate and powerful brand extension is the way that a channel’s content is written about and presented. Whether content is discovered via a recommendation engine, onscreen guide or simple search, the programme information is crucial. Editorial synopses need to be well written with clear, concise text highlighting additional information such as cast and images to ensure the channel’s brand is correctly reflected, to add to the user experience and to enable recommendation engines to correctly fulfil search criteria.
Let’s take Top Gear as an example. Despite its recent problems, Top Gear has a big global audience and is estimated to have made £150 million in revenue for the BBC’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide. The show is broadcast on many different channels and platforms in many different languages. Some of those channels might be factual and others much more irreverent. It’s important that the style of the editorial synopsis fits the channel that’s airing it. For example a Top Gear synopsis on Dave is likely to be very different to a Top Gear synopsis on BBC Two.
As well as the importance of the channel brand, central to our viewing experience is the look and feel of the platform’s interface. Not only do we want to find content quickly and easily but we want the user interface to look stylish with appealing up-to-date imagery that’s changed regularly and draws us in. This is important to viewer and media provider. With so many channels fighting for eyeballs, the better programmes are presented the more likely we are to watch them. Channels are now expected to provide increasing amounts of images in different sizes and formats to satisfy the varying needs of platforms that require them. It’s not unusual for a channel to have to produce 15 images in 40 to 50 different formats per programme.
We’ve reached an exciting new world of television. Regardless of whether content is delivered over satellite, cable, the internet, on a phone, tablet, TV – it doesn’t matter. The important point is that content should be quick and easy to find with a sexy interface to discover it on!
By Keith Bedford, managing director, EBS (pictured)