Category: live programming

Where is this all heading?

I’ve been watching with deep interest the progress of various video platforms as they emerge and develop, from YouTube and Netflix to Twitter and DirecTV Now. Here’s a brief rundown of a few of them from eMarketer that should give you an appreciation for the current state of flux, as well as the huge potential for coming disruption in the marketplace.

It seems that first we had simple websites that provided a platform, notably YouTube and Vimeo. Then we saw the TV Everywhere approach from HBO Now, as well as non-cable providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. There’s a move to applications that can provide video content, from sports leagues to Twitter and Facebook. But it is such a tangled web that there is no clear indication as to where it will all shake out.

I suspect that a combination of advertising strength with high-demand content will drive this initially. Those platforms with which advertisers are comfortable (YouTube, Facebook, etc.), and content that is both timely and popular (primarily sports), will be the leaders in the transition that is currently underway. This is a chapter that is very much being written, and companies will rise and fall depending on their ability to forecast and anticipate the trends. But this much continues to be clear: Those who control the rights to this content (sports, awards) will control much of the destiny, and those who must pay for licensing  those rights will face increased price pressure in the coming days (witness ESPN’s effect on Disney stock).

Discuss…

Is this the beginning of the end of programming middleman?

It seems that, with every passing day, the importance of traditional content distributors is on the wane. Nowhere is this more stark than the plight of sports programming. As the stock price of Disney continues to fight the inexorable gravity of ESPN’s fate, these kind of comments are exhibit A for the future of not just sports, but all content on the internet:

“The NFL is constantly looking to serve our fans premium NFL content where and how they want to see it,” said Hans Schroeder, senior VP, media strategy, business development, & sales for the NFL.

With the emphasis  now on OTT distribution and mobile devices, the status of ESPN and DirecTV’s NFL package are being seen as bloat. In the past, broadcast networks and cable stations were essential links to the public, today’s growing number of alternatives make these programming middlemen unnecessary. As stated in this article, the leagues can now turn to multiple distributors, such as PlayStation Vue:

“PlayStation Vue offers more than 100 live TV channels. It has deals with programmers including AMC, CBS, Discovery, Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal, Scripps Networks, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom.”

So, instead of set-top boxes turning to ESPN for sports, they can turn to the leagues themselves and eliminate the middlemen (and its accompanying fees) to provide the same experience with added savings. And I would think that it won’t be long before Warner Brothers Television, Alcon Entertainment, and the other myriad scripted content providers completely bypass the networks and just license their wares directly to OTT services, or other online streaming companies.

One look at the future of digital media… on the sports page!

Being an almost-native Los Angeleno, I have adopted the Los Angeles Clippers as my hometown NBA team (sorry, Lakers). But in this LA Times article from the sports section of the newspaper, I was genuinely surprised to read about their negotiations and plans for airing/streaming their games in upcoming seasons. Their contract with Fox Sports has come to an end, and the new landscape of mobile viewing, digital streaming, and augmented screens have made it potentially much more complicated than in days past.

You really should read the article closely for mention of these considerations, but here is an excerpt which exemplifies the nature of what is involved:

Another possibility would be video streaming the game and the analytical data individually. A third alternative would be integrating the data onto the screen as part of the game feed.

What is conspicuously absent is any mention of virtual reality, which in light of recent acquisitions and investments, lead me to believe will be coming sooner than most expect. And if Time Warner’s awful experience with exclusive deals for both the Dodgers and the Lakers is any indication, I would expect all parties to be very sensitive about unnecessarily restricting viewership.

Finally, the quote I found particularly intriguing is this:

The content for the streaming feed would be produced independent of Fox through a third party.

It’s been my opinion that it was just a matter of time before the professional sports leagues and their owners realized that their share of the advertising revenue would increase substantially if they could provide it without the aid of a middle man. With companies like Facebook and Twitter providing live streaming, the necessity of a Fox or Time Warner falls to the wayside. Granted, at this late stage before the start of the 2016-17 season, it probably doesn’t make sense, but it is most certainly on the horizon.

In fact, the bigger question is whether the leagues themselves, or the owners individually, will become the producers and distributors of games and data. This explains much of the recent stock woes of Disney, which owns ESPN. Stay tuned.

The trouble with advertising in the digital age

I was reading this article in the LA Times about how Hulu is integrating product placement into their programming, and then noticed an ad in the sidebar that was most certainly a function of a condition I have. I don’t talk about it, but have spent some time researching it on the web.

This got me thinking about something I’m sure we have all encountered. If you search for anything, you can bet that ads corresponding to your search will pepper every page that you see henceforth. Have toe fungus? You will see dozens of ads for Jublia and the like. Need a bathroom remodel? Every home improvement store and website will inhabit your web life for days to come.

Granted, there is a desperate effort to find ways to make money on the internet. Music succeeded (if you want to call it that) by licensing to legitimate sites like iTunes and Spotify. But ad blocking software is wrecking havoc on the publishing industry, and the DVR is proving problematic for networks (hence, the article mentioned above). It is also lifting the value of live, must-see programs, especially in sports. Just witness the deals that the NFL and NBA have signed recently.

Advertising is a necessary aspect of free programming, but we are very much in a transitional period where the blunt instrument of banner ads will continue to haunt us in our travels from webpage to webpage, until someone can figure out a way to do it better.

Any takers?

AMC’s chief has it right

I’ve been posting about the relative value of content and its place in the financial landscape of streaming media. One revealing interview was on Charlie Rose a few weeks ago with the president of AMC Networks, Josh Sapan. It is well worth a listen, but it also leads into this particular post.

In a recent interview with MultiChannel News, Sapan expounds on the pricing strategy for the likes of AMC, IFC, WeTV, Sundance and BBC America. It is the age-old adage about supply and demand, and said demand it a function of its importance to the other programs out in the programming universe. He puts it simply:

“We take some comfort in that we have shows that are very important to some people,” he added. “If I was a video retailer I would pay a lot of attention to that.”

Pricing to what the market will bear is standard operating procedure for entertainment, and the article also has some interesting numbers that reveal the perceived value of some channels:

“…affiliate fees range from 13 cents per subscriber per month for WeTV to 40 cents per subscriber per month for AMC. That stacks up against monthly charges of more than $6 per month per subscriber for ESPN and $1.60 for TNT.”

As a dedicated “The Walking Dead” fan – and based on the fan chatter in cyberspace – I suspect AMC may be underselling its channel, but I grant that I am biased. Still, it is an important peek into how cable suppliers look at the popularity of a given channel and decide what the market will bear. It also points to the promise and peril of sports programming. As ESPN can really only license a sports program, they will never have the leverage needed to avoid a bidding war over and given league.

And that’s why owning  content is so crucial in the evolving media landscape.

The changing landscape of television lead-ins

Here’s an interesting article from the CNN Money website about television advertising and the ways it has changed in the last 15 years (more or less). Indeed, the increasing use of DVRs and the rising popularity of streaming services like Roku and Hulu, have upended the very model that I learned when I was a television agent in the 1990s. No longer can networks rely on a show’s viewership to introduce new series and promote upcoming content.

One way it hasn’t changed as much is the desire for late-night programs that may lead into the next day’s offerings. Back in the day, Jay Leno was essential to The Today Show’s leadership in morning talk, and added pressure to ABC to abandon Nightline in favor of Jimmy Kimmel. And also explains why local late news is vital, as well. But this quote misses a larger point:

“Due to audience fragmentation, there aren’t many series that generate the kind of massive lead-in that virtually ensures sampling for new shows that follow them. CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and NBC’s singing competition “The Voice” are among the few that produce a big enough audience to help incubate newly hatched programs.”

The point being, it emphasizes the increasing value of unique, live event programming that encourage sampling. In particular, sporting championships like the Super Bowl and NCAA Basketball and Football Finals, will continue to generate huge rights’ deals, and explain why the programs following such events are seen as the most important to a network.

So, the next time you are watching the World Series, The Oscars, or any other popular live event, pay attention to what immediately follows – it will be a undeniable indication of that network’s priorities. And should also help explain why the deals for such events will continue to grow in dollar value.