On October 14, 2016, two high school football teams in Arkansas, Pulaski Academy and Sylvan Hills, went head-to-head in a game that was broadcast live on Facebook by Bleacher Report. While the game itself had little significance to most of us outside of Arkansas, the event exemplifies a greater shift impacting the media, entertainment and advertising industries—the evaporating boundaries that define what we know as “traditional” TV. Cord cutting and over-the-top (OTT) streaming have been the buzzwords of the last few years, used to describe the evolution of TV consumption habits. But this example speaks to other facets of the industry’s transformation: the emergence of new content producers, content distributors and new iterations of live programming.
Content Creation. New entrants redefining TV content include former print- and text-based publishers, consumer brands, digital-first studios and tech companies, each having disparate motivations.
Publishers. Publishers seek to offset loss of revenues in their traditional businesses, which relied primarily on display ads or sponsored content. Many have gone “all-in” in video, including expansions to emerging forms of video such as live streaming, 360-degree videos and virtual reality. Video accounted for 15% of BuzzFeed’s revenue at the end of 2014; in two years this number is expected to rise to 75%. The New York Times, which aims to make video as common as text in its reporting, has announced The Daily 360, a platform delivering one 360-degree video a day.
Digital-First Studios. Over the last few years, dozens of studios have been launched by Hollywood and “digital-first” talent with industry collaborations to express their creativity or serve niche audiences on digital platforms. These include Ron Howard and Discovery’s New Form Digital and Lionsgate and Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud comedy video service.
Consumer Brands. While it is more common for brands to pay for advertising around TV content, many have forayed into original programming themselves. Starbucks, for example, debuted its first original series, Upstanders, which tells stories around citizens creating positive changes in society and is available on its app and online properties. Through content, these companies seek to connect more intimately with their target audiences and create a stronger impression of their brand.
Tech. Technology companies, such as Amazon, Apple and Google (via YouTube), are also creating original content to attract new customers onto their platforms and to serve as a value-add for existing customers. Needless to say, former pure-play digital distributors Netflix and Hulu have contributed early on and in a large way to TV’s transformation. Central to TV’s transformation are these and other technology companies, which have played the role of both nontraditional content producers and content distributors.
Content Distribution. Further complicating the definition of TV, nontraditional content distributors are paying the various types of creators—online publishers, social influencers, digital-first studios, in addition to traditional media companies—for access to their content, a model analogous to the way TV networks have worked with cable and satellite operators. Facebook has paid many publishers, including Huffington Post and Hearst, to produce live videos for Facebook Live. Twitter acquired the exclusive rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday Night Football this year and brought in 2.3M viewers in its first week. Snapchat is replacing the ad revenue sharing model it uses with media companies with the old TV network license fee model.
Live Video. Live sports and news have been considered immune to the evolving nature of TV. However, the shift of publishers (many news- and sports-focused) to digital, combined with the push on live-streaming features by major platforms, pose both challenges and opportunities to broadcasters in the space. YouTube saw an 80% increase in live viewership over the last year. Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are promoting their live-streaming features heavily in terms of content partnerships, as well as in their user experience. Features such as Facebook’s Live Button and Push Notifications and the coverage of live events across all three platforms have increased the role of live video in social networks, where consumers spend at least a third of their time on mobile, according to Flurry Analytics.
Bleacher Report’s Facebook broadcast of the high school football game had a familiar setup, with multiple camera angles, commentators and the first down line; however, it was augmented with real-time reactions and comments. Coverage of the election on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms was interactive and social.
To a new generation of viewers, TV will be much broader. It will encompass live and on-demand content from both major networks and digital-first studios, consumer brands and online publishers, delivered across streaming services, social networks and satellite and cable providers.