The BBC is fighting to remain relevant in the age of connected viewing. How the corporation sees the challenges ahead should resonate with TV channel brands and broadcasters everywhere.
The BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, laid out three grand challenges to the corporation in a speech to employees on January 11th. Though he was specifically talking about the BBC, the issues he raises are applicable to every provider of traditional television services.
Balancing the needs of traditional and digital audiences
“I want us to reinvent public service broadcasting for a new generation. Now, let me say straight away: this does not mean somehow forsaking our existing audiences – that would be stupid. As I’ve said many times before, we have to ride two horses: doing brilliant things on our existing channels and services, but also innovating in the digital space. Our task therefore is to reinvent public service broadcasting so that it works for all audiences, so that everyone gets value from the BBC.”
The UK is experiencing the same dynamics as the US regarding TV viewership. Viewing on traditional TV dropped by over a quarter between 2010 and 2016 among 16 to 24-year-olds. Over the same period, it fell 19% for the 25 to 34-year-olds. That lost time is transferring to digital media.
At the same time, older UK viewers continue to watch a lot of television. Viewers between 55 and 64 years-old have decreased TV watching by just 5% since 2010. And over-65s watch as much as they always have.
Traditional television providers must find a way to meet the needs of their existing audience, without jeopardizing their future. That is no easy matter when the needs of the television audience frequently diverge dramatically from the digital viewer.
Competing with digital natives
“I think the second big issue is that the media landscape has changed beyond recognition. It is hugely more global and more competitive. We’re now in an environment where Amazon, Netflix, and others are willing to invest huge amounts of money with no certain return in an attempt to capture market share where Facebook is looking at commissioning its own TV programmes, and Twitter is buying up sports rights and where moves such as the Fox-Sky merger are making the very biggest players even bigger.”
The dynamics in the content market of which Mr. Hall speaks are clearly global, not just restricted to the UK. There were 455 scripted original series aired across cable, broadcast, and online services in the US in 2016. That’s up from 210 in 2009. Shows from Netflix, Amazon, and others can go toe-to-toe with the best traditional TV can offer, and are attracting television sized audiences.
However, it is not just TV quality programming that is competing for television time. A user’s Facebook page is now a custom video channel programmed by their friends. Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch are using live video to create appointment viewing. And all of these platforms use the social fabric to promote the availability of the video, and anchor the experience while watching.
The fight for viewing time has broadened dramatically over the last 5 years. TV providers must leverage every tool at their disposal to win this new war for viewers.
Leveraging data to improve service
“Data is creating a flight to quality. It means audiences can find the best of public service broadcasting – but only if they sign in. Each month, we now have around three million active signed-in users. I want to make that 20 million. And I want us to get there as quickly as possible. More than anything else, this is what our future success will depend on. By finding out more about our audiences and what they like, we can make better content, make it more relevant, and bring it to them more effectively. The closer and more personal our relationship with our audiences, the more I’m certain they will choose the BBC”
BBC iPlayer has reached a plateau in usage. For example, in q4 2014 and Q4 2015 monthly TV requests were almost the same: 250 million. Meanwhile, online video usage continues to grow strongly to other sites. For example, Netflix gained 1.2M (32% growth) subscribers in the UK during 2015.
One sharp difference between iPlayer and other online sites is that a user does not need to sign in to use it. That means the BBC can’t effectively track a user’s preferences. And without that information it can’t customize the experience, a basic requirement of any online video service today.
However, as Mr. Hall says, the value of that user data is applicable far beyond simply making recommendations to individual users. From what shows to make, to the color of the login button in the interfaces, everything Netflix does is informed by its mountain of user data. Without that data, a service will struggle to create a competitive experience.
Why it matters
The BBC’s director-general articulated 3 great challenges the corporation faces over the next three years.
These challenges are applicable to any television brand or channel, whether they be a public broadcaster, subscription channel, or advertising supported.