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Broadcasters are missing out on a ton of data–it’s time to take TV online

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Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made a big commotion at a talk recently when the two predicted the imminent “implosion” of the film industry due to the changing nature of theatrical distribution.  I believe a similar phenomenon awaits the broadcast TV industry, unless companies start making aggressive moves.

Rather than fighting cord-cutting and unbundling and making a weak effort with TV Everywhere, the top brass should be looking at putting their full broadcast TV channels online – with no restrictions. Certainly they have done a decent job offering their shows on demand via Netflix and Hulu. But outside of a recent ABC trial and certain sports broadcasts, watching live broadcast channels online still requires that you have a paid cable TV subscription in order to view.

Not only does the data show that huge audiences are streaming video online, the broadcast channels are missing a unique chance to use their live channels on the internet to take their business to the next level.

Here are three game-changing benefits TV content producers and broadcasters could realize by finally putting live channels online:

Much better social integration

Right now if you want to interact with your friends while watching TV you need to use a second screen app.  Twitter is the dominant force in social usage during TV broadcast, and apps like IntoNow and GetGlue are trying via specialized apps. But these apps are all just experiences for viewer conversation — almost none of them are connected directly to the actual broadcast. What an incredible missed opportunity for broadcasters to engage their audiences directly!

And outside of voting on programs like American Idol, there is very little interactivity directly related to a live broadcast. There is a huge opportunity to have an engaged audience that shares, interacts, and even better, influences the programming in real-time.

When I was president of global digital media at Viacom, we did some studies with our various channels around the world where we experimented with social elements woven into the broadcast programming. (It was 2008, so it was basic stuff like chat, games, voting, picking the next music video, etc.). The time people spent engaged with the program went up by as much as 80 percent, depending on the show and application being used. (Surprisingly, the effect was most pronounced with reruns!)

It is good to see one of my previous brands at Viacom, MTV, is trying to push the envelope. But even their effort goes only part way and is not a true live stream online as I propose.

Big data on the fly

Broadcast TV relies on data to make many of their decisions. So they use Nielsen ratings. And they spend millions on consumer research. TV execs know that they must listen to and understand their audience’s tastes – but all of this wonderful information is received after a broadcast has happened. And because most of it comes from outside researchers, the broadcaster does not have a direct connection to the consumer. In the age of big data, it is mission critical to have a deep knowledge of your audience.

The real-time nature of live broadcast makes data even more interesting — and important. For instance, you can tweak what ads appear on the fly as a show runs. Or, you can make rapid decisions about programming schedules. And if your programming is hosted and/or has guests live on camera, the real-time audience data we now have access to could allow you to alter your programming in the moment to better attract a larger and more engaged audience – right now.

Broadcasting TV online suddenly changes your business, from evaluating old information to make decisions, to seeing real-time data with real-time implications for improving the consumer experience, right away.

New business models

TV broadcasters rely on the fees they get from subscribers (via the cable operators) and advertising to make money. It has certainly been a big business but it is eroding quickly — see cord-cutting, cord-nevers, unbundling, YouTube, etc.

If their channels were online, they could instantly expand their reach to the entire world (depending on content restrictions, naturally). They could also directly control their broadcast – online there’s no need to deal with a cable operator – and could have a bouquet of offerings, like a free live stream, or a subscription for premium features, and video on-demand.

And with all that real-time data, broadcasters and their advertisers could sell goods directly to consumers. And of course, they would still have traditional in-broadcast advertising, but it would be much smarter and better targeted and thus much more valuable and effective advertising.

Online video has made impressive strides in recent years. The threat to broadcast TV is coming from some interesting places, many of which are (unsurprisingly) outside of the traditional industry. One is the emergence of multi-channel networks like Maker Studios and Full Screen.  They are rapidly going from being just YouTube channels to having their own presence and identity. However, even these innovative companies don’t yet offer a 24/7 live stream. For broadcast TV that means there’s still an opportunity to catch up and even jump ahead – and it could happen immediately.

Mika Salmi is CEO of live video education platform creativeLIVE. Previously he was president of global digital media for MTV Networks/Viacom and was founder of Atom Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @MikaSalmi.

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Photo courtesy  Pavel Ignatov/

21 Responses to “Broadcasters are missing out on a ton of data–it’s time to take TV online”

  1. This makes no sense. Broadcasters get paid a lot of money by cable/sat/telco distributors to NOT make their live streams freely available on the net. The idea that broadcast networks would deny themselves increasingly lucrative retrans fees by enabling free online streaming is naive to say the least.

  2. For a much more in-depth look at the discussion Mika has just scratched the surface of, check out my book, “21st Century Television: The Players, The Viewers, The Money,” available on all sites worldwide.

  3. Morgan

    The problem I have with streaming online (both live and rerun TV programs) is buffering and sharpness of images due to crowded ‘pipelines’. baseball live streaming is at times unwatchable due to buffering and in/out image quality. I try to watch past seasons of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ via my xfinity app and it too is periodically buffered and the image quality varies during the streaming. My internet connection average speed from 6 tests is 3.46 down and 0.30 up.

    If broadcast TV moves onto the already crowed internet there must first be some infrastructure improvements in the ‘pipelines’. I don’t see that happening without Congress/FCC input and subsequent passed on costs to the consumer. I for example already pay close to $50/month for so-called high speed internet service. I would love the unbundling of TV subscriptions and the ability to watch programs on demand rather than at a particular time, but first take care of the ‘pipeline’ issues.

  4. jeremynye

    Well, for an article promoting the use of data, it would be helpful to see some. Where’s the data on how many people (young or otherwise) watch live TV versus on demand (Soren Kirkus needs to know).
    Where’s the data on numbers of people cord-cutting (clue, it’s a tiny number)?
    Where’s the data on the numbers actually commenting on Twitter during a typical programme (clue, it’s tiny)

    • Muddy Mudskipper

      Exactly right. Mika’s ideas will generate miniscule revenue and lead to massive losses. That’s probably why he no longer works for a cable channel.

  5. Thank you, who told you to put my thinking into this piece? We have got kick the industry in the rear to get them to see the future. And stop the Luddites from controlling what is begging to look like a dying industry…

  6. Mika Salmi

    Thanks for the comments. This article was edited by PC and many of the hyper links were not included that provided context.

    The key point is this is about the live channels. Yes, this is old school thinking but live is real-time and offers advantages. I am not saying on-demand should be replaced either!

    Here is a paragraph that was dropped from the article –
    This is not about on demand viewing. Most broadcasters have done a decent job offering their shows on demand on Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. Yes, the mantra of “get it when you want it, where you want it, how you want it” is strong. But live offers advantages that on demand does not. The broadcast channels are missing a unique chance to use their live channels on the Internet to take their business to the next level.

    • Thanks Mika for laying it out there. As a cord cutter, when it comes to video on demand…between Hulu Plus and Netflix I feel I’ve got it covered. What I can’t control is live content. I was one of the folks who paid to watch last year’s NCAA Men’s basketball championship. I enjoyed watching and retweeting the hilarious content while watching the games and experiencing the feel of being part of crowd from the comfort of my home. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed that this option was not offered this year and instead streaming was only available to cable subscribers. The same thing happened with the Olympics and a host of other sporting events.

      The only thing it does is make me appreciate my friends with cable/satelite more.

  7. Alex Alexander

    Kary, you may be a 45 plus person, just like I am.
    Like you, I do not care to comment or engage on an online conversation, but Mika is right.
    The article is the now, and the future, and for my operations as a broadcaster, I must see at anything that will enhance viewer participation, in any way.

    You must evolve.

  8. You’re missing something, Mika: the signal into your home carrying internet broadcasts is not controlled by the content providers. Verizon, AT&T and cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner, among others, control the pipelines. These entities will simply restructure – and likely restrict – the way you get your Internet. And that includes TV broadcasts reformed into web broadcasts. Ever hear of data caps? Throttling? That’s the future. The wolf may appear in sheep’s clothing for a while, but will ultimately retain as much control, if not more, than it’s had for decades.

  9. Who watches live TV? The whole point of streaming (and DVRs) is to watch on your schedule. LIve is 20th century.

    Also, if you care about what others are thinking (twitter feeds) while watching something, you should find something better to watch.

    • Most people choose to watch live most of the time they watch TV. To give you some data: in the UK 90% of the 4 hours a day of linear TV people watch is watched live. Even in the 50% of households that own a DTR they watch about 85% live (according to the official figures from BARB).

      Live TV and on-demand live side-by-side as they satisfy different needs (this explains why we watch so much live when we could watch everything on demand). For example, one need TV satisfies is to share experiences at the same time as everyone else – only live TV can do this. In the UK, Thinkbox (which I work for) recently did some research where we took live TV away from households who said they really wouldn’t miss it to see how they coped. They very quickly missed it and were relieved to get it back. Like electricity and running water, live TV is something we all take for granted; only when we lose it do we start to realize how vital it is.

      • lizxrice

        Live TV & on-demand live side-by-side as they satisfy different needs – couldn’t agree more. As the TV landscape evolves, I firmly believe that we will see greater division between content that has to be watched live (sports, anything with voting, live reality shows…) and content that audiences will increasingly demand to watch on their own schedule.

        Broadcasters will move more stuff into the ‘live’ category by encouraging more interactivity, and the on-demand players like Netflix are gradually educating audiences about the joys of binge-watching and the convenience of watching when you like.

        YouGov’s survey from over a year ago showed 26% of us in the UK are already watching more TV on-demand than we are in linear broadcast. And there are growing numbers of content creators distributing good quality, long-form content online. Broadcasters need to look ahead to how they will compete in a world where OTT, on-demand content is mainstream.

  10. As to the social integration comments, you seem to view streaming as something done live. That’s very old-school broadcast thinking. You might as well limit streaming to black and white while you’re at it. Also, I’m sorry, but when I’m watching something I really don’t care what anyone else thinks about it at the time. Those twitter feeds some shows have are just annoying (but hat’s off to Twitter management for making them so common.

    Also, what you want will be very difficult given local broadcast licenses.

    • Alex Alexander

      Kary I am sure you are a 45 plus age person, just like I am.
      While I do not care about comments, or engaging in conversations as they happen when I watch TV, this article is the now, and the future of the business.

      You must Evolve. I am evolving for my operations.

      • Soren Kirkus

        @Alex… (is that how it’s done? with the l’il “at” symbol? I’m over 45 so I’m not really good at this new-fangled digital stuff…)

        This engagement of the under-45’s with other viewers of live TV via social media is, to use your tedious cliche, evolving. Simply stated, kids are watching less and less live TV unless it’s sports or an award show. Tweens and teens have already ankled Facebook — faster than they did MySpace.

        It’s about watching what they want when they want on their preferred screen.

      • You correctly guessed I’m older, but for Twitter-like content to matter you’re still talking about people watching the shows at the same time, rather than on-demand. That would make these broadcasts only different in the manner in which they come into the house, which isn’t really that huge of a benefit, but which has several legal hurdles (each local station cannot “broadcast” their material nationwide).

  11. I think I finally figured this out. “Paid Content” means the author of this article paid to run it, right? That’s the only thing I can think of.