1. TV Everywhere Finally Takes Off. It’s hard not to feel like Charlie Brown with the football on this one, but it looks like this is finally going to be the year the MVPDs TV Everywhere (TVE) apps take off. What’s been holding everything up? Nielsen, or more specifically, their Total Audience Management (TAM) platform which measures views on devices other than the set top box. The lack of Nielsen ratings for OTT views meant the networks were scared they’d see significantly lower ratings as TVE became more popular and people watched TV on their smartphones and tablets. That’s why they’ve all been withholding their programming from the MVPD’s TVE apps—if the networks weren’t going to get paid by advertisers for the ads and couldn’t count the viewers in the next round of carriage fee negotiations, they didn’t want anything to do with TVE. But once TAM is in place and all those OTT views are being counted, the networks will be thrilled to let people watch whenever and wherever they want. That means the MVPD TVE apps will finally have access to the same content that’s available via the set top box, including VOD and DVR, which means the MVPDs can really start to double down on promoting them and driving usage. Now if only they could not something about those antiquated interfaces…
2. Live Streaming Goes Pro. Live streaming professional sporting events on platforms like Twitter is a neat party trick but doesn’t really add anything to the experience. The new wave of professionally produced live streamed shows like Mario Armstrong’s “Never Settle” from Roker Media, on the other hand, take full advantage of the “live” aspect of live streaming, bringing the audience into the show. That allows for greater interactivity with both fans and advertisers. Look to see more of these type of high production quality live streamed shows, along with professionally produced live music showcases.
3. Amazon Breaks Out. Facebook knows us as we want to be, but Amazon knows us as we really are. Facebook knows the brands we’ve carefully “Liked” to show our best face to the world. Amazon knows that we buy Palmolive dish soap and Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts twice a month. That sort of data is incredibly useful for advertisers and we’re guessing that Amazon figures out a way to use the data from their Prime Video service to make some money off of it. Just knowing that men 25-54 who watch hockey games prefer Scotties to Kleenex and oatmeal to cream of wheat is going to prove valuable to someone. All Amazon’s got to do is package it in a way that doesn’t seem creepy. (And yes, they do have an ad supported service in addition to Prime. It’s just not very popular. Yet.)
4. Pro-Am Content Becomes TV’s Farm Team The shrinking cost of high-end cameras and editing equipment is putting the ability to produce professional quality television series into more people’s hands. (Well, that and Kickstarter.) And so somewhere in between PewDiePie and teenagers in their bedrooms and “Game of Thrones” is the category we call “Pro-Am,” where professional actors, writers and directors are making their own high quality web series. Many of these series are as good as, if not better than, what’s currently on television, and the industry has taken notice: HBO’s acclaimed “High Maintenance” started life as a web series and its success means that there are more to come. We predict Pro-Am will see a life of its own too, creating a story-focused middle ground between Gen-Z YouTube stars and network sitcoms.
5. The Definition of “Television” Finally Expands To Include All The Different Ways People Actually Watch TV. 2017 will be the year when The Powers That Be finally accept that television in no longer just the live feed that shows up via your pay-TV set top box. Television is now much broader than that—it’s Netflix and Hulu and Amazon. It’s shows binge watched on VOD or DVR months after they first aired. It’s standalone services like NBC’s Seeso. And the fact is people are watching more of it, in more places than ever before. So while the industry circa 1997 may be gone forever, what’s taken its place in 2017 is far more popular, more vibrant and more exciting. It’s also controlled by (more or less) the same players, TV companies having learned well the lesson of “adapt or die.”
6. The Continued Rise of Virtual MVPDs. First there was Sling. Then there was Sony Vue. DirecTV Now came along around Thanksgiving. But next year, that field looks to double in size, with new offerings from Hulu and Google and the expansion of the nascent upscale offering from Layer One. While it will definitely be a movement, there are still a whole lot of questions around their full-on success, the main one being the ability of any broadband-providing MVPD to substantially lower the price of a broadband-plus-pay-TV-service subscription for anyone who is thinking about cutting the cord for one of the virtual services. OTOH, the Hulu service is particularly intriguing because it (a) is owned by the various networks who will assumedly not create any restrictions on the programming available to subscribers and (b) comes with its own popular subscription service thrown in. Those two factors could make it very appealing to consumers, especially if the price is right… and the MVPDs don’t interfere.
7. Global Expansion of U.S.-Based Platforms. Call it cultural hegemony, but Netflix and Amazon are about to dominate streaming video around the globe. Netflix is going to be in every country but China, Syria and North Korea, and as December pulled to a close, Amazon announced a similarly ambitious expansion plan: over 200 countries around the globe. At the same time, Fox announced a deal with Sky which will likely see their programming distributed throughout Europe, and HBO is planning to expand into Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Fueling all this is the knowledge that digital platforms, YouTube in particular, have no geo-restrictions, and so it’s easy to build up demand in overseas markets and even easier to serve up that content locally, in a timely manner. While the sociopolitical fallout from American domination is likely to be favorable to the U.S., the immediate fallout should be more money for Hollywood.
8. Snapchat As A Platform. Look for Snapchat to become an even bigger platform for TV as other networks join ESPN, MTV, TBS, CNN et al. in creating original content for the platform. Some of these shorts have taken the form of series, other are one-offs, but they’re all designed to be viewed on smartphones by Snapchat’s millions of young Millennial and Gen-Z users. There’s a method to the madness behind these content plays however: networks see them as a Trojan horse of sorts, a way to get younger viewers familiar with their network, and its style of programming, so that they start to watch the network’s main, longer form programming. It’s a smart move for the networks and for Snapchat, which is far more friendly to content-producers and brands than Facebook and Twitter.
9. The Love-Hate Relationship With Facebook Continues. Networks love Facebook because the social network is uniquely positioned to give them vast amounts of data about their viewers: what shows they like, what brands, where they live, who their friends are, what their jobs are.. people tell Facebook anything and everything. But at the same time, they fear Facebook, because Zuckerberg and team can use all that data to launch their own programming. Which is exactly what they’ll be doing in 2017. As 2016 drew to a close, Facebook announced that a team lead by College Humor founder Ricky Van Veen was actively seeking out series, game shows and sporting events. It was unclear what format these shows would take—would they be long-form, high production value or shorter—but either way, Facebook can no longer claim that they are just “supporting” the television industry. Even if they are letting the networks use the Facebook Audience Network to show hyper-targeted addressable advertising. Look for more Facebook TV in a variety of formats, along with a continuation of the TV network’s love/hate relationship with the social network.
10. The Growth of Newsroom Style Branded Content. One of the ways to create lots of niche content is to turn production over to the brands that operate in the space. The problem is that brands are notoriously horrible at creating scripted series or anything creative. It’s just not what they do. They can, however, create well-done newsroom style shows. An airline doing a travel documentary about one of their new locations. A soft drink doing a showcase for up and coming musicians. That’s a lot easier for brands to pull off than a scripted series and it fills the need for non-fiction series that aren’t real estate and cooking shows. These branded series will also be available at different lengths— short-, mid- and long-form, and be available across all distribution platforms where they will give ad-supported programmers the ability to decrease the number of interruptive ads they’re running, further improving the overall experience.
11. More Mergers, Acquihires And Buyouts. Having watched its cousins, the music and print industries, fall victim to the shift to web-based consumption, TV seems to be learning its lesson: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So we’ll see even more instances this year of TV industry stalwarts snapping up newer digital players (think NBCU/Buzzfeed) along with vertical mergers as distributors seek to team up with programmers. (A newly single CBS is a prime target.) It’s a way to consolidate power and to add new skills and capabilities to make these old media companies competitive in the new digital reality.
12. Digital Fraud Makes TV Look Better Than Ever. Digital advertising has had a fraud problem for a while now, but the shit hit the proverbial fan this week as cybersecurity firm White Ops exposed a massive Russian-run fraud operation whose bot farm has been gaming premium video advertisers to the tune of $3M-$5M a day. That alone will have major repercussions throughout 2017, and combined with previous scandals, such as Facebook’s “oops, we counted wrong” trifecta, is going to make television advertising, both linear and digital, looks like a very good idea. Look for the TV networks to keep hammering home the false equivalency of the apples-to-elephants metrics used to compare TV to digital video, which started when Fox pointed out during the upfronts that if the World Series were judged by YouTube’s metrics, it would have 6.8 billion views. Toss in an expanded addressable product enabled by the expansion of digital-only virtual pay-TV services, and predictions of budgets shifting heavily to digital may prove false. (Note: we define platforms like Hulu and virtual services like Sling as “TV” not digital, since their offering is limited to TV shows. Other, less enlightened oracles may park them under the digital umbrella. So researcher emptor.)
NB: The first five bullets first appeared in The Drum on 12/15/16