Focusing on Innovation at the CableFax Summit

Submitted by Chris Ellis

October 10, 2013 - 10:16

For a long time, TV was essentially the same experience: a handful of channels, a “one-way” distribution system—either from an antenna or a cable/satellite, operator—and shows that people watched at one time, on that one device. Eventually, the screens got bigger and the number of channels grew, but I’d say it was in recent years that the pace of change really started to accelerate.

Today, that pace is almost dizzying. There are more ways to watch programs, at more times and in more places. TV—and advertising—isn’t just a one-way, lean-back experience (though you can certainly choose for it to be if you want); it can now be interactive, time-shifted and completely personal. Social media has created a new virtual water cooler, much to the benefit of shows that can find a new way to build buzz, and much to the consternation of those seeking to avoid spoilers about a show they haven’t watched yet
Against that backdrop, CableFax recently presented their 2013 TV Innovation Summit in New York. The day began on an interesting note as Rogers Venture Partners' General Partner Mike Lee reminded the audience just how important the TV remains: for all of the new devices out there commanding our attention, we should keep in mind that consumers are still spending more than three hours a day on average with their TV sets. An ever-growing number of those sets are now connected to the vast potential of the Internet, with about 50 million Internet-enabled sets in use in the U.S., and about 80-85% of them actually connected to the Web.
With that kind of engagement with the TV screen and the potential for truly two-way interaction, it’s not surprising that a venture capital firm like Lee’s sees hundreds of businesses looking to capitalize on that market. What does he look for when determining where to invest? As he put it, in companies that are “re-assembling a fragmented market.” Of course, that’s precisely what we do for our clients every day.
Speaking of dramatic change, the world of media measurement certainly has seen its share. It used to be that you knew within a short time that M*A*SH or The Cosby Show drew a certain number of viewers on one night at one time based on a sample of TV viewers who filled out diaries (our own family did that for a week when I was young). Now though, you’re measuring viewership live, within three days, on multiple devices, on video on demand…it’s enough to make your head spin, and a challenge for media sellers and marketers alike.
A great panel discussion on that topic, including research leaders from ABC, Time Warner Cable and Nielsen among other companies, was in broad agreement that consistent metrics and measurement practices are needed to ensure that all viewing is captured. It’s perhaps easier said than done with different technologies and different consumer behaviors, but as all parties agreed, progress is being made, and we’re getting closer to that objective every day.
Beyond accurately measuring all audiences, a conversation that all marketers should be thinking about took place on the panel: shifting demographics as audiences themselves change. It was noted, quite fairly, that today’s 60-year-old, for example, is not the same as 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Today, those consumers are statistically more likely to have teenagers, for examples, thanks to a trend towards marrying and starting families later. That one change has a significant impact on spending patterns in those households.
One trend that’s only likely to pick up steam is the link between content on the Web and TV. To my six-year-old, for example, what we can watch from YouTube via our Blu-Ray player is largely intertwined with what he enjoys on “traditional” TV. He’s a huge Phineas & Ferb fan, and often asks to watch the companion YouTube videos, “Doof’s Daily Dirt.” As his generation grows up, old distinctions will continue to fall by the wayside.
The “Doof” example takes a franchise born on TV and extending it to the web, but what about the other direction? How can you take something that first finds its audience online and bring it to the world of TV as we know it today? That was the focus of a conversation with National Geographic Channel's CEO David Lyle. It’s not so easy as picking up something that’s got “X” million views and putting it on television. There’s still a general distinction in how people watch different types of video: snacking on the short-form web videos, but becoming more engaged with TV shows. That means what you need to do in order to successfully bridge the divide is to find someone with the right approach or style that you’re looking for, and creating a different way of presenting them on TV.
It’s not always easy—online, many of those content creators have a completely unfiltered relationship with their followers. In essence, they are their own brand But on TV, programs, while having their own presence, still operate within the broader context of the channel’s brand.
Lyle also stressed the importance of keeping engagement flowing between TV seasons (another concept that’s not as established on the Web). That means creating additional content full-time, which can be done at a lower cost and yet still offers opportunities for making some of that investment back in the form of advertising.
Another great panel discussion focused on the topic of how to “monetize “TV everywhere”—the idea of being able to watch television shows on any device at any time and in or out of the home. Panelists from A&E, Turner and Comcast NBCUniversal had some differences of opinion about how whether the consumer adoption of TV everywhere is gaining momentum, but all seemed to agree there is more work to be done to make the process easier for customers to understand and use. Currently, as many customers can attest, it can be a bit challenging: not all content is available live or on demand, and who makes what available in what format varies widely. Some content is available only on a programmer’s website or app, some is available on a service provider’s app. Some content requires a login, some doesn’t. It’s clearly not as simple as sitting on the couch and selecting anything that’s available at the click of a remote. There is progress, though, and as we continue to see more content available on more screens, our Comcast Media 360 business unit is working to extend advertising campaigns to those platforms.
Although there were many more great discussions, I’m going to wrap up by noting a fantastic lunchtime one-on-one with ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Advertising Sales and Marketing, Sean Bratches. I always enjoy hearing him speak, and his thoughts about how sports plays in to the intersection of the TV and digital worlds were enlightening. For context, he noted that 99.96% of ESPN content is watched live as it airs. 99.96%....that’s a pretty powerful argument as to why sports programming is an ideal investment for marketers.
We also know sports fans are consuming lots of digital content, so the question could be asked, does that cannibalize the TV viewing? Do viewers really need SportsCenter when they can get the scores and stats that matter to them at their fingertips?  As Bratches noted, digital media has actually led to more engagement. His characterization was that it makes them better sports fans and more involved, adding to the ways they can connect with the ESPN brand, not replacing one form of that contact with another. Back when ESPN debuted in 1979, national TV sports was for the most part limited to a few hours on three networks on weekends. Today, there are regional sports networks in every part of the country, several additional national sports networks (beyond ESPN’s own family of channels), league-run networks, college conference networks and more. Yet more and more records are being set all the time for all of those outlets.
While none of us has a crystal ball (if I did, that PowerBall jackpot would be mine), the ideas and projections about where trends in the media are headed were thought provoking. The one thing we can say here at Comcast Spotlight is that however audiences continue to fragment, we’ll continue to “reassemble” them to help our clients ensure their messages are reaching consumers in the content viewers are watching.

Focusing on Innovation at the CableFax Summit