This year has seen the watching of TV shows online take off. Broadcasters and providers discuss what they’ve learned about audience desires and expectations

  • Peter Bale
    Executive producer, Microsoft UK
  • David Brennan
    Research and strategy director, Thinkbox
  • Rahul Chakkara
    Controller of TV platforms, BBC
  • Richard Davidson-Houston
    Head of online products, Channel 4
  • Griff Parry
    Director of on-demand, BSkyB
  • Claire Tavernier
    Senior executive VP, Fremantle FMX

What’s driving the trend for long-form video online?

Rahul Chakkara, BBC: The pace of broadband adoption has been the biggest factor. With broadband accounting for more than 95% of all internet connections in the UK, most households can receive and watch video online. Services like BBC iPlayer and YouTube, which offer video in a clear and simple way, have also played a part.

Claire Tavernier, Fremantle FMX: BBC iPlayer in the UK and Hulu in the US have had a profound effect on mainstream acceptance of online video. These platforms provide a good source of quality, relevant content and promote its accessibility on major TV channels.

Griff Parry, BSkyB: Several factors are driving the trend but they’re all underpinned by the growth of broadband connectivity and innovation in consumer electronics. These result in a growing range of devices and platforms which can support a good quality video experience.

Richard Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: Convenience, word of mouth and laptops replacing second TVs are driving the trend. Anecdotal evidence, and our own research on social networks, tells us viewers are fitting TV into their schedules instead of building schedules around TV. A lot of people are watching Peep Show on Saturday mornings because they want to do something else at 10pm on a Friday. An episode ofPeep Show compares very favourably with losing 30 minutes of your life clicking around more in hope than expectation.

Peter Bale, Microsoft: No longer is it just skateboarding dogs on YouTube. The BBC has shown the way in putting great quality content online. Advertisers are also keen.

What have we learned about online video and TV so far?

Chakkara, BBC: If you offer great content in a simple way, people will watch. When the iPlayer started offering high-quality streaming video within a couple of clicks, it transformed the on-demand market and made video accessible. We build on this by innovating and offering simple ways to discover, find, play and share content.

Parry, BSkyB: Consumers are embracing choice and flexibility, and are becoming increasingly accustomed to accessing TV across multiple platforms. Mobile and online complement what’s available through their main TV.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: The most important driver is catching up with what was on TV last night. That’s not to say that’s all that gets watched - 4oD is unusual in that it has thousands of hours of archive programmes. Even so, it’s still true in so far as, if Peep Show was on TV last night, people will watch not just that episode but past editions as well.

David Brennan, Thinkbox: One of the advantages of on-demand TV is the empowerment of recommendation. Programmes watched by only a few hundred thousand people on transmission can gain extra reach within days.

Tavernier, Fremantle FMX: Social networks and real-time feeds mean that experiencing TV moments together doesn’t necessarily involve watching them together. The one-screen/one-viewer equation is becoming the norm. Applications like Facebook Connect or some of the new YouTube APIs mean that watching something together can happen virtually. The Twitter activity associated with an episode of American Idolor The X Factor shows how much people enjoy this type of viewing.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: We’re getting used to the idea of being permeable. Incoming communication could be anything from “I love this programme, well done” right through to “I can’t install Flash 10 on my computer”. You might have a separate section on your site for different questions, but the viewer doesn’t care. The absolutely essential thing for broadcasters to do is to be responsive to individuals about specific things.

What commercial models are most likely to succeed?

Tavernier, Fremantle FMX: We’re far from online ads funding the content industry in the way TV or print ads do. The commercial models I expect will succeed are a mixture of advertising, sponsorship, pay-per-stream and subscription - not unlike the TV industry, in many ways.

Bale, Microsoft: We need to take risks and experiment but we’re working on an ad-funded model. It won’t be easy for anyone, but advertisers want engaged audiences and those audiences will engage with great content.

Parry, BSkyB: Others may put trust in ad-funded models, but as we’ve seen over the last couple of years in TV, that model is exposed during advertising downturns. This can result in less certainty in relation to maintaining sustainable investments in content long-term.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: Ad funding is already succeeding; 4oD is profitable. Paying for download-to-own, like via iTunes, is also successful. It’s no good simply saying people can only have content if they pay for it. They’ll quickly find other ways to get the same content or do something else. People may take some subscription services but only if they come with added benefits. These could include previews, HD, extra content, no ads or member benefits. All could just about be plausible.

Parry, BSkyB: We have subscription at our core. We shouldn’t lose sight of the opportunity for ad revenue, nor pay per view. Sky has always operated a mixed model to harness multiple revenue streams. We have no reason to believe this model can’t be successfully exported online or to mobile, and this continues to be our strategy.

Brennan, Thinkbox: There’ll be a mixture of metrics based on exposure, engagement and transaction. BARB intends to measure online TV and VoD in the home. Depending on how aligned with broadcast TV negotiations online TV becomes, how TV as a whole is valued and traded could be rethought, because online TV will provide the most attractive advertising environment on the web.

How will the rise of internet-capable TVs and other platforms affect long-form video?

Tavernier, Fremantle FMX: I’d expect it to accelerate the penetration of online video, but it remains to be seen whether it’ll help consolidate the business model. We still need to find a simple mechanism for pay-per-view content on most platforms, which will be a big limitation.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: VOD will become predictable, more about catching up and less about archive browsing. Context is the thing. Let’s assume the same content is available on an internet-enabled TV, whether via an ethernet connection or set-top box, as on a PC. The main difference is around who has the remote. Much of the viewing of on-demand content on laptops is, in my view, driven by the context of the user not being in charge of the main TV. On-demand IPTV to the big screen will become a more popular scenario than via a PC.

Chakkara, BBC: The rise of internet-connected TV will co-exist with video online. We’re at the beginning of the on-demand market. The frequency and length of viewing may differ but both the segments have space to grow.

Brennan, Thinkbox: It’ll provide more effective distribution for on-demand content and a return path to the TV, so there are revenue opportunities for premium content as an alternative to DVD rental and retail. But don’t expect a totally converged TV/internet experience. The two-screen model - watching TV with a laptop or mobile handy - appears to be far more popular than overlaying web content on a TV programme. People don’t want to be distracted by weather or share updates on the same screen for most types of programming.

Parry, BSkyB: Whether it’s an internet-enabled set-top box, TV or games console, you must focus on content and the customer experience, in addition to understanding that the fundamental entertainment demands of consumers remain consistent across all screens.

What are the myths around long-form content online?

Parry, BSkyB: Regardless of the distribution platform, the underlying demands of consumers don’t change. You need to deliver a rich mix of both live and on-demand, supported by a high quality, intuitive user experience.

Brennan, Thinkbox: Calling it long-form video is absurd. Are movies watched online ‘even longer form’ video? Broadcast schedules are the first choice for most and will continue to be so because they satisfy the need for trusted editors and shared experience, both real and virtual. That’s why online TV services have thrived at the same time as recorded broadcast viewing.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: It’s a myth that channel brands, such as the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV, and their on-demand brands -iPlayer, 4oD and ITV Player - are somehow irrelevant. Of the visits to channel 4.com from search engines, which is a good number, more than half aren’t looking for programmes, they’re using the channel brand or the on-demand brand to get to content.

Tavernier, Fremantle FMX: Most viewers are becoming destination agnostic, while clever search engines like SideReel may end up driving most of the traffic in the future. Long-form video online will eventually cannibalise the secondary distribution window - a very lucrative market for TV producers, especially in the UK.

Bale, Microsoft: The MSN Video Player is dispelling the idea that there isn’t money to be made. Audiences will respond to good-quality, compelling content anywhere, and if they do then so will advertisers.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: VOD is still a minority interest compared to watching TV. That doesn’t mean it won’t get bigger or that more time-shifted viewing won’t take place. I don’t agree that long-form video online will replace watching TV. Peep Show does really well on TV. It’s absolutely not the case that because you can watch it on catch-up, no one’s watching the broadcast.

How are viewers’ expectations of long-form content online different from TV?

Parry, BSkyB: Viewers expect more community engagement and social networking, akin to the experience enjoyed across other online services.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: People are increasingly using the internet to comment on, rate or otherwise talk about the programme after or even while watching it.

Chakkara, BBC: The differences are in their expectations of user experience and quality. The experience on TV has to be highly visual, easy to discover and work with a remote control. We have the opportunity to extend live viewing to on-demand and the other way around.

Bale, Microsoft: Online viewers get an instant range of choices from an online catch-up service that they wouldn’t necessarily have from a linear TV broadcast or even a pay-TV option. We believe we’ll attract viewers who appreciate a curated offering of the best archive content in various editorially themed areas. We’re not trying to compete with the full range of catch-up TV.

Brennan, Thinkbox: Expectations are lower, for either technical reasons, such as screen size and buffering, or contextual ones. However, most of these will go when online video services are delivered directly to the TV. Our Me-TV research found people complaining there weren’t centre breaks online because they add to the authenticity of the viewing experience.

Davidson-Houston, Channel 4: In our experience, some people express surprise at having to watch ads in the breaks. We already find people have the expectation of being able to watch everything immediately after transmission. It’s amazing when you consider that VOD barely existed three years ago. Being able to watch what you want, when you want for free is practically a right. People are outraged if they can’t go online and just watch TV. This is the weight of expectation now.

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Published 19 November, 2009 by NMA Staff

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