Mar 28, 2017

Find Me At TV[R]EV

I am writing at TV[R]EV these days.

It's a site I started with my friends Jesse Redniss and David Beck to serve as a thought leadership vehicle for BRaVe Ventures.

Now that BRaVe has been absorbed by Turner, I've been working with my friends at Fabric Media. They've helped bring in some great new writers and are making the site way more consistent.

I publish a Week-In-Review there every Friday, along with a trend piece on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Check it out, and be sure to sign up for the Friday e-newsletter, highlighting the top TV and media news from TV[R]EV and around the web

Dec 23, 2015

New In The Guardian: Audiences Down, Christmas Ad Revenue Up: Has The TV Industry Gone Mad?

Jeff Goldblum in Curry’s 2015 Christmas ad campaign.

Originally published at The Guardian on December 22, 2015

The television industry is at a curious crossroads. Live viewing – and hence ratings – are down, but revenue from TV commercials has gone up. We’ve seen banner months for TV advertising in the UK and US this autumn. And while this initially seems like a curious paradox, there is in fact a rational explanation.

“No other medium gives you the reach that television does.” That story has been foisted upon advertisers for the past half a century. Surprisingly, however, it’s still true: even in the age of mobile and virtual reality and YouTube videos with billions of views, nothing even comes close to television in terms of reach.
It’s a lesson that has not been lost on advertisers, many of whom are starting to see the web as a black hole of fraudulent views, spurious statistics (three seconds for a “view”) and, more recently, ad blocking software. While people may be skipping past adverts or playing with their smartphones if they do watch them, at least, the thinking goes, they are aware of them, and hopefully for more than three seconds.

Now here’s where the maths gets tricky

Yes, ratings are down. Live viewership in younger demographics is sinking below 50%. And so what did the networks do in response? They ran fewer ads, to counter the appeal of ad-free streaming services such as Netflix. Which means there’s less of that (still) very desirable inventory.

Where the laws of supply and demand kick in

We now have the same number of advertisers vying for fewer available commercial slots. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up. Even if far fewer people are watching. 
And we can expect that trend to continue as several new pieces fall into place. The first is addressable advertising, such as Sky AdSmart, which allows advertisers to target specific audiences much the same way they do on the web. While the television version is unlikely to include the pinpoint precision of web ads (that would eliminate the “reach” part) it will allow, say, cosmetics companies to target certain ads to female viewers – versus the current model, which is just “shows watched by a large number of female viewers”. Here, the lack of waste from the new audience parting segmentation will make the ad units more valuable and networks should be able to charge more for them.
As more viewing is done digitally, advertisers will be able to track their ads, who’s watching them, and what other shows and adverts viewers watch. Add in data from social media – Facebook authentication, whereby viewers use their Facebook credentials to log in to their pay-TV accounts is rapidly taking off – and you have data about millions of viewers, another factor that will help to keep TV adverts valuable to advertisers. 
Better measurement will also help keep TV ad revenue in the black. In the US, Nielsen, after several years of waiting, finally announced the launch of their Total Audience Measurement system. This will measure live and time-shifted viewing and will provide separate ratings for TV shows and for commercials. Since the networks will now see ratings benefits from allowing their programs to be viewed anywhere and everywhere, they will throw away the restrictions they had previously imposed on such viewing. That means more places to run the commercials they sell, thus further boosting reach.
The holy grail for this new world of television advertising is fewer, better targeted commercials which the networks can then charge more money for. It’s a system that may fit everyone’s needs, as witnessed by recent developments at the popular US streaming service, Hulu. 
Hulu charges $7.99 a month for a subscription service that includes about 90-120 seconds of advertising per show. In September, Hulu rolled out a new option, whereby viewers can pay an extra $4 a month and avoid commercials altogether. It seemed like a winning solution for a world where viewers seemingly do whatever they can to avoid advertising. 
That’s why many observers (myself included) were surprised to learn that the ad-free service was not nearly as popular as the ad-supported one (especially given the fact that they both involve paying a subscription fee). While Hulu has not released exact figures, they have stated that “(a)s we predicted, the overwhelming majority of users have signed up for (or stayed on) the limited commercials plan”.
The final piece of the puzzle is cord-cutting, which seems to rapidly be becoming a non-issue. That’s because the pay TV service providers, most all of whom also provide broadband service, such as Verizon, Sky and Virgin, have taken an “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach to the new streaming services. They are partnering with the likes of Netflix, HBO Now and others, so they can offer those services to their broadband customers who don’t want the traditional 1,000-channel bundle, while keeping them firmly inside the ecosystem. Since many of the standalone online video services are ad-supported, advertisers get even more places to reach their audience.
Increased or even stable revenue is still far from a slam-dunk. There is a lot that could go wrong and certain types of advertisers (eg retailers) may prefer the immediacy of the web versus a TV universe where most viewing is time-shifted. Still, the odds are looking favourable, something the TV industry has not heard in quite some time.

The Week In Review: “Too Much Good TV” Is Linear Thinking

Originally published at on December 18, 2015

1. 409 And Counting.

There are now 409 scripted original series on television.

If you watched each one for a half hour, once a week, you’d need a 29-hour day to complete the task.

That’s a lot of TV.

A lot of really good TV too, and clearly the issue arises that there’s not enough time to watch all of it.

Some people see this as a problem. We don’t.

There are far more good books out than anyone will ever have time to read. Yet no one is suggesting that fiction writers put down their pens because there’s just too much good literature being produced.

“Too much good TV” is Linear Thinking. It’s saying that all of these shows are competing for the viewer’s attention at the same time.

Non-Linear Thinking says it doesn’t really matter, that people watch some shows live and some shows much later. And that it’s not so much a matter of liking one better than the other as it is a matter of convenience.

TV, as we’ve said before, is about to become a lot more like books and movies. Where there are libraries of classics and cult hits and no one is ever going to read or see all the good ones. That makes it a more important medium and brings in the specter, raised in this most excellent New York Times article, that it might even become an art form.

Why Should You Care

The bar keeps getting set higher and higher. That's tough, because you’ve really got to search to find the gems these days, but it’s amazing because it means TV is going to attract the best and the brightest in every field.

It also means that this is a strong and vibrant medium that’s not going to be replaced by YouTube videos. No matter how loudly the tech blogs protest.

What You Need To Do About It

Be the best TV network/writer/director/producer/actor/technologist /marketer/advertiser/blogger/social media expert/critic/fan you can be. Keep the quality going and things will fall into place. Not for every series or every network, but for the industry at large.

2. FIOS, FIOS, Everywhere

Remember when we told you that TV Everywhere was about to really take off now that Nielsen’s TAM was going to be measuring all those non-linear views?

We weren’t lying.

Verizon FIOS confirmed that customers who have the FIOS Mobile app are now able to watch anything that’s currently on their DVRs. That’s just the first step in what promises to be the total liberation of programming from the confines of the set top box and a big win for FIOS.

Why You Should Care

Because with TV Everywhere comes the whole shift to addressable advertising or what we have been calling “Audience Parting.” Dynamic Ad Insertion (DAI) in tandem with programmatic buying and selling will make this real and the whole monetization ecosystem will get turned on its head.

What You Need To Do About It

Figure out how you’re going to take advantage of the shift and start planning now. Familiarize yourself with Audience Parting and start figuring out the ramifications for your organization.

Not Ready for Prime Time: Why Amazon’s Not Going to Become the Next Comcast

Originally published at on December 9, 2015

Just a few days after rumors surfaced that Amazon would begin selling other OTT services through its Prime subscription service, the e-commerce behemoth announced that both Showtime and Starz subscriptions (along with 17 smaller, OTT-only providers) would be available as add-ons to Prime.

Is this the sign of a new era in pay TV, where large OTT services like Amazon will begin to offer their own bundles, essentially replacing pay-TV operators? And if it is, is that a positive development for the industry?

While it’s tempting to entertain the notion that Amazon could displace the MVPDs, it’s also unlikely.

To begin with, it’s unlikely that Amazon will be able to strike deals with enough networks to create any kind of competitive alternate service. It’s one thing to get a few premium networks like Showtime and Starz, but quite another to get NBC.

Showtime, whose service is also available through Hulu, seems to be taking the tack of making its apps available through as many outlets as possible. That’s not a bad strategy for a network that always seems to be a few steps behind HBO, despite having a wealth of quality current programming (“Homeland,” “The Affair”) and a fairly deep bench, (“Dexter,” “Queer As Folk,” “Weeds”). Providing one more location for non-subscribers to sign up makes sense for Showtime.

It Doesn’t Make That Much Sense for Most Other Networks.
That’s because the real value for networks in creating any type of standalone over-the-top (OTT) solution is the ability to gather data about their customers. While that value is offset by the costs of setting up and marketing an OTT solution, there’s not much incentive for them to let Amazon handle things, especially when Amazon, as a creator of Golden Globe and Oscar winning original content, is in fact competing with them.

There’s no reason for any network to give that kind of valuable data about subscribers and their viewing habits to a competitor. Even less reason when that competitor is an online retailer like Amazon. Amazon could map that information to actual purchases and thus learn even more about the audience, and then use that information to inform its own programming decisions.

What’s in It for Consumers?
For the consumer, the only real reason to go for the add-ons is the convenience of a single bill. That could be appealing to someone whose only OTT service is Amazon, but that seems a very limited scenario, given Netflix’s 50 million plus users. (Amazon does not release information on how many Prime subscribers it has.)

While Amazon has had success with Prime’s original content, the rest of the service can be somewhat confusing. Amazon uses a hybrid SVOD/TVOD model, and so some shows and movies are available for free with Prime and others require an additional fee. Throw in a bunch of pay-to-subscribe programming from other providers and things can get even murkier.

The Future Belongs to the MVPDs
While Amazon may have some initial success selling additional subscriptions, we don’t see this solution–larger OTT providers selling subscriptions to smaller ones–becoming any sort of a trend. As we’ve predicted previously, we feel that the most likely future is one where MVPDs begin selling OTT services to their broadband customers as an alternate or add-on to their traditional pay-TV service.

Cool Story, Bro

Originally published at on December 18, 2015

Tis the season once again for all the research firms to release their studies wherein they interview a small sampling of average Americans and conclude that cord cutting, cord shaving, cord nevering and all other manner of cord severance are about to explode. 

Because, you know, that’s what the 125 people in the survey said when prompted about it.
The thing is, cord cutting is a lot like dieting. People think they should do it, talk a lot about doing it, but when that juicy 800 channel bundle is in front of you, it’s hard to give it up for some celery sticks.

Especially once you figure out that if you get the celery sticks from the a la carte menu, it’s not really saving you anything over the all-you-can-eat option.

So ignore all the salacious headlines about how 1 in 5 Americans will cut the cord by 2018 or how Millennials are never going subscribe to pay TV. (It’s uncanny the way those 23 year-olds can predict their own futures.)  When the stats come out, those numbers won’t be there (again) and some of the cable MPVDs, long the whipping boys of the industry, are actually predicting full-year subscriber growth.

Things Are Looking Up

While their reputation for tone deafness was not undeserved, most of the major MVPDs seem to be getting their acts together and doing something to improve the customer experience. Plus, as we’ve noted previously, the introduction of Nielsen’s TAM system next month is going to result in the rapid growth of TV Everywhere as the networks’ prior objection, that TVE views went uncounted, disappears and everyone in the ecosystem sees the advantage of it.

That’s already happening, as Verizon’s latest version of it’s FIOS Mobile app allows users to watch programs off their DVRs. And mark our words, that’s just the start.

The other side of the story is that (as we’ve also noted) the line between TV and OTT is rapidly disappearing, as the MVPDs are starting to offer Netflix, Hulu and the rest to their broadband customers and so even if all you want is apps and broadband, they’ve still got you safely inside their ecosystem. (If you're paying someone for TV, even if  what you're paying for is an app, that's still pay-TV.)

That means the real cord you’d need to cut is to your broadband, and even the most click-baitish of the studies has yet to suggest that is happening.

For now, anyway.

Week In Review: People Love Twitter. They Just Don’t Want To Use It.

Originally published at on December 11, 2015

Perhaps the biggest news in the industry this week was contained in Twitter’s blog post about their decision to start showing ads to non-logged in viewers. That critical nugget is that the Home of the Fail Whale claims to have 500 million “non-logged-in” users (versus their alleged 300 million logged-in users.)  That’s a number made all the more significant by the fact that few people actually believe Twitter has anywhere close to 300 million active users—factoring in all the multiple accounts, spam accounts, sock puppet accounts, “buy Twitter followers” bot accounts and whatnot, if the real number is over 100 million that’s impressive.

But it’s long been our contention that while not that many people actually use Twitter, there are lots of people who care what’s being said on the platform. That’s partially a result of the attention Twitter gets from the media (which is in turn the result of the fact that so many media figures are active on Twitter) and partially a result of the fact that Twitter is actually a good source of real time news.

So what’s that mean for the television industry?
It means that running ads on Twitter can be a good way to reach your potential audience and create awareness for your show. Because, with a hat tip to Netflix, awareness is the new black. Live tune-in is great, but that ship has sailed and viewers are watching on their own schedules. But they are watching and if you remind them that your show is on, they’ll eventually tune in. And with Nielsen’s TAM ratings on the horizon, the need to show strong overnights is less compelling than ever. Twitter creates buzz and excitement and can help boost your show to the “want to binge on” list.

What you should do about it.
Shift some of your social spending to Twitter as an experiment. Hope that Twitter gives you a breakdown of which leads came from non-logged in users (NLUs). If not, see if they’ll let you use a unique URL for NLUs. Test to see if Twitter’s driving traffic beyond the air date. You will eventually hit on the correct formula.

NBC Launches SeeSo (Sort Of)
NBC launched the beta version of their new SeeSo comedy app this week as well. Reaction was pretty favorable (See Alex Nagler’s review) and the new platform promises to include as many as 20 new original series. That’s big news for anyone creating comedy and for comedy fans. What remains to be seen is how NBC is planning to use those shows. Will they be a farm team, where the hits get bumped up to network status or will they be shows that appeal to niche audiences, too small for network but perfect for SeeSo? And if it’s the latter, how will the writers, actors and producers feel about the lower rates they’re likely going to get paid.

Why It Matters
SeeSo is unique in that it’s one of the first network OTT apps that’s not just a repository for existing network content. That should prove to be a smart move as it gives viewers a real reason to sign up for the app and expands the potential audience to viewers who already get NBC via their MVPD subscription, but may want to sign up for the additional programming, especially if those series prove popular.

What You Should Do About It.
Imitate. NBC seems to really be on to something here, creating a vastly expanded audience for their OTT app, while also creating more monetizable assets with the additional programming. That’s a win/win all around.

Native Advertising On TV: What Does It Look Like And How Will It Work?

Originally published at on December 9, 2015

Native advertising has been a big hit on the web and sites like BuzzFeed have practically turned it into an art form. The format is not without it’s detractors though, who claim that it blurs the line between editorial and advertising.  But in a world of ad block software, publishers are all in favor of a format that actually captures consumers’ attention.

So how does this new ad format translate from the web to TV? Can native advertising be the boon for television that it’s been for the web?

Let’s start with a basic definition of “native advertising.” Online, it is a form of branded content, a story written in the style of the website, but about (tangentially or directly) the advertiser’s product or service. So for example, the New York Times famously ran a story on women’s prisons that was commissioned by the Netflix women’s prison drama “Orange Is The New Black.”  The idea is that the native ad should be every bit as entertaining as the rest of the content on the site to the point where users shouldn’t  immediately detect a distinction. (Hence the pushback on editorial vs advertising.)

What makes native advertising on television so hard to define is that unlike Buzzfeed articles, TV shows are long-form. So creating something that’s indistinguishable from the rest of the line-up is not as easily accomplished.

Further complicating matters is the fact that many networks don’t have a defining “voice” anymore, which makes creating something in their “voice” somewhat Sisyphean. And while everyone from BuzzFeed to the Times has hired staffers to create native advertising for them, the closest the TV industry has come is a storyline on HBO’s “Girls” mocking the format.

It might be easiest to start by defining what native advertising is not.

It’s not product placement, even when that placement is somewhat blatant and involves dialog. (ABC’s recent Star Wars promos are a good example of this: characters in ABC’s sitcoms discussed the movie and going to the movie, but that promotion was product placement, not native advertising.)

There are commercials using the stars of scripted programming, in-character, but those are not native ads either, just co-branded promos. They feel like ads starring the show’s actors, not new, unreleased scenes from the show.

Similarly, there are promos involving the stars of non-scripted programs like award shows. But those aren’t native advertising either, just (wait for it) promos involving the stars of non-scripted programming. They’re a throwback of sorts to TV’s first golden age, where announcers read copy about the show’s sponsor before the show began.

Finally, there’s branded content, which is different because it’s not specifically about the product, but rather about a core value of the product. (Think Red Bull and their action sports videos.) Branded content can pretty much live anywhere and if it fits in with a specific network, great, but it’s designed to live in its own, which is what differentiates it from native.

So the question remains: how do you do native advertising on TV.

To start, let’s toss out the idea that every network can host native advertising. Scripted programming is no place for native advertising as a storyline about a brand (rather than a quick product placement) will be immediately detectable and seem completely out of place.
That's why we feel that native advertising on TV will be limited to news and other non-fiction genres, where a story about a brand (or related to a brand) won’t feel out of place. It can live as a segment of a multipart show—a story about women’s prisons on a newsmagazine show would not feel out of place.

Native advertising can also work on travel and entertainment shows (for brands in those categories—think a history of cable cars segment for San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel) and on nature and science shows as well.  In all these categories, the brand story can easily be woven in to the fabric of the show without rending it.

There will be some pushback at first, as viewers come to grips with the new format and networks figure out where the line between editorial and advertising sits.

But eventually the kinks will get ironed out and viewers will come to accept native advertising as a more entertaining alternative to interruptive.

Brands will be happy with the higher level of engagement and networks will be happy with the new revenue stream. Making native advertising on TV a win all around.

Week In Review: Is Amazon Going To Be Your On-Demand MVPD?

Originally published at on December 4, 2015

We’re back from Thanksgiving and things are picking up this week. The biggest news came from Amazon and we’ll discuss that along with some interesting insights from Videonuze SHIFT and the TV of Tomorrow Show in New York City.

Amazon AggregatesThat’s been the news story on everyone’s lips this week as Lucas Shaw over at Bloomberg broke the story that the giant e-tailer was planning on aggregating other video services (movies and TV) and selling them via it’s successful Amazon Prime offering.

Prime, which, in addition to access to movies and shows like Transparent, gives subscribers free two-day shipping, looks like it is about to become a non-linear MVPD, offering a range of VOD content to subscribers, but no live TV.

Why That MattersWe’ve been predicting that the MVPDs will soon step up to the plate and start selling streaming/OTT services along with their traditional pay-TV packages, thus making cord cutting a non-issue. So long as you get your broadband connection through them, the MVPDs won’t much mind what kind of pay-TV services you choose.

So Amazon’s decision to aggregate all the other streaming services isn’t that much of a surprise and makes good business sense.

The issue for consumers will be who you want to pay. You’ve got to pay Charter or FIOS or Comcast for broadband service no matter what. So then the question becomes do you pay them for broadband plus Amazon Prime and let Amazon handle your on-demand subscriptions. Or do you let Comcast take care of all your OTT bundling and maybe even throw in some live sports and/or news channels for you.

Why That Really MattersData. Data is the gold of the internet era, and in the above scenarios, it’s either going to be the MVPDs or Amazon who collects that data. Which one is better is a trickier call for content owners. On the one hand, they don’t want the Comcasts of the world owning data about their viewers that can then be used against them in carriage fee negotiations. On the other hand, they don’t want Amazon owning that data either, if they’re going to use it to create their own original programming that competes with the networks’ own shows. Sort of a classic devil-you-know versus devil-you-don’t scenario.

What You Should Do About ItAt this point, the best course of action it to watch and see how this plays out, or, more accurately, to see if it even does play out: it’s quite possible that Amazon won’t be able to put the deals together, or that the deals they put together won’t be anything consumers get excited about. While Amazon Prime has been very successful (it’s estimated that around 40 million people subscribe in the US), that’s not because of it’s TV interface, which leaves a lot to be desired. So any product they come out with is not going to be an automatic slam dunk.

Notes From SHIFT, the VideoNuze Conference

AdTech Is Still Anyone’s Game: If there was one thing everyone at Videonuze’s SHIFT conference seemed to agree on, it was that things needed to change, that the current practice of buying TV advertising by day part was outdated and that the industry needed to implement a way to enable “audience parting” so that advertisers could reach specific audiences. How, when and where that would happen was the part everyone seemed uncertain about.

A few themes that kept turning up were the need for creative that matched the new reality where viewers might be binge watching on a big screen TV late at night or watching on a phone while standing in line at the bank. There was also much talk about Nielsen’s new TAM system, and how there technically were more accurate ways to measure viewership (e.g. MVPD set top box data) but no one had any strong ideas on how to get all the relevant parties to agree to use them.

What You Should Do About It:If your ad salespeople aren’t busy looking for ways to make audience parting happen, kick them in the shins. Hard. This is the future and whoever gets to that future first is going to have a big first mover advantage. Keep your eyes on what everyone else is doing though too—like most industries, there is lots of lemming-like behavior, so if something seems to be taking off, run, don’t walk.

Notes from the TV of Tomorrow ShowPeriscope Stars Are Real: One of the most interesting panels featured the stars of Periscope and YouNow, a four-year old platform that’s been pushing Meerkat out of the way. The stars ranged from a social media expert to an artist, a 17 year-old musician and a sports reporter. They’ve all amassed thousands of followers and the artist and the musician are already making money off of it.

What You Should Do About It:The next time your digital team comes to talk to you about live streaming, listen to them. It’s going to be huge.

Advertising’s Not Dead. At Least Not Yet: Another panel featured TVREVers Jesse Redniss and Alan Wolk and discussed the potential death of advertising in a post-Netflix world. Panelists pondered the surprisingly lackluster adoption rate of Hulu’s ad-free option and the pros and cons of branded content and native advertising. Interactive plays from TruX and Innovid were dissected and the always outspoken Ashley Swartz reminded the audience that it was all about business goals, anyway. The verdict: advertising will become more targeted, but it’s not going anywhere soon.

What You Should Do About It:Breathe a sigh of relief. And then start looking into audience parting and why fewer commercials may be a better thing for everyone involved.