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.

Star Wars, You Are Not: The Lessons Of The Prom King Brand

Originally published at on December 2, 2015

Star Wars has been all over the media these past weeks. Not just news stories about the movie’s upcoming debut, but dozens (if not hundreds) of promotions on everything from Ellen’s Heads Up game to successful product placement on something like a half dozen popular ABC shows.

They’ve done such a good job of it, you might be tempted to think of it as the future of movie promotions.

But you would be wrong.

Very, very wrong.

Here’s why:

Star Wars is a unique property. With the possible exception of ET, no other movie has such a palpable hold on American pop culture. Everyone, from eight year-olds to eighty year-olds knows what “May the force be with you,” means. Ditto “Luke, I am your father.” Darth Vader may be better known than Kim Kardashian. And show anyone a hairstyle with two headphone-like buns and the immediate reaction is “Princess Leia.”

Not bad for a movie that came out 38 years ago.

Star Wars is what’s known as a “Prom King Brand.” That is a brand with such a high cool factor, people interact with it just for the sake of being associated with it. Nike is a Prom King Brand. So (for now) are Apple and Starbucks. Popular entertainment properties (“Game of Thrones”, “Big Bang Theory”) are Prom King Brands, as are popular music acts and most sports teams. (An easy test for a Prom King Brand is “would many people unironically buy a cap or t-shirt with the brand’s logo on it?” If the answer is “yes”, then it’s a Prom King Brand.)

Other brands need to work harder in social media and beyond. They need to give something in order to get people to interact with them. That something can be entertainment, it can be utility, it can be information or even a financial reward. But while Apple could put up a blank Facebook page and wind up with 2 million fans, that’s a fluke, not an easily replicable formula.

Ditto Star Wars. ABC’s showrunners are happy to integrate some Star Wars promotion into their shows because it seems natural. It’s something their characters would be talking about regardless, given all the hype around the upcoming release. To the point where I’m guessing many (if not most) viewers weren’t even aware they were watching a paid promotion.

Compare that with Creed, the latest movie in the decades-long Rocky franchise. Creed is not as easy to integrate. While Rocky was an iconic movie in its day, that day has passed and I’m not sure how many people under 30 would even know what “Yo! Adrienne!” meant.

That means you can’t easily weave the movie into existing TV shows (ABC or otherwise) without it feeling horribly forced. Ellen’s not going to come out with a “Creed Edition” of Heads up. And brands aren’t rushing to create sponsored co-promotions with Creed.

That’s a movie from a well-known franchise too, one that’s probably going to make it’s investors money back. Smaller films, lesser known films, films that aren’t established franchises are all going to have to be promoted another way. A way that gives audiences a reason for wanting to interact with the promotions. Unlike Star Wars, it’s not enough just to show up with your shiny robots and wisdom spouting elders in tow. People are going to expect something from you in return for their attention.

Brands too. When Star Wars does a co-promotion with a brand, Star Wars is the star. When the movie is the latest Jennifer Aniston rom-com, that line gets blurry and oftentimes it’s Dunkin Donuts in the lead role, with RomCom as a secondary character. And that’s okay—not every movie is a star its first time out.

The Star Wars team has done a stellar job of promoting the movie’s return. That’s a high compliment, because with great expectations also come great falls. But they were up to the task and they aced it. So a round of polite golf claps. Or maybe even light sabres aloft.

Just don’t think there’s anything your brand or your movie can take away from it, though. Unless, of course, you happen to be sitting on the next Star Wars. Otherwise, you’re going to have to work a whole lot harder for attention.

That’s not necessarily a lesser proposition.

Just a very different one.

Week In Review: Things To Be Thankful For

Originally published at on November 25, 2015

It’s a short week and an American holiday, so in the spirit of that holiday, we thought we’d look back on what we have to be thankful for at the end of November 2015.

 1. The Industry Is Not Imploding

Not that we ever thought it was, mind you, but you know, Silicon Valley. (And they still manage to get it so incredibly wrong.) But the good news is the television industry seems to keep on humming. Ad revenue is actually up. The number of quality shows is so high that someone actually suggested we start making less of them. (Still not quite getting that one. Is the solution then to start creating more bad shows?)

What’s more, as we pointed out last week, the MVPDs seem to have figured out that it’s in their best interests to play nice with the Netflix,  Hulus and HBO Nows of the world. And so they are starting to bring them into the fold, selling them directly to their broadband and pay-TV customers as just one more option. When all TV options come from the same place (the MVPDs and their broadband connections) cord-cutting is no longer an issue.

2. Social TV Is Enjoying A Renaissance

While Social TV 1.0 was all about fans talking to each other, Social TV 2.0 is all about networks buying paid posts on social platforms. Facebook seems to be leading the way on this, primarily because (a) at a time when fewer and fewer people watch TV in real time, it’s not a real time platform, (b) 1.5 billion users. It’s hard to beat that kind of reach. (Twitter, by comparison, has about 300 million. And many would cut that number in half, given the number of users with multiple accounts) and (c) Facebook’s Atlas ad network allows those paid posts to be seen by millions of highly-targeted users on mobile sites. For network execs, whose biggest nightmare is how to drive viewership, social TV is proving to be a godsend.

In addition to Facebook and Twitter, the networks are also discovering the value of Instagram, Periscope and Snapchat, both as places where the networks can control the flow of conversation and as great places to reach a Millennial/Gen Z audience. Everyone is playing nicely with each other and everyone seems to be getting something out of it, especially consumers who are getting more access to their favorite shows
3. Creators Are Coming Into Their Own

For years, The Powers That Be have rolled their eyes at YouTube Creators, lumping them all under the blanket of “UGC” and otherwise not paying a whole lot of attention to them. That’s changing now as everyone seems to have discovered their extreme money-making potential.

The MVPDs are busy launching broadband-only skinny bundle packages aimed at Millennials and they’re populating them with “snackable” content from the various MCNs. This alone is doing wonders in terms of making YouTube creators a part of the overall ecosystem.

We’ve also seen the recent launch of YouTube Red, the platform’s first ad-free subscription service, that features premium content from well-known creators like PewDiePie. By giving more structure to the creators’ shows, Red is helping to make them more like traditional TV without sacrificing the things that made them successful in the first place.

4. TV Everywhere Seems To Finally Be Taking Off

 Now that Nielsen is measuring OTT views and networks are realizing the value of letting people watch their shows anytime and anywhere, true TV Everywhere should finally be on the horizon. There are already reports of Verizon rolling out an update to their TVE app that allows viewers to watch every single channel if they’re at home and gives them access to shows they’ve stored on their DVR. We expect the rest of the MVPDs will soon follow suit.

There’s much good news in the TV industry, but still much to figure out. Stick with TV[R]EV as we help you understand all the changes ahead by subscribing to our twice-weekly newsletter.

Thank you and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Dec 22, 2015

Giving the People What They Want


Originally published at on November 25, 2015

The past few months have seen the launch of several new broadband-only pay-TV offerings from various MVPDs. These services are aimed at Gen Z and Millennial viewers, ‘Cord Nevers,’ who do not want or need a full pay-TV package. Dish was first out of the gate with Sling, a $20/month service that featured ESPN and CNN. It has recently been followed by Verizon, with a Go90 service that launched last month, Comcast, which debuted a Stream service in November and Cox, which is set to launch the new FlareMe TV by the end of the year.

Are these services the right way for MVPDs to lure millennials back to pay-TV or is that demographic already a lost cause?

We think these services will prove to be successful, as they leverage the MVPDs position as broadband providers, while keeping millennial viewers in the ecosystem.

The MVPDs Control Access to the Internet
When tech bloggers talk about the death of the television industry, they conveniently overlook one important fact: for most people, the company from which they get pay-TV is the same company that gives them their broadband connection. That’s a huge competitive advantage, especially when you consider that most high-speed broadband providers are monopolies or duopolies, and thus the consumer has very little choice.

That’s why we’ve long said that the pay-TV customer is the MVPD’s to lose. They have them on the hook for broadband, and so upselling pay-TV should be fairly simple, particularly because pay-TV is a loss-leader for MVPDs who actually make the majority of their money off of broadband. Upselling will happen as twenty-somethings become thirty-somethings, settle down, have kids and realize that a traditional bundle is actually a better deal than the haphazard collection of network apps they’ve cobbled together to suit everyone in the family.

The Right Content
We’ve also been impressed with how the new broadband-only systems seem to be incorporating both short-form and long-form content in the same package. That’s how people watch TV today–snacking and bingeing (to use two food-related terms) and a system that offers viewers those options within a single interface is going to prove to be quite popular.

The challenge is to make sure that what’s offered is the right mix of short and long form, from the right providers. The early TV Everywhere packages the MVPDs offered were short on any networks viewers might have wanted to watch on a regular basis; hence their lack of success. With these new broadband-only systems, it’s imperative that they strike deals with the more popular MCNs and with TV networks a mass (versus niche) audience will want to pay to see.

Once these skinny bundles are in place, it’s easy to see how the MVPDs can begin to upsell their new customers, one app at a time. Maybe it’s HBO Now, maybe it’s Netflix or Hulu (which, as we mentioned the other week, are beginning to strike deals with MVPDs so that they can sell subscriptions too.)

What Comes Next
What will be interesting to watch is how these new offerings evolve, if any of the MVPDs will try selling them in markets where they currently have no presence (thus launching a war with the incumbent) and what type of content mix proves to be the most popular.

Nov 22, 2015

Week In Review: Catering To Cord-Cutters

Originally published at on November 20, 2015

It’s been a relatively slow week in TV-land, meaning nothing over a 7 on the Richter scale. Still, plenty going on to talk about.

In the last 7 days, we had a number of stories come out about the broadband-only services the MVPDs are starting to offer. Comcast exempted “Stream” from bandwidth caps. Verizon added some VICE programming to Go90. And Cox announced it was launching it’s own OTT service “FlareMe TV.”

While the names of some of these services may be inexcusably lame (Cox!), the concept behind them isn’t: cater to millennial and Gen Z consumers who have zero need for a full-on cable package and get them into the ecosystem where they can be tracked for the valuable data they provide now, and upsold at a later date too.

In the interim, the MVPDs can start serving as the middlemen (middlepeople?) for all the new standalone OTT services the networks are launching, Univision being the latest, with it’s $5.99/month Univision Now. If you only watch a few channels, going the solo route can be cost-effective, but with network apps coming in at $6 a pop, that number quickly adds up. That’s why it’s likely (as we noted earlier this week) that the MVPDs will step in and become the primary vendors for these services along with hardware manufacturers like Apple and Roku, thus sparing the networks the pain of setting up their own billing and collections departments.


Get over your fear of cord-cutting while simultaneously coming to grips with the notion that the world where everyone has an 1800-channel, $150/month pay-TV package is over. Keep on figuring out ways to reach your audience wherever it might be, but realize that you’re not going to disintermediate the MVPDs. Maybe call some of your MVPD contact up this week, see how they’re doing—you might want to get your programming on their soon-to-be-released broadband-only app.


ABC’s Wicked City got that dubious honor, followed shortly by NBC’s The Player (which wasn’t cancelled outright; NBC just “reduced the number of episodes ordered.” Because that’s different.

As we noted last week, networks are coming around to the realization that shows with low ratings sometimes get a second wind via streaming and on-demand. They get the notion that a smaller, more passionate audience trumps a larger, indifferent one.

Figure out how to empower that smaller, more passionate audience. Involve the showrunners and use social platforms and second screen to give them the content they need to enable their obsessions. Listen to what the audience is saying and what moments are resonating. Think long term, not short term.

A new Nielsen study showed that 27% of Roku viewing involves multiple viewers—friend and family watching together.

It confirms what we’ve long suspected—people use their Rokus for Family Movie Night and to binge shows together.


Understand that a lot of binge viewing and other streaming happens on big screen TVs, not just iPads and smartphones and plan accordingly. TV is still a social activity— IRL and on Facebook.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em: Why Cord-Cutting Has Ceased To Be A Threat

Co--written with Jesse Redniss and originally published at

It’s funny how cord cutting, the industry’s biggest bogeyman can seemingly disappear as a threat overnight. Not because of any sudden victory or clever strategy play by the TV Industrial Complex, but rather, because forces have gradually realigned and what was once unthinkable is quickly becoming the status quo.

And so it’s come to pass that no matter how you want to get your TV—streaming services, apps, YouTube or the Titanium Plus All-Channel Cable Package—all options seemingly lead to the same place: your MVPD broadband provider. It’s an easier and more cost-effective solution for everyone to feed off the same ecosystem than to try and create something new. And while viewers may stray from the classic thousand-channel cable TV package, many won’t stray all that far, and many more won’t necessarily stray forever.

Rather than people permanently severing their connection to the MVPDs, what we’ll see instead is people buying alternative packages from those same MVPDs. (Sort of like how supermarket chains now sell the organic food that was once their greatest competitor.) Instead of abandoning Comcast, Time Warner, et al, consumers will turn to them to buy access to streaming services, to individual network apps and to some form of broadband-only service with a skinny bundle and short form videos.

And they’ll do it because it makes business sense for all parties involved.

What’s In It For Streaming Services and Networks

For streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, it makes sense because when they allow the MVPDs to sell their services, they also get a free sales force, a free billing and collections department, and a whole lot of free marketing support. The latter is particularly true for those streaming services likely to be featured in the MVPD’s various promotions (“Get three free months of Netflix when you sign up!”)

If you’re a network launching an OTT app, it makes sense for you to sell your app through the MVPDs too, because of the billing and collection services you won’t have to build and because you’ll have instant access to the 95 million subscribers they have in their respective databases, which, given that you’re building your audience from scratch, is going to seem like a very good deal. And while you may occasionally cannibalize your existing audience, the new Nielsen TAM service will ensure that the views you get on your OTT service will still be counted.

What’s In It For Viewers

While both streaming services and network streaming apps will also make use of services like iTunes and Roku to sell subscriptions, those services can’t offer a single bill for TV and broadband the way the MVPDs can. While this may not seem like that big a deal, if you’re looking at five or six standalone services, plus broadband, the notion of a single bill can be very compelling.

There’s also the prospect of volume discounts, e.g. sign up for six independent services and get the seventh for free. That’s compelling because the networks are unlikely to offer much of a discount on their freestanding apps— CBS All-Access is $6/month, so if you have eight similar apps, that’s $48/month, plus $10 for Netflix, $15 for HBO Now and suddenly your $73/month bill isn’t that small, especially for what you’re getting. If your MVPD can bring that number down as part of a deal that includes unlimited broadband and a landline or cell phone, that’s going to be a lot more attractive than assembling the package yourself.

What’s In It For MVPDs

The MVPDs also stand to benefit from these arrangements. They make their money off of broadband, and the more broadband subscribers they have, and the more broadband those subscribers use, the happier they are. In addition, getting subscribers into their database, even if it’s just to buy a single HBO Now subscription, gives them the opportunity to upsell those customers, get them into the ecosystem and keep them there. That’s why we’re already seeing many (if not most) of the MVPDs introduce some sort of broadband-only service aimed at Gen Z and Millennials (Comcast Stream, Verizon Go90) that bundles traditional television and short-form YouTube-based content meant for consumption on their mobile devices.

A Journey, Not A Destination

The ability to adapt to consumers at various life stages is going to be the key to the MVPD’s success. So while a single viewer in their 20s would likely only need a few subscriptions, maybe to catch up on sports or to binge, when that same viewer settles down and has kids, they’ll likely take a more extensive package to satisfy all members of the family. Again, this may not be today’s traditional cable bundle, but it will include a broad array of options, and, more importantly, bring all the players revenue that’s in line with what they’re making today, whether that revenue comes from advertising, subscriptions or one-off transactions. As we’ve seen in recent months, ad revenue seems to be remaining constant even as the number of viewers goes down, in large part because no other medium offers the same kind of reach.

The Danger Of A Monopolistic System

Before we paint too rosy a picture, it’s worth pointing out the inherent danger of the system that seems to be shaping up: it’s based on a monopoly (or at best, a duopoly) where one company seemingly holds all the cards. Or at least that last mile cord into the home. That’s never a good thing, especially when those MVPDs have traditionally led the list of “America’s Most Despised Companies.” Giving them that much power is not the best idea, but short of government intervention or technological breakthroughs that provide alternate sources of broadband connectivity, there don’t seem to be any realistic alternatives.

As the MVPDs expand the notion of what constitutes “Pay TV” and which services they’re willing to offer, the notion of “cord cutting” will fall by the wayside. Existing networks and other content providers need to adapt to this by understanding that their viewers are on a lifelong journey through the pay-TV ecosystem, with different needs and wants each step of the way. Acknowledging this, and creating options that connect with viewers at each juncture will be the key to their success in the years ahead.

Or at least until the next major shockwave hits.

Nov 16, 2015

Week In Review: Reports Of It’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

#3 in the TV Week In Review series at TV[R]EV. Where you get the best insights into the [r]evolution in the television industry from people who actually work in it.

This has got to be a most excellent week if you’re a TV executive. There’s been a slew of good news, starting with the fact that ad revenue is up. Way up, according to Ad Age, despite the fact that ratings are down and networks are starting to run fewer commercials.

Ad Revenue Is Up
What’s responsible for this seemingly logic-defying development? It looks like advertisers have finally discovered that nothing gives them the reach and frequency that TV does, even with diminished ratings and less people watching in real time. That’s something TV executives have been saying for a long time, and the ad industry seems to finally be listening.

That’s good news for a number of reasons, among them, it gives credence to the industry’s Holy Grail, that as digitally-delivered television becomes more common, they’ll have more and better data on users and will thus be able to deliver fewer but better targeted commercials, which they can then charge more money for.

Fewer, Higher-Priced Commercials
The “fewer and better targeted” piece also seems to be coming to fruition, as several networks announced that they were cutting back on their ad loads. And while some are quick to see that as a reaction to Netflix and other ad-free services, it’s also a smart business decision: the fewer spots there are, the more valuable those spots become, regardless of how many people are actually watching.

Nothing’s Getting Cancelled
The final piece of good news this week is the fact that no new shows were cut from the networks’ rosters as of this week. That’s the first time that’s happened since the early 1950s. And it’s not because the network programming execs suddenly got really good at their jobs. It’s because the networks, in their infinite wisdom, are finally realizing that the current ratings system is no test of how popular a show is — or will become. They’ve come to believe in the power of the long tail, the notion that a show may actually pick up an audience weeks or even months after it first airs. By letting even low-rated series play out, the networks give them a chance of succeeding in the ensuing months, and, if nothing else, are creating an asset that can be licensed (or even revived) by an online service.

That’s a serious sea change in the way networks view programming, new programming in particular, and that shift to acknowledging, accepting and embracing the long tail, will change the ways shows are chosen, produced and marketed, making the need for an immediate embrace obsolete.

Singing The Yahoo Blues
Three BRaVe Venturers weighed in on this piece over at The Wrap by our friend Jordan Chariton. Andy Marks, Jen Kavanagh and Alan Wolk all reached a similar conclusion, that Yahoo tried to do too many things at once all but assuring they did a half-baked job on everything, and, in trying to both please their current audience while attracting a new one, managed to do neither. Well worth the read.

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Totaling It Up. Will Nielsen Have An Audience For TAM, Or Is It Too Little Too Late?

Co-written with Jesse Redniss. Originally published at on November 9, 2015.

Nielsen finally revealed details and a launch date for its OTT measurement system, dubbed “Total Audience Measurement” and the industry may never be the same. We’re (mostly) impressed with what they’re trying to accomplish and believe that it will kickstart TV Everywhere, so that 2016 will be the year we finally see the radical changes everyone has been waiting for.

Total Audience Measurement: What We Like

Ad Views versus Program Views: Total Audience Measurement (TAM) addresses the issue that in the brave new world of TV viewing, ads and shows need to be measured separately. That’s because someone watching the digital broadcast or VOD broadcast of a show may not see the same commercial load as someone watching the linear feed. Nielsen’s plan is to create two different metrics, one that will allow networks to know how many total viewers a particular show has, and one that allows advertisers to know how many people actually saw an ad.

Just About Every Device: TAM will be able to count views on just about every streaming and mobile device out there: PCs, mobile devices, tablets, VOD and streaming devices like Xbox, Apple TV and Roku. A few niche devices like the Apple Watch won’t be counted, but their low usage rates would not effect ratings anyway.

Bigger Panels: Nielsen is doubling the size of their panels from 20,000 households to 40,000. While we’d still like to see a measurement system that counts every single view, we also realize that no one is going to let the MVPDs (who are the only ones who have that capability) have that kind of power. Given the complex nature of TV rights and negotiations, responsibility for ratings are always going to fall to an impartial third party.

Moving Beyond C3 and C7: Nielsen has the ability to measure way, way beyond the C7 window. The reason they don’t is that the current rules, which date back to 2006, do not allow them to. To remedy this, Nielsen is working with the major ad buying agencies and networks to change those rules, something they say they’re not getting much pushback on. So we should soon be seeing accurate ratings many days out, which will allow for a more realistic picture of current viewing habits.

Moving beyond C7 also acknowledges the rapid growth of ad-supported VOD, which means that views 21 or even 91 days out are as likely to be on VOD as they are on DVR. Those numbers are going to prove very useful to networks when making programming decisions, as they’ll be able to gauge which shows have developed bigger audiences in the off-season — a powerful piece of data since audiences who discover shows via bingeing tend to be far more evangelical and passionate than those who discover the shows via linear.

Measurement For Streaming Services: Sort of. While YouTube and AOL will be fully measured, Netflix and Amazon don’t want Nielsen poking under the hood. But it seems that several of the major studios want to know how their shows are doing on those streaming sites and are supplying Nielsen with audio files so they can find out. We wish Hastings and Bezos would stop being so secretive — we get that they don’t rely on ad revenue, but releasing ratings numbers would allow everyone to know just how popular their new shows are and with whom, data that can influence programming decisions on ad-supported networks too.

What We Don’t Like

Still No Social. As we pointed out last year, the key measurement missing from TV ratings systems is social. While Nielsen does measure Twitter, it’s an open secret that Twitter ratings are reflective of what’s popular with Twitter’s unique audience clusters and not with the viewing population at large. You can see this by looking at the social TV ratings from companies like Shareablee, where Instagram sometimes outranks Facebook, and both leave Twitter in the dust, the latter often accounting for well under 10% of audience interactions.

Adding social ratings, especially social ratings that take context into account, will give a clearer picture of what shows, ads, actors and genres are resonating with viewers. As more and more marketers move toward smarter insights like “emotional resonance” and “advanced sentiment analysis” to derive true meaning behind flat metrics. It will also give a clearer idea of what else those viewers like (Psychographic insights) allowing networks and advertisers to see patterns between the shows and the show’s audiences. In addition, the size of the social audience, Facebook in particular, provides census-level data, which can serve as a check on Nielsen’s panel data.

Or Is There? We keep hearing rumblings about Nielsen adding anonymized Facebook data to the overall Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings data set. When you break down the Nielsen SDK demo process, it seems that Nielsen will be bumping up its data to Facebook anyway in order to attach demo and psychographic info. So, while we can only assume that Nielsen’s next step, after TAM is released, will be to go to Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat (and maybe even Tumblr) and start incorporating their numbers into the social rating, the question remains as to how they’ll do it in a way that’s “fair & balanced” to their long time partner Twitter? If the social TV ratings from companies like Shareablee, which consistently show Twitter responsible for less than 10% of the social TV traffic for most hit shows are any indication, it’s going to be rough roads ahead for Twitter’s relevance here.

Branded Content and Brand Funded Content

As consumers continue to find ways to avoid interruptive advertising, brands are taking a #CreatedWith approach to ad integration, looking to place their messages within the content of the show. As these executions become more popular, Nielsen will need to start measuring their effectiveness as well. This is particularly important if these executions are going to become part of the programmatic buying systems that are all the rage today. Without a way to measure #CreatedWith and other branded integrations, TAM is going to fall short. It’s our opinion this should be the next challenge Nielsen tackles.

What Happens Next

TV Everywhere Explodes. This is the real benefit to TAM. Because once the networks know that all those non-linear views will be counted by a universally accepted measurement system, their objections to TV Everywhere melt away.

Until now, the networks have been (rightly) worried that views on tablets and VOD and streaming devices equaled money down the drain, as those viewers meant lower ratings and thus less ad revenue. Hence all the restrictions on TV Everywhere apps. But now that everything’s being counted, the networks are more than happy to let you watch whenever, wherever and however you want — the more the merrier. They know that when people have more ways to watch TV, they actually do wind up watching more TV. Ratings go up along with ad revenue, and everyone is happy.

The MVPDs, who provide both pay-TV and broadband service will also be more than happy to have you watch TV via an online connection, since the more bandwidth you use, the more money they make. That’s because MVPDs make their real money on broadband — pay TV provides very thin margins.

That means the MVPDs will be rolling out new and improved versions of their TV Everywhere apps, which will be freed from the restrictions they’ve had until now. So you’ll be able to tap into their VOD libraries, watch whatever you want when you’re away from home, pause and rewind, and otherwise enjoy a superior TV experience.

Audience Parting

As OTT viewing explodes (along with the ability to measure it), we will see much more of what we call “Audience Parting” — advertisers buying specific audiences rather than specific day parts. Time shifting will play a huge part in this as well, since buying prime time shows (or shows that originally ran in prime time) is no longer a guarantee of anything — early research shows that there are significant differences in the audiences who watch TV live, the audiences who watch 3–7 days out and the audiences who watch 3–7 weeks out. By buying specific audiences, advertisers will be able to replicate the powerful targeting capabilities currently available online, without sacrificing their ability to reach mass audiences. It may be more work for the networks ad sales teams, but should result in higher fees for the more targeted audience. If Nielsen’s TAM works as expected, audience parting should become the rule, rather than the exception.

A Data Explosion

While Nielsen may begin collecting additional data from all the OTT sites they’ll be monitoring, they’re far from alone. The networks have been busy collecting first-party data on their viewers via systems like Viacom Vantage, NBCUx and Turner Data Cloud and using that to power new programmatic style ad buying programs. These systems will serve to keep Nielsen on its toes as the first party data the networks collect is deeper and less reliant on panels. Nielsen will need to continually innovate to keep pace with TV’s new digital-centric reality, particular when it comes to data. Advertisers will be the real winners however this shakes out, since the more data they have (regardless of its source) the better decisions they’ll be able to make.

Maybe The Future Isn’t About Apps, Tim.

As much as we want to love everything Apple does, the problem with an app-based future, is there’s no program guide, no central organizing system that keeps track of your shows and where they are.
Siri might someday fulfill that role, but for now, for anyone who watches more than just a few hours of TV a week, the MVPD offerings, which combine in-home set top box delivery with full TV Everywhere service for hundreds of channels, will be the way to go, providing access to just about anything you’d want to watch (including short form content from YouTube and others) along with an easy way to find and organize it all. Throw in a single bill for all your TV and broadband needs, and it’s a hard deal to turn down. Comcast has done a stellar job of driving this paradigm to reality.

The Change Is Now.

As all TV begins to feel like Netflix, we’ll be seeing even more changes in the way we watch. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for and with the launch of a universally accepted measurement system, there’s nothing to hold it back.