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Broadcasters hit back: television moves beyond video

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“We make television, which is a very distinct thing from video,” said Chris Goldson, Director of Creative Works and Commercial Marketing at ITV, at last week’s Videoscape conference in London. I think he summed up a growing resilience to online threats among broadcasters when he did so.

With the rapid growth of major SVOD providers over the last few years, it is the broadcasters that have felt the most threatened. The main reason being the fact that the future of live television itself – the very lifeblood of broadcasting – appeared to be at risk as viewers swarmed to online catch up services.

Today the picture is very different. Live television is successfully making the transition to online and audiences have been found ready and waiting.  A key driver is the fact that Dynamic Ad Insertion has provided broadcasters with the tools to monetise their channels in a way that maintains the exceptional user experience of high-end television. This has contributed to view-through rates in live ad breaks far exceeding their counterparts on VOD. In such a scenario it’s no wonder broadcasters are feeling bullish.

The message is clear: SVOD platforms may have been able to muscle in on video views but live television is a whole different ballgame. It’s a wise move to differentiate between the two. Broadcasters are experts in the field of live television and, more specifically, live broadcasting. All major UK providers have launched live streaming with DAI over the last 18 months or so – long before any of the major SVOD players have had a chance to enter the market.

Goldson made the point last week that live television is as relevant as ever in the online environment: “We are not traditional, but proven. We are proven media,” he said. And it’s true. The medium of live television, complete with an effective monetisation system that viewers have long accepted, namely ad breaks, has been around for decades.  It would be foolish to discard it as ‘past it’.

The concept of an ad break every ten to fifteen minutes in live television is a tried and tested form that viewers are used to, and therein lies the true value for advertisers. Well implemented Dynamic Ad Insertion allows the broadcaster to open up all its live inventory online without disrupting a long accepted user experience.  I should emphasise the “well implemented” part, for it’s not easy.

Traditional VOD advertising solutions are far too clunky for a live environment. They also tend to require a lot of work in the player on the user’s device, which is labour-intensive on app teams to wade through the regular software updates, for example. The only way to do it right is to perform the ad stitching on the server side, and that requires complex integrations with the broadcasters’ existing playout, advertising and delivery workflows. And that’s why ITV is keen to refine its language on the subject: this isn’t just another video. It’s television.

Add to that the ability to segment advertising for relevant audiences and live online television is a very powerful medium for advertisers. Supplementary interactive tools such as overlays and click-through functions add yet further value. Broadcasters are realising this and are generally able to command higher CPMs for live ad insertion than they are for VOD.

This is most apparent across major sports events, where DAI opens up a premium level of inventory that simply cannot be matched elsewhere. It’s commonplace now for broadcasters to make the most of their sports rights, too, by deploying online-only channels to cover all the action. TV3 in Ireland was able to stream all 48 matches of the Rugby World Cup, for example. And, more recently, 7 in Australia was able to stream tennis from all 14 courts simultaneously at the Australian Open. It’s a great time to be a sports fan, but also both cases represented a significant revenue opportunity for the rights-holder.

Now we come back to my opening point about live television: It’s what broadcasters were made to do. Catch-up services will always form a large part of their offering, but it is live television that really makes them tick. And that’s the point that ITV was keen to emphasise at Videoscape last week.

Competition for major broadcast rights is already fierce, and it’s set to be even more so with the prospect of major online players entering the race. But this is the broadcaster’s domain and, more than ever before, they are very well placed to fight back.

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