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TV’s future is written in music’s past

Digital disruption of the record industry was turned from existential threat into growth opportunity when labels embraced new consumption models. There are lessons for television, which can increase reach if it seeks viewers where they are, rather than creating walled gardens that people must come to. BARB’s ‘fit for TV’ definition should be supported because it lets media owners widen their distribution, by working with more platform partners, while still acknowledging that the programming is ‘TV’ – characterised by trust, high production standards, viewer attention, regulatory alignment, editorial oversight and an absence of fraud. ‘Fit for TV’ is more inclusive of old and new. TV and advertiser opportunities will be maximised when we encourage the natural flow of consumption and free ourselves from measurement siloes.

Rich Brant, Senior Director, Advanced TV, Vevo
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In the late 1990s, Napster happened. The birth of peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing effectively making the possibility of sharing an endless catalogue of digital files across the world possible. Music was ripe to be taken advantage of. The file sizes were small, containing compelling social currency that is shareable with friends, and the audience was young and savvy, taking advantage of technological updates. It became easier to steal than buy.

In 2011, physical records accounted for $8.3bn of global revenue, a big drop from $24.1bn in 1999. But when streaming services were launched, the record industry collectively decided to go all-in and embrace digital change. The subsequent diversified content delivery and revenue streams brought revenue back up to $26.2bn in 2022 with an onward upward trajectory. (RIAA data)

The record industry’s embrace of digital also helped it gain deeper understanding into how audiences consume and engage with (not just buy) artist content, helping it better serve the consumer. Vevo’s network of distribution was created as a result, learning not to resist, but to lean into consumer behaviour, delivering content at their request, how they want to watch.

The fall and then recovery of the record industry, caused by digital disruption, has many transferable learnings for the evolving TV landscape right now and gives an indication of what is still to come.

Be where your audience is

Today, the battle isn’t stealing content in this scenario – it’s a fight for attention. Too often media entities adopt the stance of creating a walled garden the consumer must come to, but it disrupts natural flow of consumption, especially in a post-pandemic world flooded with high-quality content services and multiple options for over-saturated consumers. Content awareness, ease of discovery, and ease of consumption win when content is not exclusive and judged as a ‘must have’.

Enders Analysis paints a very stark prospect for 2027 where only 12% of 16-24s’ video time will be spent watching traditional broadcaster content, with the majority of the rest of their time spent with SVOD or YouTube. Not cultivating a relationship on the platforms that these consumers predominantly spend time on is surely a massive oversight.

While the broadcasters have begun to adapt, taking note of BARB and Ofcom reports, Channel 4 has taken the leap to lean into pure behaviour by distributing via YouTube – where they see incremental audiences for their content. This builds a relationship that would otherwise be absent and delivers content to them through the path of least resistance.

Reluctance to distribute everywhere is understandable

Vevo distributes freely because the language of music is borderless, therefore it benefits from economies of scale. Local broadcasters can’t export their content in quite the same way, but it seems counter-productive to not have a local presence in the environments that audiences are more frequently using. If producers of quality content boldly lean into pure behaviour in this way, they will benefit from increased programming reach, but some key principles must be followed to remove risk, as not all content is the same.

It’s the source of the content that counts

Anyone with a camera phone can make a monetisable video, talented or not, but broadcasters have strength in all the legacy points we would expect: trust, quality, high production standards, attention, regulation, editorial oversight, absence of fraud, etc. This must continue to be a strength in our industry and the cornerstone of TV screen campaigns.

Simultaneously, the net by which we define TV has got to widen (no one would doubt Netflix was TV, for instance), while still providing guarantees for viewers and advertisers alike. For example, a Channel 4 show, regardless of how it got onto a screen (via Channel 4 Streaming or C4 YouTube channel), still upholds expectations and values around quality. From an advertiser perspective, we create more legitimate TV opportunities, to reflect the modern consumer, whilst mitigating the challenges of audience fragmentation, inflation and reduced scale.

To ensure this happens, premium content still needs to be rewarded accordingly, otherwise it can’t be made, or quality will suffer in a vicious cycle. We all know it is costly to make good content. It is critical that the industry and premium content makers collaborate to define, safeguard and ring-fence quality content providers.

Industry agreed measurement is key to breaking down the TV siloes

BARB are forging a path forward on this, with ‘fit for TV content’ allowing for a more inclusive TV definition, where publishers new and old can co-exist within TV measurement. The industry needs to support initiatives like this, from publishers to buyers to tech collaborators. If we can independently define TV, based on the source of the content meeting defined standards, then the shackles are off. Studios and broadcasters alike can define their reach of viewers based on natural consumption, and advertisers can be sure of guaranteeing large scale reach in environments where they know what content their advert appears around.

Maximising premium quality

In a time where anyone can watch anything, it is ever more important to be sure that we are maximising the opportunity with high-quality, safe content and attentive environments. This is not to belittle the longer tail of a video campaign; there are different campaigns with different functions. They absolutely work together like they always have.

We can still achieve those amazing, brand building, mass-reach campaigns that uphold everything we expect from a TV screen campaign, but we need to lay down principles. This frees up those content providers that live by traditional, high-quality production values to lean into the viewer and not be stuck rigidly to certain measurement siloes. Importantly, by doing so, it creates a healthier, bigger TV opportunity for advertisers to reach their key audiences.

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