|Issue:||Europe I 2008|
|Topic:||The rush to consumer-driven content|
Debbie Mason is the Managing Director of Media Matrix; she is a leading authority and pioneer in the TV/gaming sector, with over 25 years’ experience in broadcast television and content creation. Ms Mason was a founder of the Digital Interactive TV Group (DITG), and served as the Group’s Creative Director and as Managing Director of its Digital Television Production Company (DTPC) subsidiary. At DITG, Ms Mason launched, on Sky, the BAFTA award-winning, AVAGO – the first ‘gambling’ and fully interactive play channel platform. This was followed by a further 11 interactive TV channels including iSports TV. Ms Mason is also ex-Interactive Commissioner for ITV, responsible for developing new interactive formats, and was Head of Content for mobile content portal Vizzavi.
The information and communications technology sector historically tended to concern itself more with technology, with delivery platforms and devices, than with content. This began to change radically with the advent of convergence and widespread availability of platforms that gave users the ability to pick and choose when, where, how and what they would view. Today’s users demand easy access to their content of choice and content producers and service providers have had to re-think their businesses to meet the demand and remain viable.
As a media industry, we tend, obsessively, to concern ourselves with platform delivery as opposed to content. My alter ego, ‘Edith from Edmonton’, always says, “Give me what I want, when I want it, how I want it.” Technology now allows content creators to offer a full cross-platform experience, but it will only work if, at the core, there is something somebody actually wants. Content creators need to focus on the end user, before focusing on how that content can be best presented on different platforms. Don’t offer PC on TV, or try to run traditional TV on mobile – each platform has its strengths so let’s be creative about using them. Most of all – for the sake of Edith and her friends – MAKE IT EASY! Everything about the way we consume our media has changed massively over the past ten years, let alone the past 50 years. No longer do younger generations sit back and look for a completely passive experience. Today’s younger generation thinks nothing of watching a DVD whilst sitting at the PC chatting with school chums via one of the ‘social networking’ sites, and at the same time using their mobile to text friends about the latest video game on Nintendo Wii. I am exhausted by the mere thought of doing this all at once. To me this is nothing other than ‘GBH (grievous bodily harm) to the eyeballs!.’ Therefore, content providers must create content with extremely distinct groups in mind. This clear fragmentation of the audience really began in the early days of multi-channel television, but has now become even more accentuated due to the way in which we consume our media. What used to be an industry in total control of its scheduling and output – pushing the content to the viewer as and when the industry deemed they wanted it, unlike today when most consumers seem to be in the business of pulling the content as and when they want it over whichever channel they elect to use. In this digital multi-platform, data-infested world, I fear we are in danger of ‘paralysis by analysis’. Too much of the material that gets produced, commissioned or bought is done so on the basis of some over-intellectualised graduate sitting in a back office, hunched over reams of numbers and data. His job is to inform the great and the good of the media industry the best strategic way forward to meet the consumption trends for the next three months at best! What used to be a world that seemed built upon long-term plans now seems to exist only in ‘soundbite sizes’, ironically a phrase created by the media itself. Creativity ultimately comes from the heart and has nothing to do with data analysis, specific platforms or technology. These are all a means to an end, but they may well inspire individuals or groups to come up with compelling new concepts and ideas. In today’s world, we spend hours in front of computers (alone), work from home (alone) and children are often confined to the ‘great indoors’ (alone) playing video games instead of playing in the ‘great outdoors’ because parents are worried about safety. So, it is hardly surprising that the latest social trend to get broadcasters and telecoms companies excited is the phenomenon of online social networking. This has had a huge impact on the financial models for the business of creating and selling content. Life was simple in the days of analogue TV supported by a pure advertising model, mobiles were merely used for calls paid for based upon a varying table of voice tariffs, and films were only available on video tapes rented from the local video store. The domestic and international market seemed so clear in a universe of standard commercial deals – it all seemed so easy then. Today’s content companies not only have to create the cross platform content, but also workable business models for selling that content. In this extremely cluttered and competitive market I am an absolute believer that one has to invest significantly in the quality of the content in order to stand out from the crowd, be best in breed and give the consumer the best quality experience on whichever platform they use. Many content providers often ignore the consumers’ judgement of quality, but consumers are far more discerning than content providers seem to believe. It is equally imperative to invest in the technology and infrastructure to support the best delivery methods and formatting for each platform. This means, for example, that any broadcast studio programme set up should also have cameras specifically positioned to ‘film’ the content specifically for mobile since the smaller screen calls for different framing and angles than television to convey the appropriate message. Technology has reduced many costs, but has increased others given the need to distribute the same content on a variety of platforms. This multi-platform model means more and more people share revenues and yet the revenue pie does not seem to have significantly increased. The usual participants in the sharing of these revenues are the producer/production company, the broadcaster, the middleware telco supplier, the mobile operator and the IPTV operator. Probably, the single most important factor in this market is to be the owner of the customers and the custodian of the purse strings. Customer management and ownership is going to be critical in this brave new world. So when it comes to new revenue models, the most interesting to a content supplier are those that require the customer to hold their account directly with you. Owning your customer and understanding your customer drives longer-term relationships and therefore drives greater revenues. If you give the consumer what they want, then conversion rates through participation television can be very high and used to tempt the consumer to use both PC and mobile as well. Television is a great tool to acquire customers and always will be. Walking talking pictures and the syntax of television are very powerful conversion tools compared to text via mobile as a call to action. As in the earlier example of today’s connected youth there would appear to be many new opportunities through which to drive revenue, but with much of what is consumed being free for the end user, the question is who is paying for it and who is making the money. For the first time in history, Internet advertising revenues have exceeded those of television. Therefore, advertising appears to be supporting the PC revolution just as it has done for years with television. Television has supplemented its falling advertising revenues with participation TV, particularly through premium rate telephony voting shows, competitions and Call TV, all of which have recently been annihilated by the revelations of bad practices by the broadcasters/producers. So where do they find the next batch of new revenues – gambling, skill gaming, social networking? Companies which are already successfully reaching the mass market and have deep pockets are best placed to succeed in the cross platform world. I would highlight brands such as The Sun newspaper, which has cleverly taken its print content and re-purposed it for an online and mobile audience, but should now look to bring its bingo games to TV. As for the future, among the players that might own this space, I would say that Google is best positioned to exploit the new era in cross platform delivery.