Forget About TV, It’s All about Content, Stupid!

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A while back a colleague asked me “What do you think the future holds for our beloved medium, television? And what will this mean for brands?” It made me shiver for a second. Where to start? What factors to address? OTT, mobile viewing, on-demand content providers, rights-owners (such as FIFA or NFL), cable companies – the list goes on. And, by no means in last place: people’s demands and behaviour (I prefer to talk about people, instead of consumers).

When you consider the impact of some major technological breakthroughs that only a few saw coming, you realise that predicting the future is a risky business. And what is the future anyway? Five years from now? Ten years? How fast things develop depends on many things. For example, one major factor is the competitive power of the players in the market and on the cards they hold – especially the ones we can’t see yet. Risky business, but I’m not going to let that hold me back. I am going to give it a shot and try to predict the future of TV – TV as an industry, not as a device – as we know it. Let’s say the future four years from now. Give or take a year.

What will change for the TV industry?

Everything is fluid, nothing stays the same, but these are the most significant changes for the industry, as we see them:

  • Content is increasingly delivered over the internet (OTT) and it is moving into the cloud
  • Detailed information about the specific content digested by individuals – otherwise known as big data – soars
  • Content is digested through a wide range of devices, instead on just one screen
  • Streaming content (both free and paid) competes more and more with an expanding ocean of on-demand content (both free and paid)
  • New content providers emerge almost on a daily basis: brands, people, TV-channels and online platforms all produce their own content nowadays
  • Peer to peer sharing of content has a massive impact on the distribution of it, as the role of Meerkat and Periscope around the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing fight predicts

What will change for the viewers?

Changes such as these offer people more choice, more control and more freedom. On the other hand the changes result in a lack of overview and time to digest all content they are interested in, and in a lack of feeling in control. As we see, people rely more and more on filtered information. In other words: Facebook profiles and tips of peers (notably shared content via social media) guide people to that little piece of the plethora of content they will actually digest. For this, people may also rely on trusted brands that have a reputation of offering great content: a video streaming service such as Netflix, a brand such as Red Bull or Adidas, or even an old-school radio or TV-station with a strong profile.

What changes too, is the context in which the people digest that content (on the road versus at home, alone versus together), which, by the way, will also influence the choices they make when it comes to the nature of the content they will digest.

What is changing for advertisers?

For advertisers, all of this means more data, a more demanding – or rather: less tolerant – audience and more content producers and owners to deal/partner with. Plus, more focus on the context in which the people digest their content. Because of the wide variation in context in which content is digested, one message to address one target audience – an ad, native ad, branded content, whatever – no longer does the trick. This means the end of the target audience as we know it. In different contexts, in different stages of the consumer journey (oops, I just used the c-word!) different people need very different content. And based on their response to that content, advertisers need to optimize this content, or even develop a new message. Yes, programmatic advertising will make it easier to target the right people (right, according to the available algorithms, according to their social media profiles), it will not make advertising easier.

The downside of all this is that advertisers will undoubtedly tend to focus more and more on the people that respond best to their messages and will forget the lessons from Byron Sharpe’s book ‘How Brands Grow’: Continuously reach all buyers of the category (communication and distribution) and keep an eye on the long term brand growth, instead of on short term sales.

So… What about the future of TV?

I think I more or less answered the question posed above, but if you insist: there may be some TV-stations that will thrive because they consistently offer great content to a specific audience, but overall we might as well forget about the concept of TV. It’s all about content stupid! Do you think ‘people’ care about TV? No they don’t, they care about content. The TV industry as we know it has had its best days and most who work in the industry have realised this by now. What stays is people craving content that suits their needs, even if there is an overkill of content. People crave entertaining content, educational content, news content – relevant content, from whatever content creator.

We don’t need to create content for ‘people’, because it is about communicating with individuals and what they are interested in.  We need to create content, sponsor content or partner with the entity that created content this individual is interested in. Or help them find this content and service them. Brands and brand builders need to create content that is relevant in the context in which it is digested. Relevant at the stage in the consumer journey the individual is in. Our job as an advertising agency is to create content or relevant services for those individuals. Preferably content they want to share, so that we may reach more individuals like them. And you know what? We need to get close to them, we need to be relevant, but at the same time we cannot get too close, because that will make them feel uncomfortable. It’s a fine line we have to walk. And unfortunately the end of TV and the reign of programmatic advertising will not make advertising easier.

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