Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Plus Ones (+1s) and Catch Up Services (Brand Equity through Non-Linear Placement in TV III)

So it’s about time to continue my evil theories about TV III Branding. After all, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand have been seriously implicated for a rather funny prank call. The moral burden of the British public service. Who am I to say anything? I’ve just set foot in this country. What do I know?

But hey, let’s keep it going. In this post we get back to the TV III Branding schematics, aiming the big spotlight on Placement (= scheduling for the digital age).

For all these years scheduling has been about four things mostly:

  1. Compatibility: meaning, try to match your content to your target audience routine;
  2. Habit Formation: be consistent for long enough, and the audience will turn viewing into a habit;
  3. Control of Audience Flow: Depending on how you arrange your programmes, viewers tend to move from one show to the next, and so on;
  4. Conservation of Programme Resources: programming is scarce and expensive, so you juggle shows within the schedule to make the most of your content. This includes repeats, re-runs, special blocks, marathons, you name it.
And then, here it comes, the digital times. Viewers are now more like users, and they have a lot more independence. So what happens when scheduling becomes placement:

  1. Compatibility: as TV III viewers are free from the tyranny of schedules, consuming media as if they were in an all-you-can-eat buffet, we have to come up with cleverer compatibility tools than dayparts or demographics. We are talking consumer behaviour and automated referencing systems. We are talking about knowing less about people, and knowing more about their data traces. I reckon this has to do with Chris Anderson’s next next book (I mean, the one after the next one about Free). The one about causality vs. correlation.

  2. Habit Formation: I believe that for some people TV will always be a passive medium. That doesn’t mean programming will reach their TV sets the same way it’s done today. New compatibility tools will take care of it. And new habits will be created, individually and collectively, as one’s individual preferences are based on others with similar interests. But I want to talk about something simpler and completely contemporary: +1s and catch up services. Something I simply call non-linear placement.
Habit formation has been basically about time consistency. Viewers would embrace TV shows as part of their daily routines, and they knew that there was a certain place (channel) and time (slot) where the programme would be aired. The best example that I can think of are the three soap operas aired by the biggest Brazilian TV network Globo (and the fourth largest in the world). Globo hasn’t changed their evening schedule for over 30 years. The perception of Globo’s evening schedule in the Brazilian viewer’s mind is so solid that the schedule is as strong a brand as the soap opera’s title itself. Around the watercooler, Brazilians never ask work colleagues whether they saw "Soap Opera XYZ’s" last episode. They ask: “have you watched 8’s soap last night?” or “are you following 7’s soap?”. I’m not talking here about a mere practical definition of time as a reference for a show. When Brazilian’s refer to soap operas by their airing time, the reference is full of significance, just like any proper brand is filled with attributes.
Rede Globo's logo
Any Brazilian unconsciously knows that:

6’s Soaps
  • air around 6PM, and not 6 o’clock sharp.
  • often have historic themes;
  • or a light and romantic narrative;

7’s Soaps…
  • air around 7:30, and not 7 o’clock sharp.
  • are contemporary;
  • have a more comedic edge;

8’s Soaps…
  • air around 9PM (although, people still calls it “8’s soap”), and everybody knows it airs after the national news.
  • have often a polemic nature;
  • often portrait characters from minority groups in society;
  • often shows demographic extremes: rich and poor living in the same diegetic world;
  • have higher ratings and hence bigger sponsors.
Now, don’t be surprised if you hear a Brazilian saying he or she will catch up the 8’s soap on VOD. Even if it’s Sunday, 11AM. That is the power of a brand built upon habit formation, driven by consistent scheduling.

Particularly, I believe that, contrary to scheduling, which is about time consistency, placement is about consistent flexibility.

Consistent flexibility sounds a little paradoxical, I know. I’ll try to illustrate it with a very British example: BBC iPlayer.

BBC iPlayer

I like to watch Jonathan Ross on BBC 1. I know it airs on Friday’s around 10 and 11PM. I’m not completely addicted to the show, so I don’t go that far to set alarms to remind me. And even if I was, I have a life, so there is a big chance I could never make it home on time. In the past, If I happened to miss my appointment with Jonathan Ross I’d be brand punished. The Jonathan Ross’ brand (don’t confuse it with Russel Brand, he is another Brand, and another brand as well) will beat me with a dead cat saying: You fool, you missed my show. Now you won’t be able to share all the funny jokes I made on the show with your friends”. So this is what I call brand punishment. Viewers were punished for missing their appointment. Sometimes, they’ll get so frustrated, they wouldn’t even bother following the show anymore. The less episodic the show is, the more likely it is for viewers to abandon it, in a situation like this.

However, in modern times, BBC is consistently flexible, so viewers know that even if they miss the show, the brand will spare the spanking, and instead, unroll the red carpet leading the way to BBC iPlayer, where they can catch up with the show at anytime (as long as they watch within a week). Viewers know they can ALWAYS do that, so they value flexibility, because it is consistent. And as they now know they can always go and catch up, a new habit is formed.
Channel 4 has even something special for those without broadband, and who missed their show by a bit. Their E4 channel has an one-hour time shifted twin named E4+1. So if viewers missed the beginning of a show, they can tune in E4+1 and watch it from the start. When viewers acknowledge the consistency, they value the flexibility, and incorporate the habit.

E4's ident

The wonders of non-linear placement bring major benefits for TV networks. I was talking the other day with a friend of mine who works with content distribution, H.K.. I was really curious to understand how the +1s deals are closed. Do channels pay distributors more for the extra broadcasting? Do sponsors pay double for their ads in the time-shifted channel? It seems that each case is a different case, but at the end of the day, the networks are having a ball. The bottom line seems to be pretty much like this: TV Networks acquire rights from distributors and the +1s airing is included in the package at no extra cost. TV Networks claim ad revenue has come down due to audience fragmentation, and negotiate with distributors for extra repeats (+1s included). On the other end, TV Networks charge advertisers for every slot, as if +1s were different channels. And they add up the audience of both channels to make total ratings.

Conclusion: +1s are a hell of a good business for TV networks.

3. Control of the Audience Flow: Obviously, linear scheduling techniques are no longer good enough to herd viewers through shows. We’ll talk more about TV III flow strategies in future posts.

4. Conservation of Programme Resources: The ubiquity of content sort of contradicts this postulate. But there is a reason why BBC iPlayer content is only available for one week. Release windows have been drastically reduced, but they still exist. So conserving your programme resources still is a good practice.

Have details of other +1s deals to share?
Please let me know.
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Yves said...

As an analyst for a broadcast hardware maker (including branding gear)I have found your series of posts on the future of TV branding quite interesting. I am eager to read the future posts, specifically where you promise to discuss flow strategies in TVIII. That "content is king" and that "on-demand is better" are increasingly taken as facts and used as premises in strategic thinking. I don't doubt the basic trends captured by these sayings, but I do wonder if they will lose some of their relevance as more and more content consumption is done on-demand.

Currently, content is king in the sense that people mostly consume media which they "want". Most of their time is spent watching content whose brand they are familiar with, as opposed to sampling new content. Scheduling, channel branding and promotions for other shows introduce viewers to new content as they watch their preferred content. Scheduling loses its value in a primarily non-linear world (as you point out in your post) while channel branding and program promotion are potentially completely reinvented. I really wonder how this will play out.

I don't want to dive too far into details in a comment but here are a few examples of key issues to be resolved:
1) How do consumers choose which electronic program guides they use? Who influences this?
2) What regulatory differences will emerge between countries, with respect to targeted advertizing?
3) Same as 2) but for VOD ads. EG believe it or not, in Canada, it is currently illegal to place ads on VOD content...
4) How will channel branding and promotion of programs be achieved in the future? Managing promotion as dynamically as it is done today in a non-linear world would require much new hardware, even more new contractual structures and much more dynamic data exchange through the supply chain.

BTW: I found this blog through the links you placed to it in the TVIII group on Linkedin.

Will Prestes said...

Hello Yves:

Thanks for the very interesting comment. It's good to get feedback from the hardware making side of the business.

I reckon some of your questions are "1 million pounds" questions, but let's see whether I can contribute with some thoughts to the discussion.

1) How do consumers choose which electronic program guides they use? Who influences this?

I reckon you know this answer better than I do. In the first place, viewers use the EPG that comes with their hardware. More active users look for semantic EPGs, mostly available online. Some of those even allow direct DVR programming with a click of a button, sending recording orders to TiVo, for example. By the way, as far as I know (let me know If I'm wrong), TiVo is the only device that has an EPG closer to a semantic concept. I covered some of this features in this post

2) What regulatory differences will emerge between countries, with respect to targeted advertizing?
3) Same as 2) but for VOD ads. EG believe it or not, in Canada, it is currently illegal to place ads on VOD content...

Regulations vary from country to country. Here in Britain, product placement is prohibited. Anything that blurs the boundaries between content and advertising is forbidden. At the same time, I think TV III viewers learned the product placement language and know how to differentiate one from the other. Last night I was watching an episode of Alan Ball's True Blood and they showed an appalling product placement for the Nintendo Wii. For me, the fact that it is was so badly done (and this is the way the boundaries are sharpened)that I found it rather intrusive.
For VOD, I'm fine with pre-roll Ads, as long as they don't go over 15 seconds. YouTube's search ads in the lower-third bar are rather irritating.

Now, back to the regulations, they are only sustainable whilst the marketplace is not drastically (and negatively) affected by it. With the audience fragmentation in TV III, broadcasters must maximise their ad revenues from different sources and methods. For instance, I don't believe the product placement ban will last long in the UK. Broadcasters are desperate for the money and they'll pressure OfCom.

4) How will channel branding and promotion of programs be achieved in the future? Managing promotion as dynamically as it is done today in a non-linear world would require much new hardware, even more new contractual structures and much more dynamic data exchange through the supply chain.

Well, not if you own the whole chain. Actually, channel branding and promotion take advantage of the horizontally integrated branded domains of the modern media conglomerates. But of course, this is not for everybody. And if you are not one of the media giants, and you want to play amongst the big ones, in this case, yes, it is much more complex and expensive to fight competition and to optimise your brand using the digital tools if your playing in their ballpark.

But remember that the connected world offers you very creative (and inexpensive) ways for promotion. There are a lot of online shows attracting millions of eyeballs without ever setting foot on the big screen. As a hardware maker, I know this is not your target, and that your focus is on the big ones. My advice: aim at hardware to enable collaborative Television platforms, within branded environments.

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