Broadcasters are missing out on a ton of data–it’s time to take TV online

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas made a big commotion at a talk recently when the two predicted the imminent “implosion” of the film industry due to the changing nature of theatrical distribution.  I believe a similar phenomenon awaits the broadcast TV industry, unless companies start making aggressive moves.

Rather than fighting cord-cutting and unbundling and making a weak effort with TV Everywhere, the top brass should be looking at putting their full broadcast TV channels online – with no restrictions. Certainly they have done a decent job offering their shows on demand via Netflix and Hulu. But outside of a recent ABC trial and certain sports broadcasts, watching live broadcast channels online still requires that you have a paid cable TV subscription in order to view.

Not only does the data show that huge audiences are streaming video online, the broadcast channels are missing a unique chance to use their live channels on the internet to take their business to the next level.

Here are three game-changing benefits TV content producers and broadcasters could realize by finally putting live channels online:

Much better social integration

Right now if you want to interact with your friends while watching TV you need to use a second screen app.  Twitter is the dominant force in social usage during TV broadcast, and apps like IntoNow and GetGlue are trying via specialized apps. But these apps are all just experiences for viewer conversation — almost none of them are connected directly to the actual broadcast. What an incredible missed opportunity for broadcasters to engage their audiences directly!

And outside of voting on programs like American Idol, there is very little interactivity directly related to a live broadcast. There is a huge opportunity to have an engaged audience that shares, interacts, and even better, influences the programming in real-time.

When I was president of global digital media at Viacom, we did some studies with our various channels around the world where we experimented with social elements woven into the broadcast programming. (It was 2008, so it was basic stuff like chat, games, voting, picking the next music video, etc.). The time people spent engaged with the program went up by as much as 80 percent, depending on the show and application being used. (Surprisingly, the effect was most pronounced with reruns!)

It is good to see one of my previous brands at Viacom, MTV, is trying to push the envelope. But even their effort goes only part way and is not a true live stream online as I propose.

Big data on the fly

Broadcast TV relies on data to make many of their decisions. So they use Nielsen ratings. And they spend millions on consumer research. TV execs know that they must listen to and understand their audience’s tastes – but all of this wonderful information is received after a broadcast has happened. And because most of it comes from outside researchers, the broadcaster does not have a direct connection to the consumer. In the age of big data, it is mission critical to have a deep knowledge of your audience.

The real-time nature of live broadcast makes data even more interesting — and important. For instance, you can tweak what ads appear on the fly as a show runs. Or, you can make rapid decisions about programming schedules. And if your programming is hosted and/or has guests live on camera, the real-time audience data we now have access to could allow you to alter your programming in the moment to better attract a larger and more engaged audience – right now.

Broadcasting TV online suddenly changes your business, from evaluating old information to make decisions, to seeing real-time data with real-time implications for improving the consumer experience, right away.

New business models

TV broadcasters rely on the fees they get from subscribers (via the cable operators) and advertising to make money. It has certainly been a big business but it is eroding quickly — see cord-cutting, cord-nevers, unbundling, YouTube, etc.

If their channels were online, they could instantly expand their reach to the entire world (depending on content restrictions, naturally). They could also directly control their broadcast – online there’s no need to deal with a cable operator – and could have a bouquet of offerings, like a free live stream, or a subscription for premium features, and video on-demand.

And with all that real-time data, broadcasters and their advertisers could sell goods directly to consumers. And of course, they would still have traditional in-broadcast advertising, but it would be much smarter and better targeted and thus much more valuable and effective advertising.

Online video has made impressive strides in recent years. The threat to broadcast TV is coming from some interesting places, many of which are (unsurprisingly) outside of the traditional industry. One is the emergence of multi-channel networks like Maker Studios and Full Screen.  They are rapidly going from being just YouTube channels to having their own presence and identity. However, even these innovative companies don’t yet offer a 24/7 live stream. For broadcast TV that means there’s still an opportunity to catch up and even jump ahead – and it could happen immediately.

Mika Salmi is CEO of live video education platform creativeLIVE. Previously he was president of global digital media for MTV Networks/Viacom and was founder of Atom Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @MikaSalmi.

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Photo courtesy  Pavel Ignatov/