How cord cutting is changing the nature of audience reach

Frank is CEO of Beachfront Media.
In the emerging multi-platform era, reaching an audience is no longer merely as simple as waiting for them to turn on their television sets. As a viewer-based society, the multitude of formats currently available makes it possible to quite literally “cut the cord,” and take our content with us.
However, with this proverbial cord-cutting comes consequences that are going to require creators and advertisers alike to rethink their content delivery strategies. In this new era, the rules of broadcast cable do not apply. Content creators require a whole new playbook since different rules exist for different formats, and in some cases, the rules don’t exist at all.
The three areas where this is most evident are how to measure views, how to target viewers, and how to create custom content for each platform and device.

Views

With all the varying ways to watch video–including YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.–we can agree almost unilaterally that the best way to gauge engagement is by looking at views. But what counts as a view varies widely across platforms.
The need for an industry standard definition for a “view” is required, but as of yet, does not exist. Its absence lies in the fact that the godfather of online video — YouTube — never clearly defined what constitutes a view, leaving those emerging in its wake the freedom to create their own definitions. This delineation would be a strong first step in helping creators and advertisers begin to standardize their engagement with the multi-format audience.

Targeting

Where advertisers once had a captive audience in front of a TV, they now have to contend with multiple devices and mediums that have different methods of reaching viewers.
The question, now, becomes how to adequately target the right viewers with ads across this fragmented landscape. Websites use cookies, television uses the Nielsen ratings system, and mobile devices use IDFA or Android Advertisind ID.
It’s important for advertisers to view these different targeting tools not as a system of competition from one platform to another, but rather a larger environment for engagement. In the era of the digital native, the viewer is engaging with multiple formats on a daily basis, and it is part of their lives. To assume any one format or device will somehow prevail over others is to miss how this generation engages with their content.

Content

Creators can no longer repurpose the same piece of content across the various platforms. This goes against the notion of the audience’s differing expectations. Instead, the creator needs to customize that content, tweaking and shaping it for each platform to fulfill those expectations and reach wider audiences in new ways. What’s more, creators in the current digital climate do not view this as a “rat race” that requires them to keep up with formats, but rather a stronger means to extend their brand and get content in front of fans in all the places they live. It creates more work, but also more opportunity.
Those who create and adhere to these rules will be the winners in the multiplatform age. Complicating matters though is the broader spectrum of creators now entering the digital video game. The grassroots creators on YouTube who arose from the first generation or so of online video now have to compete with advertisers and corporations who are seeing the multiformat potential and engaging themselves.
When YouTube first launched, content creators had leeway, because major corporations weren’t paying attention to what was going on in the space. But today, companies like Disney are now leveraging their content to an online audience, and view platforms like YouTube as a legitimate medium to engage viewers. So naturally, we’re seeing these “YouTube Personalities” migrate to other platforms like Facebook, Vine, Snapchat, and other emerging formats to find the space needed for a new grassroots movement.
Because of this, each of new platforms is getting a surge in creation and viewership thanks to the cutting of the cord and the great creative migration it spawns. Savvy advertisers and creators alike need to look at this multiformat migration as a means to engage audiences in new, exciting ways. While a little work is required, the means of reaching an audience are larger than ever before. Customization is key in this new era of engagement, and the creator who can manage that approach will not only survive the cutting of the cord, they will achieve the uniting of platforms.
Frank Sinton is the CEO of Beachfront Media, a video app creation toolkit and ad mediation platform for creators and publishers to distribute and monetize video.

All you need to know about HBO’s new HBO Now streaming service

HBO Now is almost here: HBO officially announced plans to launch its online-only streaming service dubbed HBO Now during Apple’s spring event Monday, and promptly managed to confuse everyone with an exclusive that isn’t quite exclusive and a price that’s not set in stone.

Time to clarify a few things:

What HBO Now is: Think of it as HBO’s answer to Netflix – an online streaming service that gives you access to HBO’s programming, whether you subscribe to cable or not.

The launch date: HBO announced Monday that HBO will be available in early April, or in time for the Game of Thrones season premiere, which is on April 12.

The price: HBO Now will cost $14.99 if you sign up through Apple. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will be paying $14.99 for the service. “Prices may vary by participating partners,” the HBO Now FAQ states. That’s because HBO Now may soon also be available though your cable or internet company, which may decide to give you a deal that looks a lot more like HBO’s current pricing. $10 a month, for example, if you sign up for a certain broadband service tier for 12 months.

The devices: At launch, HBO Now will be available on iPhones and iPads as well as Apple TV and the web. Additional devices are supposed to follow soon, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for Chromecast and other devices during the first three months due to an exclusive deal between Apple and HBO.

HBO_022015_devices

Where to sign up: At launch, likely the only way to get HBO Now will be to download the service’s iOS app on your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV and sign up from within the app. Apple got a three-month exclusive deal for HBO Now — with an important exception: Internet and pay TV providers will be able to launch their own HBO Now deals within that time period, but none of those deals have been announced yet. Or as the HBO Now FAQ puts it: “We are in discussions with our existing network of distributors that sell broadband and hope to announce such relationships soon.” And after the three months are over, it’s likely that Google, Amazon and others will start selling HBO Now as well.

Where not to sign up: On HBO Now’s home page. This isn’t a direct-to-consumer service, which is the biggest difference to Netflix. HBO still wants others to handle the billing and customer relationships, and has no intention to ask you for your credit card any time soon. “No, a subscription directly through HBO is not something that is currently in our plans,” said a HBO spokesperson when I asked her specifically about this.

What you’ll be watching: HBO Now promises “instant access to every episode of every season of the best of HBO’s award-winning original programming,” which means you’ll be able to binge on Game of Thrones, Girls, True Detective, Veep and more. The service will also offer Hollywood movies after they air in the theaters, documentaries, sports and comedy specials. Oh yeah, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight will be part of the mix as well. All in all, HBO Now will have more than 2000 episodes of content at launch, according to Monday’s announcement.

What you won’t be watching: Anything live. HBO Now is a pure on-demand service, and won’t carry a live feed of HBO’s cable programming. That also means you won’t be able to tune in live to any of HBO’s boxing games.

What about the rest of the world: HBO Now will only be available in the U.S. at launch — expect your streams to be blocked when you travel abroad as well. However, HBO operates in over 60 countries around the world, and there’s no reason that HBO Now couldn’t eventually expand as well. Again, from the FAQ: “We are exploring international opportunities and will provide updates as available.”

 

Tina Fey’s new Netflix show is here for weekend binge-watching

There are two good reasons to pay attention to the The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is Tina Fey’s new series that debuted Friday on Netflix.

The first reason is that the show, about a young woman rebuilding her life in New York City after 15 years in a cult, is good — really good. I saw a preview of the first two episodes in New York in February, and the show is odd, fresh and funny. It’s easy to root for Kimmy (Ellie Kemper, who also played Erin on The Office), while her gay black sidekick Titus (Tituss Burgess) may be unlike any other character on TV. The show got a 78 at MetaCritic and folks at Rotten Tomatoes seem to like it too.

The other reason to take note of Kimmy Schmidt is because it shows, once again, how much the creation and distribution of TV has changed. As the New York Times recounted earlier this month, the initial episodes of Kimmy Schmidt were supposed to appear on NBC. The network, however, got cold feet, so Tina Fey decided to take it elsewhere.

Netflix lapped it up and agreed to buy two full seasons. Fey told the Times that the shift in platform also allowed for better plots and pacing because episodes were not confined to 22 minutes.

The stars of the show, meanwhile, appeared conflicted over the implication of services like Netflix displacing networks. In response to a question at the February premiere, Kemper said she was glad to be a Netflix star but still felt loyalty to NBC.

Finally, while the The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has the makings of a hit, its actually popularity will be hard to measure since Netflix doesn’t disclose how many people watch its shows (even though it knows precisely). As such, it will be hard to know if Kimmy will outperform the unwatchable Marco Polo, another recent Netflix offering that was likely targeted to a very different audience.

If Kimmy succeeds, it will be another feather in the cap of Netflix’s home grown hits, to go alongside House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

Sling TV opens the floodgates, accepts sign-ups without invites

Sling TV, the online TV streaming service from Dish Networks, is now available to everyone: The service ended its invitation-only soft launch late Sunday night and began to accept sign-ups from everyone on its website.

Sling offers consumers live access to a total of 15 channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, CNN, HGTV, Cartoon Network and others for $20 a month. New to this basic package are Galavision, El Rey Network and a channel for Maker Studios content, which had been previously announced but initially wasn’t part of the invite-only beta test. AMC is going to be added to the base package soon, according to a Sling TV press release. There’s no word yet on whether Sling will also add other channels that are part of the AMC Networks family, including IFC, Sundance TV and WE TV.

Sling subscribers can elect to add more channels through three different add-on packages that cost $5 each. These include a news and information package, a kids and family package and a sports add-on package that offers access to additional ESPN channels and a few other sports networks. As of Monday, subscribers will also be able to use ESPN’s WatchESPN apps, but the content available to them will depend on their individual subscription: Sling TV’s base package unlocks ESPN1, ESPN2 and ESPN3 streams, whereas the added sports package will provide access to more content.

Sling TV is catering to cord cutters and what the company calls “cord haters,” meaning people who would love to get rid of cable but haven’t been able to in the past, primarily because of sports. Sling wants to win over this audience by offering them a lower-priced package without some of the strings that are usually attached with a traditional pay TV service. For example, Sling TV customers will be able to cancel any time, and don’t need commit to year-long contracts.

However, Sling TV couldn’t completely do away with the limitations of its industry. Some of the most advanced features of the service, which include the ability to rewind and fast forward in a current show or go back to any show that has aired within the last 72 hours, aren’t available on most networks due to contractual restrictions. In addition, Sling TV is only available on one single device at a time.

Check this video for a first look at Sling TV:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3yR0D-c68]

This post was updated at 9:33am with information about AMC coming to Sling TV.

Cable TV viewing declined by more than 12 percent in January

Looks like Netflix and other streaming services are starting to have an impact on traditional TV viewing: Total live TV ratings were down 12.7 percent year over year across the networks of major media companies, according to a note from Nomura Research, which is based on recent numbers from Nielsen. Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente wrote that this was “one of the worst declines we have seen since we launched coverage of these companies.”

So why is live TV struggling? DiClemente pointed the finger at streaming services as the reason for the decline: “Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu, continue to siphon viewers away from linear TV,” he concluded.

There are some differences between individual networks, which in turn weigh on media companies’ bottom lines. January was a particularly bad month for Viacom, which saw ratings decline by 23 percent when compared to January 2014, with declines largely driven by MTV and Nickelodeon. Disney on the other hand only faced ratings declines of 7.5 percent, thanks in part to great ratings for ESPN.

Numbers like these run counter to the notion that online video viewing is additive to traditional TV consumption. That may have been true when people only streamed 15 minutes a day, but recent numbers from Netflix show that its subscribers watch an average of 90 minutes of Netflix programming every day.

A sneak peek at Sony’s PlayStation Vue internet TV service

Sony may have just shuttered its music service, but it’s getting ready to launch another media venture: PlayStation Vue, the company’s upcoming live TV service, is supposed to launch before the end of the quarter. Sony has been testing the service with a limited number of users in New York since late last year, but in recent days, the company has been inviting a number of new users to this beta test, suggesting that a launch may be coming soon.

Sony announced its intentions to start an internet TV service at CES 2014, and then officially unveiled its name and launch plans last November. At the time, the company also shared some highly polished screen shots to show off how Vue will look like. With new users getting added to the service, those pictures are being augmented by much-needed real-world experiences.

One user, who declined to be identified for this story, shared a few snapshots and first impressions with me that give us a better picture of Vue, and how it differs from the recently soft-launched Sling TV service. I asked Sony for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

PlayStation Vue

The programming: Sony announced in recent months that it has struck agreements with CBS, NBC and Fox as well as Viacom, Scripps and Discovery for Vue. Asked which channels this has brought to the service, my source told me the following:

“Spike, CBS, NBC, Fox, My9, Telemundo, American Heroes, Animal Planet, BET, BET Gospel, Big Ten network, Bravo, CBS Plus, Centric, Chiller, Cloo, CMT Pure Country, CNBC, CNBC World, Comedy Central, Cooking Channel, Cozi TV, Destination America, Discovery Channel, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, DIY, E!, Esquire, Exits, Food Network, Fox College Sports (3), Fox Sports 1,2,3, FX, FXM, FXX, Golf Channel, HGTV, Investigation Discovery, LOGO, Movies TV, MSNBC, MTV (Hits, Jam, 2, U), Nat Geo, all the Nickelodeons, OWN, Oxygen, Palladia, Science, Sprout, SYFY, Teen Nick, Travel, TV Land, Universal, USA, Velocity, VH1, Vh1 Classic, Soul, YES Network.

No real big surprises on that list. Sports fans will appreciate the number of sports channels, but the one most sports fans really want to have — ESPN — is obviously missing. Also, it looks like Sony signed really big bundles with all of the programmers, forcing it to carry numerous channels with very small audiences. Seriously, I had to google a number of them to even figure out what they were.

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The UI: Sony has been previewing a very polished UI that combines content galleries with large cover art wallpaper. That’s definitely part of the UI, but Sony is also offering a much more traditional channel guide, with a twist: Instead of listing all channels in a left column, Vue is grouping them in a header row, and then listing shows by time in columns underneath. Kind of like a cable guide turned on its side, if you will.

Other than that, I’ve been told that the interface is “very snappy,” very easy to use and “very PlayStation 4 store-esque.”

The rights: One of the big issues that came up with the launch of Sling TV were the varying rights assigned to each channel. Some networks let users rewind and watch shows from the past 72 hours, but most didn’t. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with PlayStation Vue, at least from what I’m hearing so far. The service allows users to catch up on shows for up to three days, and also “record” episodes on its cloud DVR for up to 28 days. Users can add any show to their list of “my shows” and then access past episodes quickly, making them much less dependent on the channel grid, or schedule in general for that matter.

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The price: Sony hasn’t said how much Vue will cost, and it hasn’t given current beta testers any additional information about this either. Reports in the past have indicated that the company could charge between $60 and $80 for the bundle, at which point it wouldn’t be a whole lot cheaper than traditional cable. That’s largely due to those big bundles Sony is buying from programmers in order to get crown jewels like those broadcast channels and cable networks like Comedy Central.

The big question is whether that will fly with users, many of whom are looking for an alternative to cable exactly because it is a big, expensive bundle, forcing them to pay for many channels they don’t actually watch. Asked whether he’d pay for Vue, a beta tester told me: “I would pay for this service if they let you pick channels al a carte.”

My guess is that’s not the answer Sony was hoping for.

Cord Cutters: A first look at Sling TV

Dish is starting to invite some first users to its new Sling TV online streaming service this week. Here’s how the service looks like on a Roku 3.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3yR0D-c68]

Show notes for this episode:

  • Sling TV’s base package is going to cost $20, for which you’ll get access to live feeds from ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family and CNN. Additional kids and news packages will cost $5 each.
  • Check out all you need to know about Sling TV.
  • Sling TV is currently in an invite-only phase. You can apply for an invite on Sling’s website.
  • Sling TV is expected to go live for everyone within the next two weeks.

Will you subscribe to Sling TV, or is something crucial missing from the service? Let us know in the comments below!

First look video: VLC is coming to Android TV

The popular media player app VLC is coming to Android TV: VLC developers have released a preview version that already looks pretty neat — here’s a first look.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSXnvlAh41Q]

Show notes for this episode:

Is VLC on Android TV a game changer, or just a nice add-on? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Dish’s new Sling TV service liberates ESPN from the cable bundle

There are two ways to look at Sling TV, the new internet-based TV service that will be announced by Dish on Monday at CES: It’s either a poor replacement of what cable has to offer, lacking even basic programming. Or it’s finally a way for cord cutters who don’t want to give up on sports to get ESPN live streaming, plus a few extra stations, for just $20 a month.

Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton announced Sling TV at CES Monday.

Dish President and CEO Joseph Clayton announced Sling TV at CES Monday.

[company]Dish[/company] revealed not only the service’s name but also key details on programming and price: The base package, which will cost consumers $20 a month, includes live access to ESPN and ESPN2, as well as a couple of other cable networks, including Disney Channel, ABC Family, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, TNT, CNN, TBS, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Consumers will also be able to add additional packages, including for news programming, family content and sports, for five dollars each. Sling TV will launch before the end of January, and is already in private beta test with select customers.

Sling Guide

Sling TV will be available over the internet, and consumers will be able to watch the service on the web as well as via Roku, Fire TV, Android TV and Xbox One as well as iOS and Android. Chromecast and Apple TV are notably absent from the list, but Sling TV executives told me during a recent interview that they plan to add additional devices in the near future. Most, but not all channels offer DVR-like pause, rewind and fast forward features. And consumers will be able to access some shows up to three days after they air — but there are once again limits dictated by the contracts that Dish has with TV networks.

Sling TV: Not like any other TV service

Dish is not the only company looking to launch an internet-based TV service. Intel tried the same thing with its OnCue service, but eventually gave up on the idea and sold OnCue’s assets to Verizon. Sony announced its own internet-based TV service at CES in Las Vegas a year ago, and began limited tests of the service late last year. But Sony’s approach is very different from Dish’s: The PlayStation maker has been busy signing deals for big bundles, like the one with Viacom that will bring a total of 22 channels to Sony’s TV service, including not only popular networks like Comedy Central but also little-watched properties like VH1 Soul and Palladia.

“That type of deal that Sony signed with them is not a deal that we would do,” said Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch during a recent interview. He added that Comedy Central content is already “widely distributed,” with consumers being able to watch shows like the Daily Show on the show’s website or on Hulu.

[pullquote person=”Roger Lynch” attribution=”Roger Lynch, CEO, Sling TV” id=”903979″]“ESPN is an anchor.”[/pullquote]

Lynch maintained that the same is true for broadcast networks like Fox or CBS, which Sling TV doesn’t carry. Consumers can access their feeds with an antenna, or catch up on shows on Hulu or elsewhere, he argued, adding: “The fact is that they are already watching it.” Lynch said that Sling TV may add a broadcast tier “over time,” offering consumers to stream content from broadcaster for an extra fee. “We don’t want to force everyone to buy them,” he said.

Sling TV bills itself as complementary to Netflix and Hulu.

Sling TV bills itself as complementary to Netflix and Hulu.

Instead, Sling TV is betting that all of its customers want access to ESPN, which is the service’s crown jewel at launch. Or, as Lynch put it: “ESPN is an anchor.”

That’s an interesting bet, because it could actually work: Sports has been the deal-breaker for many would-be cord cutters, who just hold on to their $100-a-month cable bill because they don’t want to miss their team’s games. With Sling TV, they may now get what they want for just 20 bucks a month. Plus, the basic tier also comes with access to some content from WatchESPN, the sportscaster’s online video service. Specifically, Sling TV subscribers will have access to the ESPN1, ESPN2 and ESPN3 through the WatchESPN  app.

DishWorld will be folded into Sling TV

The move towards new online distribution models doesn’t come out of the blue for Dish. The company acquired online video platform provider Move Networks five years ago, and used the Move team to build out its own online team. That team actually launched a first online TV service in early 2013: DishWorld provides expats in the U.S. with access to live TV networks from countries like India, Brazil or Vietnam.

Sling TV may sound a little bit like Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox, but the two companies don't really have anything in common - except the same corporate parent.

Sling TV may sound a little bit like Sling Media, maker of the Slingbox, but the two companies don’t really have anything in common – except the same corporate parent.

Lynch told me that it’s been a success for the company, helping to grow the audience for international channels, which were previously only available as part of Dish’s service, threefold. He didn’t reveal any subscriber numbers, but said that consumers who do pay for international TV stations through Dishworld watch over five hours of programming via the service every day on average.

Dishworld is currently run by a team of 250 people, and Lynch said that the company plans to staff up in the coming months. “It’s in a way our big beta,” he said. It’s worth noting that this beta test is now over: DishWorld is going to be folded into Sling TV and rebranded as Sling International.

Is Dish suddenly a cord cutter’s best friend?

So will Sling TV eat into Dish’s traditional subscriber base? Lynch and the service’s Chief Marketing Officer Glenn Eisen insisted that won’t be the case, with Eisen telling me Sling TV is a separate business unit with the company that goes after a different set of customers. The service targets people who already have cut the cord, and what he called cord-haters: “Psychologically, they have already cut the cord.”

Household numbers are growing, while pay TV subscriptions are on the decline. Dish views this as an opportunity for Sling TV.

Household numbers are growing, while pay TV subscriptions are on the decline. Dish views this as an opportunity for Sling TV.

That’s nice rhetoric, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Dish is in the long run just as vulnerable as cable. The TV industry has seen a small but notable decline of subscribers in recent quarters, but online viewing has grown rapidly at the same time, suggesting that there may be more radical changes of consumption patterns ahead. Quizzed about this, Eisen and Lynch told me that Dish was cognizant of these shifts, but also optimistic that the industry could return to growth by embracing new models. Said Eisen: “If we care about growing the market, then we had to pivot.”

This post was updated throughout at 12:30pm with additional details shared during Dish’s CES press conference. It was updated again at 2:31pm and 4:28pm to clarify how much WatchESPN is part of Sling TV.

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Every second cord cutter has a Netflix subscription

Here’s another reason that Netflix really wants to be on cable boxes: 48 percent of all households without a pay TV subscription have Netflix, but only 36 percent of households who have cable or another form of TV subscription also subscribe to Netflix, according to a new study from the Leichtman Research Group. This divide also impacts engagement: 32 percent of all pay TV subscribers watch Netflix every day, but 53 percent of all cord cutters stream Netflix every day.

Some of this discrepancy may be due to other options. 62 percent of all pay TV households now have a DVR, which offers them another option to binge watch, and that number is up from 41 percent five years ago. And 59 percent of cable households have used their TV provider’s VOD service before, compared to just 46 percent five years ago.

But Netflix executives also think that it’s about ease-of-access. If their service was right next to TV networks like HBO and Showtime, then pay TV subscribers would be more willing to pay, and tune in more often, they believe. That’s why the company has been busy negotiating with TV operators to bring the Netflix app onto cable boxes. After striking some deals with smaller local operators earlier last year, Netflix announced a major deal with Dish last month that will bring the Netflix app to Dish’s Hopper DVR.