TV isn’t dead, but it no longer depends on a TV screen.
Indeed, the convergence of online video and television is closing in fast, judging by the new slate of Web-based content unveiled to media buyers in New York during the past few weeks. This year’s Digital Content NewFronts—the online cousin of the annual television network Upfronts bazaar for media buyers—was nearly undistinguishable from its TV counterpart.
This transition has been in the works now for the past three years. Online video is no longer an add-on or outlier to broadcast and cable TV, executives said. Buzzwords such as “critical mass,” “tipping point,” and “pivot” were bandied about liberally around the star-studded events, with the most common debate centered on whether TV is dead or living out a new golden age, fueled, in part, by binge-viewing via online streaming.
Many digital content producers were also making a case for a surge in quality and gravitas in the online-original space, judging by the number of established network newscasters who appeared at the various presentations, including Katie Couric (Yahoo), Meredith Viera (DigitasLBi), and Connie Chung (AOL).
“In just three years we’re already seeing evidence that the premium online video market is at a tipping point,” said Tony Weisman, CEO of DigitasLBi and one of the NewFront’s founders. As an example, he singled out the agreement between Amazon and HBO, signed just before the NewFronts, for streaming the cable channel’s programs on Amazon Prime. The deal “is just one harbinger of the post-TV streaming video market and truly the future of television,” Weisman said.
Also in the past: online video as a second screen, especially with the coveted Millennial demographic, who watch both repurposed TV and original online video without making distinctions, executives also said. Audiences for original online video have overtaken those for several TV segments, including TV news, daytime TV, and sports, said Sherrill Mane, senior VP, research, analytics, and measurement at the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which organized the event. The group released a study at the end of the NewFronts that showed the audience for original digital video has topped 52 million per month in 2014, up 15 percent year-over-year.
Not All ‘Snackable’
The trend is also getting a shot in the arm from connected television sets that can stream online content, either via built-in Wi-Fi or a streaming device, such as Roku or Google’s Chromecast. The technology is now mainstream, said Doron Wesly, head of market strategy at Tremor Video, noting that 83 million Americans now watch a connected TV, according to a study released by Tremor at the NewFronts.
“That’s not nothing—that’s critical mass by any definition,” Wesly said. Tremor’s study showed that screen size has a direct relationship to time spent watching online video and engagement with the material, he added. Viewers on connected TVs watched 11.8 hours of online video a week and more long-form video than viewers on smaller screens.
Despite all of the attention given during the past year to microvideo platforms, such as Instagram and Vine, online video programmers began moving in the opposite direction, betting viewers want more than “snackable” content. For example, The Wall Street Journal launched Signal, a new video “magazine” that will include longer-form documentaries, while AOL announced “Connected,” a new reality series with 20-minute episodes. Separately, Yahoo announced a deal with Live Nation to offer a full live concert daily starting in July, and signed Kellogg Co. as one of the initial sponsors for the livestream.
‘We’re Not Video Dilettantes’
The explosion of online video was evident even before the presentations started. The IAB expanded the schedule from one week to nine days to accommodate more than 20 presentations from media companies. Like the broadcast and cable networks showing off the stars and shows of the coming fall season, online properties including AOL, Yahoo, and YouTube were joined by traditional-media publishers, such as The Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast, and new participants included online properties Buzzfeed and Maker Studios.
Still, the old guard played up its cred in an increasingly crowded online spectrum. Another buzzword, “curation,” was also used liberally by many of the media companies.
“We’re not video dilettantes,” said Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp., The Wall Street Journal’s parent. “We’ve not just discovered the iPhone has a ‘record’ button.”
Ironically, many of the new-media upstarts sounded like network programmers or old. The talk was all about “shows” and, in some cases, introducing “the second season” of returning programs, as Web properties co-opted TV programmers’ talking points.
But the choice of words was more than just cosmetic: Several media companies also unveiled audience measurement tools that are more akin to TV ratings—the better to talk to media buyers looking for integrated media planning and the ability to shift spending between TV and online video. Analytics vendor YuMe, for example, introduced a tool, Share Shift Simulator, to model how a shift in spending from TV to online video will affect reach with key demographics.
Yahoo and AOL announced partnerships to offer marketers audience metrics similar to TV ratings: Yahoo joined comScore to offer advertisers real-time audience reports using TV-comparable metrics for video, display, and mobile ads. Meanwhile, AOL partnered with Nielsen to beta-test an extension of its Online Campaign Ratings that will provide gross ratings points comparable to TV ratings for AOL’s new programs.
Many of the media companies stressed that they want to both produce content and serve as a channel to curate content from other partners to an audience that’s increasingly cutting the cable cord or, as Tremor’s Wesly put it, are “cord-never” viewers—younger audiences who only watch online.
“If you’re Time Warner Cable—sorry,” he said.
Such is the evolution of TV, executives said. On any device, video can still deliver more engagement than most other media, and thanks to online video, it is now more measurable and trackable than it has ever been, they said.
Many aspects about video also have changed in the past five years, said Susan Lyne, AOL’s CEO: “What hasn’t changed is the power of video to engage audiences, to make us stop what we’re doing and watch.”