Thursday, April 12, 2012

Harnessing "exclusive" content to aggregate larger audiences in the digital living room

I think there are 4 primary reasons consumers are willing to pick up a device in the living room while watching TV:

1. Simple. It starts with turning on the TV itself, but it is really about getting the content you want to watch onto the TV (whether the right channel, the right device for Blu-ray or digital video, or something you found on your 2nd screen and want to watch on the 1st screen). Last week's blog covers this challenge in detail.

2. Social. Currently a huge topic in the press and in the industry, this is about engaging others via Facebook, Twitter, or specialized second screen applications while you watch the show. A hugh phenomena right now.

3. Discovery. More and more, consumers are picking up a device to find something to watch rather than trying to use the EPG or the 10-foot remote experience of searching for content on the 1st screen. This is still a very nascent consumer experience, but one where real improvements are imminent in the space.

4. Stimulating. Another reason consumers are watching with a device in their laps is because they want more information about the movie, TV show, sporting event, or live event they are watching. They are looking up the actors, checking the stats of their favorite players, seeing who made that dress--all of the information they want to check in real-time while watching the first screen.

In my last blog, I discussed the evolution of the digital living room in terms of the devices outside the Apple ecosystem and how difficult it is for consumers to get a truly integrated content experience (devices don't play well with each other or with content). Part of the solution, I argued, could be solved by UltraViolet, the video content industry's effort to provide a path for digital sell-thru. Another part was a combination of CE devices / operator STBs opening their control systems to 3rd party developers (APIs, web servics) so that other applications like digital video service providers (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon) or second screen applications (Fanhattan, BuddyTV, TVplus) can allow consumers to find their content and get it to play effortlessly (Simply) on the first screen (their TV).

But there is another major element missing in this effort to make the consumer experience in the digital living room a better one: access to stimulating content.

If you used the Masters 2012 app last weekend while watching the golf tournament (or read my blog on it), you noticed there were 6 sources of video available (the live broadcast plus 5 other camera setups). If you watched the Oscars and the pre-show red carpet event using the official Oscars app or the E! Red Carpet app, you also would have noticed additional camera angles that were not available through any other source. Movie titles do this (create an app specific to the title with exclusive bonus materials). TV shows and even TV networks do this to--making content exclusively available thru their show specific or network specific app.

When you ask yourself why they do this, you initial conclusion is that it must be about money, yet in nearly every example I can find of exclusive content, the app itself is made available to the consumer for free. Perplexing.

So let's step back from this for a minute. Why do TV shows, sports events, or studios invest in custom created apps for their content? They want to aggregate bigger audiences around their content. In fact, that is why TV networks, movie studios, and sports leagues exist--to aggregate audience to increase monetization thru content licensing, advertising or subscription.

So why keep the special camera angles, bonus features, and star-studded interviews exclusive? My guess is that part of this is down to the human nature of the managers involved in the process to promote the app that they have built. But most of it is about cost and control. The content creator doesn't want to bear the cost (time, resources, money) of distributing the content to third parties, and additionally, they want to maintain quality control over how the content is used.

Are there models today where this problem is already is solved? Certainly. Look at at big brand or movie title. When they launch a new product or movie, they develop a very specific set of rules on how the logos, brand images, photos, and even movie trailers are to be used and then make them available under a limited use license to "trusted" 3rd parties to put to use to help them promote their brand or movie.

So how do we bring this together in the living room? We need a way to get content creators and application developers to syndicate this stimulating content. The content creator needs a cheap and efficient way of making the special content available to "trusted" 3rd parties so that when you are watching the Masters in 2013, you get access to the great materials in the Masters 2013 app and in the ConnecTV or TVplus app. When you are watching the Oscars next year but prefer to use IntoNow or Miso, perhaps you will still have access to those additional camera choices. When you watch the Hunger Games this fall, you will hopefully have access to the bonus materials thru the custom app AND through Fanhattan.

While nothing is free, perhaps there is a reciprocal business arrangement between the apps (digital video services, second screen apps, social TV apps) and the content creators that can make this all worthwhile (sharing ad revenue, customer affiliation, or even a simple syndication fee).

If we can solve this access to content challenge and the challenge of the multi-brand device living room, we can create an environment where the consumer will have more reasons to watch the content in the first place, increasing overall consumption perhaps even at some premium pricing--and everyone in the ecosystem wins: the content creators aggregate a larger audience, the distributors aggregate a larger audience, the app developers aggregate a larger audience, and the device makers sell more devices.

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