Meet the Newfronts. They’re the same as the Upfronts. And maybe that’s the way it should be. The division between network television, over the top television and online video is an artificial one, based on fifty year old business models, not on the way that consumers currently watch video programming.
But since they’re the ones paying the bills, perhaps we should pay attention to them.
If the newfronts and the upfronts are any indication, the networks and MCNs already do seem to be paying attention. They may not be ready to admit that they’ve been listening, but the evidence indicates they are.
Slowly but surely they’ve been changing, shifting what’s important and emphasizing the assets that will be important in the years ahead. So while everyone was talking (again) about “reach” that wasn’t the real story at this years shows, which is that everyone from networks to MCNs to hybrids like Hulu is starting to adjust to the new reality
There are four pillars to the new ecosystem that’s starting to form within this new reality and each one will help to shape the future of television.
The first pillar is data and this is probably the most important of the four. Years of relying on imperfect Nielsen data put the television industry in data avoidance mode. Yet data is the key to so many decisions: programming choices, audience acquisition and retention plays, targeted advertising. Everyone was talking about data this year, from long-established broadcast networks to just-formed MCNs and the story was the same: the more we know, the better decisions we can make, the more that benefits everyone involved.
The second pillar is content. Quality content to be specific. With the rise of binge viewing, studios and showrunners all realized that their shows could have a long tail. That high quality shows that resonated could now look forward to attracting audiences for 10, 20, 30 years and that like movies, well done TV series could become classics. This realization resonated throughout the entire ecosystem as streaming players like Hulu announced additional investments in original content, TNT and TBS promised a major content upgrade and MCNs plussed up the production values of their web series.
The third pillar of the new TV universe is social. MCNs have long known the value of social media as their stars rack up millions of fans across multiple platforms, providing a ready made audience for their videos and, as stars like AwesomenessTV’s Cameron Dallas have shown, their movies. Traditional TV is fast catching up as studios and showrunners are beginning to see the value that authentic second screen content and social interactions can bring and how they can help build audiences (particularly among the #massivepassives) while providing valuable data for programming decisions as well. That’s why everyone was announcing their social plays like Turner’s Sociology, a tool that provides advertisers with social data, insights and optimization around branded content.
As viewers get used to watching more and more TV without any advertising (thank you, Reed Hastings) it gets harder and harder to get them to suffer through blocks of interruptive advertising. That’s why #createdwith content — branded content that’s created with talent from MCNs and television— has become more and more popular. #CreatedWith content feels more like entertainment than advertising and thus the creators don’t sound like shills. Many major brands are jumping on the #CreatedWith bandwagon as are programmers: Hulu even introduced their own version of branded content created in conjunction with stars of their original series. It’s a win for everyone: brands, networks, talent and the folks at home.
The Verizon/AOL merger landed smack dab in the middle of the upfronts and temporarily stole some of the thunder from the networks. As well it should have. While many in the media dismissed AOL as a leftover from the Clinton era, it has, as we pointed out, transformed itself into an ad tech powerhouse. What’s more, AOL’s deals with the likes of NBCU and Verizon’s deal with Awesomeness.tv gives the combine organization a range of content to offer viewers, everything from short form to long form to binge bait, which is exactly what the people want: a range of options, all available through the same provider. That is the future and a perfect synthesis of what we saw coming out of both the newfronts and the upfronts.
The (r)evolution is here. Viewership habits have changed forever and the people who produce the programming, whether they are networks or MCNs or somewhere in between, are starting to change along with them. Stay tuned.