Everything old is new again. In video, I see two reemerging trends of old staples: arcing scripted series and live programming. And this movement is not confined to TV. If you look closely, it’s evident in both native digital channels and traditional television. Here is what I see happening, and what brands can do with the opportunity.
Digital Content Mirrors Traditional
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that short form is best for digital video. And this appears to be true for YouTube and other channels, broadly speaking. But along with their television brethren, the digital video industry is seeing an increase in the production and notoriety of long-form, arcing scripted programming across all networks: cable, digital, and broadcast.
Among others, “reality”-based networks like History, A&E, and Bravo are introducing scripted content. Digital networks like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon are investing in scripted, original content, as are digital studios such as Maker and The Collective. Yahoo and Warner have both created native digital content with the likes of Tom Hanks, McG, Anthony Zuiker, and Keifer Sutherland. Cable networks appear to be elevating their brands and elongating their revenue streams with content that has more gravitas and a longer shelf life. For the digital networks, the focus is on building subscribers and audience. All are preparing for the changes that unbundling may produce.
There is another quieter trend that is cutting across both television and digital video: live programming. Sports have always been a staple of live television content – from increased volume of older properties like March Madness and the Olympics to FOX’s challenge to ESPN. But the current state of live programming is changing. The success of American Idol’s live events has spawned many other forms of live network content – and this is now leaking into cable on Discovery, Bravo, SyFy, and AXS TV. AXS is pulling live content from native digital producer The Huffington Post. And other digital channels such as Aereo, Tivli, and YouTube are broadening a variety of live content.
Directionally, at least for the time being, we’re going to continue to see both of these types of content on the upswing across digital and TV channels. Long-form, scripted content helps networks shore up their brands for the future, and live programming provides the short-term cultural relevance required to maintain consumer loyalty today. As demonstrated by HBO and DirecTV’s expanded sports packages, this content supports dedicated funding by consumers, brand building, and insulation against the coming tide of unbundling.
The Impact on Advertisers
What does this mean for marketers? As with the nature of content, we can look to the past to inform the future. In the early stages of television and dating back to radio, advertisers owned large chunks of time that enabled messaging both around and inside of content. During the 1950s, TV hosts, sets, and assets were deployed in the service of sponsorship. We’ve come a long way from Texaco Theater and soap operas, but brands would do well to reimagine some of their past advertising behavior.
Live programming opportunities in particular dovetail perfectly with the real-time marketing that brands are increasingly doing on social networks. While there are obvious challenges for brands in doing scale or reach advertising in real-time mass-market efforts, the rewards may be worth the effort and align with the coming trends across channels.
With scripted content, brands have already evolved their engagement in a meaningful way that actually benefits the viewer and the producer. It makes no sense when a character drinks a random, made up beer or drives an unmarked vehicle – brand identifications are character development opportunities for the producer, and are actually less jarring than the old Repo Man, “Beer” logo. Lexus and other advertisers have brought us commercial-free, long-form content, but it’ll be more interesting to see how they might be able to use their brands to propel characters forward – think about what legacy brands like Omega and Harley-Davidson have done with James Bond and Marvel in films. As digital and television programming continue to evolve, we should keep an eye on what has worked in the past to inform new marketing opportunities.