Commentary

TV Network Brands: Taking A Hit From Streaming?

For stakeholders in the television ecosystem, the impact of streaming viewing is the mystery of the year – probably the decade.  Of course, their biggest concern is streaming’s effect on so-called “regular” TV viewing and TV networks.

But the streaming phenomenon is also poised to transform advertising and media planning, program promotion, windowing of content and licensing agreements.

A crucial but potentially overlooked issue is the impact of streaming on the brand equity of a television network: Do streaming viewers have the same relationship with the network that originated the program they are watching as viewers who only watch on “regular” TV?

Recent GfK research established that viewers still are pretty good at matching programs watched with the networks that created them; but making that association does not necessarily mean a good brand relationship with the network.

Networks have invested a lot in establishing and promoting their brands.  While some pundits insist that few viewers care about networks anymore -- “they watch programs, not networks” -- our study shows that this is a vast oversimplification.

Many networks do have strong awareness and loyalty among the viewing public; for instance, most people know that they are getting something different from CBS compared with Fox, or from History compared with Discovery.

From my perspective, there should be no reason why the value of network brand image should decrease in today’s evolving TV/video marketplace. Indeed, we see that aggregators are becoming increasingly important in delivering video content -- and networks are the original video aggregators. Whether viewers access content over a regular TV channel, a TV Everywhere service, or something like Hulu, the network is still an important differentiator for viewers to consider. The network can signal important things, like specialization in type of content, quality of production, or viewpoint.

Networks that will have the roughest journey in these roiling seas will be those that have not established a strong brand image. Going off-brand in pursuit of audience, or just having a weak hodgepodge of programming, did not help struggling networks in the “old” TV world and will be a growing burden in the “new” one.

This goes not just for the networks’ potential audiences, but also their digital and advertiser partners.

Our most recent work explores the impact, if any, that making programming available online has on a TV network’s brand. Whether to have content online is a moot point -- the audience clearly demands it; but understanding the potential fallout (or benefit) to the brand is important.

We studied how the perception of a network brand differed between those who watch a network or its programs only on regular TV (TV-Only) and those who watch it using streaming (Streamers). Among the selected networks we examined, the preponderance of evidence shows that, on the whole, there is no negative impact from streaming. The brand metrics for a particular network are essentially the same, or similar, for its TV-Only viewers compared with its Streamers.

Overall, these results clearly indicate that there is little downside to a network’s brand from allowing its content to be streamed. On the flip side, there is also little upside in brand metrics to be seen; but in this situation, it can be said that simply maintaining the status quo is a victory.

Other attitudes we explored indicate that streaming’s rising tide may be lifting all boats by extending total viewing time and broadening sampling of content.

The “C” word -- cannibalization -- should not be in anyone’s vocabulary anymore. The concept of television as a continuum from live linear to on-demand digital is an established fact, and stakeholders need to understand and leverage its advantages to their entire portfolio while mitigating its downsides. In the case of brand equity, our results indicate that concern about its impact can be tabled – at least for now.
5 comments about "TV Network Brands: Taking A Hit From Streaming?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 23, 2015 at 10:32 a.m.

    Interesting article, David. This subject has come up many times before, primarily regarding the syndication of "off-network" primetime series. In the 1960s and up to the mid-1970s the networks often stipulated that the producers could not offer any episodes of a primetime series in syndication---manily to independent stations---while the show was still running on the network. Moreover, even when offered, stations could not air these repeats in primetime. The reason was simple:the reruns---usually aired five days a week----gave some people enough of the show and its cast/premise to satisfy them and the primetime network ratings----even for "original" episodes---- suffered. Gradually, the lure of big bucks in syndication altered these rules until, now, a hit primetime series can be found almost anywhere---on one or more cable channels, a stand-alone service, etc. ---as well as in primetime. Of course, there is an effect, as many people can only handle so much of the same series, especially since quite a few individual episodes just aren't as good as they might be. On the other hand, many people, who missed a series during its 3-4 year primetime run---or only saw a few installments---"discover" the program in syndication and, now, on the stand-alones---so this is a way to rejeuvenate the series' appeal, often adding many younger, more affluent, "light viewers" to its fan club. All in all, I doubt that most people who are caught up in such fragmented and extended distribution chains, really know---or care---what network the show first appeared on. Whether this matters is open to debate, I guess.

  2. dorothy higgins from Mediabrands WW, April 23, 2015 at 10:49 a.m.

    According to Niesen out of an average 189 channels we watch 17.5 (which has been constant since 2008 when we watched 17.3 out of 129).  A suvey on channel habits by DigitalSmiths indicated a consideration set of 10 or fewer channels. So our consideration sets whether by survey or actual behavior are limited. It is human need to control chaos.  And media is chaos today. When over 200 millennials new to the media industry were queried on their mjoairy "T/V" behaviors in addition particular programs (i.e. Bachelor, GOT), and genres (criminal shows, housewife shows) they specifically identify their source of streaming. Netflix is number one follwed at great distance by HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, etc.  So quite simply, streaming fits nicely into the consideration set not as a technology but as the content provider.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 23, 2015 at 11:15 a.m.

    @Dorothy, it's always important to look at our use of different TV channels over particular time frames. For example, in our annual, "TV Dimensions 2015", we show that an average adult sees about 3.4 channels per day and this rises to around 14 per week, 23 per month, etc. until, by the end of a year, 45 channels have been sampled to some extent. Of course, some channels are used much more frequently than others so a typical viewer may really spend quality time  with, perhaps, 4-6 channels per week.That said, many of us are constantly dial switching in a quest for newer and more satisfying alternatives----hence the rise of Netflix and similar services. This goes to the question of brand loyalty, as suggested by David in his interesting piece. With so much sampling going on, plus delayed viewing, which distances the viewing experience from the network's "presence", are people really loyal to any individual broadcast network entity or is this mainly a function of the response to the shows it offers at any point in time. If the latter is the case, than the network's brand loyalty---if such can be meaningfully measured---- may not mean very much, compared to the degree of appeal that its individual shows generates. I happen to think that most people are loyal to programs, not channels---the exceptions being a number of highly thematic cable services. The broadcast networks cast too wide a net, programming-wise, to stand out as truly distinctive entities in their own right.

  4. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, April 23, 2015 at 3:54 p.m.

    "the network is still an important differentiator for viewers to consider" is an absolute fairy tale embellished to the nines. It's like saying people buy Mariah Carey downloads becuase they have a brand relationship with Sony or preference for Sony(for music). Or for Epic. Or for Warner Music. Or for Polygram. Price plus convenience plus access Rules.

  5. David Tice from TiceVision LLC, April 23, 2015 at 4:49 p.m.

    Actually, Leonard, thanks for proving my point by citing giant record companies that don't have a strong identity. But if you like rap, wouldn't it be a better signal to you if the record was put out by Def Jam than Epic? And wouldn't a Harvard University Press title signal a higher level of quality than a book published by Barnes & Noble's imprint? As I noted, networks without a clear image will suffer.
    I think people have a much closer relationship with TV networks than other media publishers and even if it isn't a key decision factor, the network is a signal of content, quality, and/or point-of-view - and if you don't get that, you are living in your own fairy tale.

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