Facebook and Twitter have been pounding the pavement in Hollywood in an arms race to acquire rights to stream live television programming.
Some in the industry were surprised, but in reality, this development is practically a fait accompli after a year in which Facebook launched “Sports Stadium,” a destination for real-time sports content, Twitter and YouTube announced plans to launch Gaming channels (a sport in its own right these days), and — in a twist on that — heavyweight Gaming content platform Twitch plans to launch both live-action Art and Food channels, the latter of which could one day be a competitor to something like the Food Network. Snapchat Discover, barely a year old itself, has become a formidable content destination for millennials and teens, who by some accounts are getting much their political news during this election cycle on the platform.
As the television industry convulses under the pressures of a changing entertainment landscape, it’s clear that upstart social and mobile platforms are vying for their rightful place as legitimate media destinations. And why shouldn’t they be? Consumer content consumption habits have shifted dramatically over the past few years, in ways that perfectly position these platforms to succeed with content in ways that traditional producers and distributors have found hard to swallow. In response, broadcast, cable, and subscription television networks are creating Over The Top services as a way to get their content in front of cord cutters. But is OTT enough? Here, some trends that demonstrate these networks still have far to go.
· Bite-sized content for a fast-moving world. Why watch an entire football game, when only a few seconds of each game really matter? Twenty years ago, you had to watch the whole game in order to catch those few glorious moments. Now, for non-diehard sports fans, that content can be delivered to you in your Twitter feed while you’re watching something else. The NFL has capitalized on that big-time by making a rev-share deal with Twitter in which they sell ads on their clips, in exchange for making the content available to users on the platform.
· Anywhere TV. People who produce content are, obviously, protective of the integrity of that content. If it was designed to be viewed in a dark, quiet living room in 4:6 aspect ratio, then that’s how it should be viewed, goddammit. Sorry, but consumers have other ideas. Armed with tablets and mobile phones (and, increasingly, smartwatches), consumers care less about the format of the content than about how entertaining or interesting it is. Hence, the recent successes of brands like Fusion on Snapchat Discover.
· Niche appeal targeted at niche audiences. In the dark pre-2000’s, television was mostly made to appeal to the masses. As niche cable channels exploded, content became a lot more specific, but consumers were still made to purchase cable bundles, essentially bankrolling content they would never watch. One of the reasons cord-cutters have rebelled against cable is that this model just doesn’t make sense in an age when you can create super niche content, find just the right audience for it, and target away. Of course, because of the way information spreads in today’s world, most audiences aren’t actually even that niche — evidenced by the incredible success of the gaming site Twitch.
The past three to five years have brought some pretty major changes to the entertainment industry, and the original gatekeepers of content are finally starting to catch up with their OTT services, new modes of distribution, and innovative marketing tactics. But what we’ve seen is nothing compared to what’s to come over the next three to five years. With technology advancing at an ever-accelerating pace, barriers to content production and consumption lowering even further, and “new” audiences emerging as power brokers of the attention economy, entertainment companies will have to quickly start planning for the unknown future, not just the known present condition of their industry, if they want to compete with the Facebooks, Snapchats and Twitches of the world.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on June 16, 2016, in Marketing:Entertainment.