May 24-25 marks the next TV of Tomorrow conference and a time of vast changes in the media landscape. Tracy Swedlow, CEO TMRW Corp. and co-executive producer of TV of Tomorrow (TVOT) gives us an overview of where we are going and what to expect at the San Francisco conference.
Charlene Weisler: Can you give me a recap of the media landscape for the past three years, and any impact -- good or bad -- from the pandemic?
Tracy Swedlow: Subscription-based streaming services grew rapidly during the pandemic, but there’s been quite a slowdown in subscription growth rates in recent months (in part, because people are no longer sitting around the house with nothing to do, as they were during the lockdown; and in part simply because subscriptions are increasingly expensive) and churn rates, which have always been an issue for SVOD, are increasing significantly.
FAST/AVOD has also been growing rapidly, partly as a result of subscription-inflation. The fact that it’s accessed primarily on CTV platforms presents significant opportunities for gathering granular audience data and for enabling FAST’s monetization through increasingly personalized, targeted and interactive advertising. So, for example, one thing we’ve been seeing recently is a swell of interest in new, interactive advertising formats.
In addition to fueling the growth of streaming, it’s arguable that the pandemic also accelerated the rise of shoppable TV by increasing consumer usage of/familiarity with ecommerce. Again, the wide distribution of CTV platforms has also been a catalyst here.
Another significant development over the past three years—even though it’s one whose full potential hasn’t yet been realized—is the ongoing rollout of broadcast TV’s ATSC 3.0 standard (which has the consumer-facing brand, NEXTGEN TV) and the increasing availability of TV sets that support it. This will allow major improvements in audience measurement, advanced advertising and interactive services and promises a renaissance for local broadcasting.
Last but not least, the past three years have seen significant attempts to improve audience-measurement and the data-driven advertising it enables, not only through competition and the innovation that competition encourages, but through major industry coalitions and collaborations.
Weisler: What is this year’s TVOT about?
Swedlow: We don't really impose an overarching theme on each event since we cover multiple, often quite disparate areas of and developments in the TV industry (everything from JICs to Web3, from AI to local CTV), and trying to fit everything into a unified concept would probably come across as somewhat forced.
I can say that TVOT is about community this year and every year. The event is a little like a salon, where disparate ideas, strategies and industry sectors cross-pollinate.
Weisler: What are the top issues for media companies coming up?
Swedlow: Improving how viewership is measured in an increasingly multiplatform environment; improving how the data thus generated is interpreted and made use of while maintaining privacy and promoting transparency; and in general, figuring out how to survive and thrive as some areas of the industry undergo rapid disruption (for example, by AI) while other areas (such as SVOD) that saw disruption just a few years ago reach maturity and possibly even start to retrench.
Weisler: Give me three predictions for the next three years.
Swedlow: First, NEXTGEN TV will lead to a renaissance in local broadcasting, enabling improvements in audience measurement/data and advanced advertising, as well as more interactivity and multiple new consumer-facing services.
Second, every press release announcing a new product will have “AI” in the headline, but (joking aside) this won’t be the usual marketing hype. AI will have huge consequences for television, advertising and pretty much every other area of human endeavor.
And third, TV advertisers will know a lot more about audiences than they ever imagined they could, and those audiences will find advertising way less intrusive. In fact, they might actually enjoy watching it, because it will be finely tailored to their interests and needs.