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NAB 18: Streaming Technology Drives Changes for Broadcasters
Traditional broadcasters need to adopt new ways of working to compete in the streaming space. Execs from ESPN and MLB share what's worked for them.

Streaming has become a deeper part of broadcasters' lingo at NAB this year: Media companies moving to IP delivery are borrowing streaming best practices. 

An opening day panel presented by Google featured executives from ESPN, Viacom, Major League Baseball, and Discovery Communications speaking about the convergence of linear and digital as broadcasters identify how to form multiplatform strategies. The panelists focused on two key pieces of advice: create direct-to-consumer strategies and don't silo operations. 

Direct-to-Consumer Strategies

"Millennials are looking for programs, not necessarily channels," said Vikram Somaya, senior vice president and global data officer for ESPN. While building specific channels was the trend previously, media companies must now cater to viewers who want experiences, not just niche channel offerings. 

Starting Thursday, ESPN will enter the direct-to-consumer market with a new offering. "For the first time we will allow you to buy a package which we are calling ESPN+ which contains 10,000 live events for the year or be able to buy ESPN+ for $4.95," said Somaya. The new service is designed to help ESPN fight its declining subscriber problem and build viewer experience.

David Kline, executive vice president and CTO of Viacom, said the way his company increases viewing is makingsure there's a balance of short- and long-form content. Viacom is heavily into short-form content, he noted, and has built a short-form studio where it's working with Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube.

After several years of experimentation one idea for the convergence playbook was created at MLBAM when it decided to take direct-to-consumer one step further and broadcast directly on Facebook, bypassing traditional linear delivery. 

"We took one game a week and we gave it to Facebook. On Wednesday afternoons you can tune-in in the office and watch only on Facebook. You can't watch anywhere else," said Jason Gaedtke, CTO for Major League Baseball. Games average 80,000 viewers, which is small in the broadcast world but is an audience MLB wouldn't have been able to reach through a traditional broadcast.

Stop Siloing 

"Yesterday's personalization isn't tomorrow's personalization," Kline of Viacom said. Great recommendations start with a unified technology strategy. 

In order to improve personalization and monetization, Disney stopped siloing it's staff. An enterprise model—where technology staff work within specific divisions—doesn't allow media companies to be nimble and compete with the likes of Netflix and Spotify. 

ESPN created a direct-to-consumer international group to link technology and sales teams for its properties. "The aim is to bring like to like talent together with technology and think about how we can full stack across all of our media properties," Somaya said. "[Previously we had a] set of federated business units focused on just what they did: ESPN was focused on sports [for example] and [we found out] there are technology and sales groups that need to spend more time with each other [to deliver the content the consumer wants]." 

"A lot of what we have been doing is unifying the backend to allow us to operate as a single platform," Somaya added. It's especially important to companies like Disney to have a strong data strategy. "We need to be even more careful to not do some of the things that Facebook has done." The company collects and builds a user graph for those 13-and-above, and builds a deep identity for each customer. Unifying backend data handling means Disney can provide a strong personalized experience, both in theme parks and online. Stay tuned to see how this works with its new ESPN service.

Shane Peros, Google; David Kline, Viacom; Jason Gaedtke, Major League Baseball; John Honeycutt, Discovery Communications; and Vikram Somaya, ESPN

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