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CES '18: Crackle, Turner, Oath Look to the Future of TV

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This is a confusing time for TV viewers, said Eric Berger, chief development officer for Sony Picture Television Networks and general manager of Crackle. There are a variety of services available, and finding content across them is a difficulty. Content providers are struggling as well, figuring out how to migrate from cable to a direct-to-consumer model, one where they need to attract customers on their own, gather first-party data, and move customers through a marketing funnel from awareness to conversion. Traditional TV services are learning the tools of marketing.

Berger spoke on a CES panel on the future of television. While the problem of content discovery hasn't been solved yet, Berger said that one early effort—basing recommendations on what other similar customers have watched—hasn't worked out. Companies can create better recommendations by looking solely at individual viewing habits. Recommend the new season of a show to viewers who watched the previous season, for example. Keep recommendations simple and personal.

Referencing recent research by CBS, Berger noted that 25 percent of viewers learn about new shows through recommendations. For network viewers, most people learn about new content from on-air promotions. At Crackle, Berger is borrowing that approach, promoting new content through commercials. At the same time, Crackle is using online targeted delivery methods to zero in on individual viewers, blending the best of both worlds.

For the next few years, channels need to understand that 80 percent of connected TV viewers want to watch long-form content, Berger said, but they look for different experiences on desktop and mobile. Those are great places for content extensions, offshoots from popular shows created just for multi-platform viewers. These offshoots do well in different dayparts.

Young people who have been born into this streaming world think about it differently, noted Alex Wallace, vice president of OTT video production and distribution at Oath. They don't see services and channels; they just think big screen (TV) and little screen (phone). They don't care how things get to them, they just want access. And access is an issue: While people with multiple streaming services feel like they're paying for some channels many times over, they often still can't find the shows they want to watch. That's why rebundling will be coming in the future, she thinks. But rebundling will be personal, based on each viewer's preferences.

"If you can't find it, it's like a tree falling in a forest," Wallace said.

People will always watch content on the biggest screen available, she said. While early assumptions were that streaming viewers were concerned with length, she said those early assumptions were wrong. People want control over how they view content, but don't care about the length.

Looking to the future, Wallace sees huge things for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Rather than telling the kids to go watch Mickey Mouse, tomorrow's parent will tell kids to go play with Mickey Mouse. Immersive storytelling will let viewers become part of the action. "It's incredibly interesting and exciting," she said.

The biggest change for today's viewers is the ability to time-shift, noted Jennifer Mirgorod, executive vice president of brand distribution for Turner Broadcasting System. Her company tires to address that by providing as much on-demand content as possible. Not only do consumers want on-demand content, but they want it without commercials. While Turner can't do that all the time, it tries to provide limited interruption programming when it can.

Addressing the discoverability challenge, Mirgorod said program metadata must be accurate to ensure strong recommendations. Turner works with providers to ensure that they know what content is about and recommend it correctly.

The audience for VR content is small but committed, Mirgorod said. Turner was early in streaming pro sports in VR, and now offers a package people can subscribe to. It also offers esports content. Turner is experimenting with VR features, such as creating animated characters for esports that can be inserted into the game.

Going direct-to-consumer (D2C) for some offerings has given Turner the opportunity to learn about its viewers directly. It's prestige film service Filmstruck shares some support resources with other in-house groups, but offers a different type of content. Going D2C gives Turner consumer data that MVPDs never provide. 

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