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CES 2019: The Future of TV

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During a panel discussion at CES 2019 called "The Future of TV: From Primetime to Multiplatforms," media executives from ABC News, Twitter, PBS, and MAGNA shared how they are coming out fighting when it comes to keeping their businesses thriving in today's OTT-dominated world.

The question everyone always wants answered is what monetization strategy works? "It's not one-size-fits-all. If it was, of course whoever had the most money would win," said moderator Jonathan Hurd, director of consulting firm Altman Vilandrie & Company. "You're all measuring your audiences, understanding what they want, and collecting lots of data so you'll be able to figure out what monetization works."

ABC News Live: Reimaging News

"ABC News Live is a 24/7 streaming channel launched in May," said Colby Smith, senior vice president, content & partnership, ABC News. "This is a streaming news channel whose aim is to be the number one live news service for cord cutters." ABC News has encouraged producers to think about restacking the newscast so that they’re not going story by story. "It could be four raw live streams from a breaking news event." Smith said. "Content might be UGC, professional feeds, from our radio producers, content from another streaming platform, even streaming a look into the newsroom Slack channel group collaboration.

"Then we can also layer in design elements that are more digital native like timelines and maps. These are experiences you just don't see on TV," he said, calling it a "grand experiment." "What it means is you can just watch something new, totally fresh that's not specifically for a TV audience, but its built on the backbone of what we do.

"We've been told flat-out [by our distributors] 'We got news wrong, we did not realize how much Millennials and GenZs engage with news.' Actually, coming out of the midterm elections, while it's true that voter turnout in that demographic was lower than older demos, the gap narrowed to historic levels." Smith said ABC News is reimagining how news can be delivered and could only do this in the digital environment. 

Twitter's Data & Reach

Twitter has more than 300 partners in the U.S. who work with the social media platform to extend their broadcast reach. "People come to discover what’s happening, to drive conversation, and drive culture," said Laura Froelich, senior director, partner management, global content partnership, Twitter. In this global migration into the Twittersphere, viewers leave myriad bread crumbs about their interests, and Twitter has amassed data that is very valuable to brands and media companies. 

"We have tons of learnings we can use to inform our partners," Froelich said. "We have grown our partners' businesses tremendously by having this approach [of working with various business models]. It’s been predominately sponsorship revenue, and our payouts to our partners last year grew over 60%. 

"We just announced two extentions with partners PGA Tour and Buzzfeed," Froelich said. "With PGA Tour we are offering the first 60 to 90 minutes of tournament play Thursday through Sunday, which is double the amount of content we have done in the past couple of years. We are also giving the opportunity for our viewers to vote who is on the featured group on Friday, bringing Twitter engagement to audience and giving the audience the opportunity to dictate what they'll see," said Froelich. 

The New PBS

Old-school PBS is working to build new revenue while engaging viewers. Last year, PBS broadcast the State of the Union on Twitter for the first time, said Ira Rubenstein, chief digital and marketing officer, PBS Digital. "Frontline has done the Transparency project, which you could only do on digital where they make available full interviews [not just clips], so you can see content isn’t being taken out of context by watching everything someone said."

They are also looking to the future viewers. "The thing I'm most proud of that we've done in the last year was the launch of the Kids 24/7 channel," Rubenstein said, referring to the digital and local broadcast channel in many markets. "A lot of underserved communities for kids don’t have streaming content and they’re doing their majority of the watching TV at night." 

PBS also has created interactive digital programming to reinforce educational objectives, with children’s content developers making games that are tied to the curriculum of kids shows, said Rubenstein, adding that it’s resulted in improved test scores, though he didn't offer any proof to back that up.

The well-known pledge drive has gone through a makeover, and PBS now offers a membership benefit called Passport, launched almost two years ago. Local station members gain access to a library of PBS content for a minimum donation of $5 per month. This gives viewers early access to everything PBS has rights to. “If you were a Ken Burns fanatic when Vietnam came out the whole eight hours were available for early access. Viewers could binge watch his whole series and people did,” said Rubenstein. 

Rubenstein said Passport saw1.5 million activations in the two years, generating about $30 million dollars of new revenue. "These viewers are typically about 20 years younger than your typical donor and roughly 70% of them are new," he said.

Now A Word From Our Sponsors (and Advertisers)

According to MAGNA's North America president David Cohen, 40% of linear television ratings points have been lost to other platforms in the last three to four years. To make up the difference, MAGNA is directing both traditional and progressive media buyers to round out their buying strategy. MAGNA moved significant client broadcast advertising budgets to Google Preferred, then followed with spends for Roku and Hulu, and is now focusing on addressability, he said. 

Roku is experimenting with asking viewers to watch an ad in exchange for viewing paid content. Some experiments will work and some won't, Cohen said, and experimentation is likely hardest on the advertisers.

"For 50 to 60 years advertising was sold based on reach. Now we have no way, as consumers go from platform to platform, to measure this," said Cohen. Reach, frequency, and ratings points are not consistent measurements in the multiplatform environment. Now the new normal is brands saying we want to skip impressions entirely and just go to business outcomes. "We will get paid on the sell side on our ability to drive whatever metric is important to our advertisers."

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