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Dispatch from SXSW: TV Gets Personal

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When it comes to viewing television content, the entertainment industry has seen the scale tip enormously from live, real-time viewing to time-shifted viewing. It was therefore no surprise that the evolving TV/entertainment landscape and the challenges that it has created for marketers was a hot topic at SXSW Interactive this year. While the industry has had difficulty monetizing and measuring this shift in viewing habits, there is one thing experts in the field seem to agree on: Creating personalized and custom viewing experiences will be key as networks and marketers hope to remain competitive in this streaming-driven industry. But in order to get there, the personalization of TV will require smarter algorithms, further consolidation and deeper immersion.

Smarter Algorithms  

Providers’ ability to customize traditional viewing experiences started with the rise of Over-the-top content (OTT). The ability to bypass cable multi-system operators (MSOs) and deliver content straight to viewers took the direct relationship with consumers to a new and unprecedented level. Sophisticated targeting and content recommendations on platforms like Netflix and Hulu quickly followed. In her session on the future of TV marketing, Jenny Wall, the Chief Marketing Officer at Hulu, spoke about the need to drive custom experiences on these platforms based on not only previously viewed content, but also place, time and device specific considerations through intelligent targeting.

The smarter the TV industry gets with the algorithms for discovery, the narrower the decision-making window will become for viewers. This personalization trend is apparent in other industries as well, such as programming for moods on music platforms like Spotify. With TV viewing behavior skewing to time shifted, it’s more important than ever for marketers to understand what motivates viewing and how they can plan ahead for queues and triggers that will lead consumers to invest more time with entertainment content. Wall summed up the importance of tapping into consumer needs as she wrapped up her session noting “TV needs to love you back to keep competitive.”

Creating these types of direct experiences require a significant level of audience insights and data, which is why players like Facebook, who announced they will be launching original content in 2017, believe they have the authority to move into this space. For Gwen Throckmorton, Head of Industry for Facebook’s Entertainment division, this means thinking mobile-first and building a video destination for the type of content people go to Facebook to consume, and using data to influence the point of discovery. Facebook’s ability to understand where and how viewers want to consume certain types of content is what led to product roll-outs like Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and more seamless video sharing on messenger.

Further Consolidation

Customization is not only something we see from smart targeting and discovery recommendations, but also in video replacement packages themselves, such as Sling. As skinny bundles and app consolidation become more prevalent, and cord cutters continue to drop traditional cable packages, we can expect content distributors to craft more specific packages for different consumer clusters. Current options range from free streaming like Crackle, to cable replacement packages like DirectTV Now. This fragmented user experience, however, is still not meeting the demands of consumers, who have more control than ever with the luxury to be fickle with their streaming choices. In order to win viewers over, providers will need not only premium original content, but also subscription video on demand and live viewing options based on their preferences in one consolidated interface.

Immersive Experience

VR is an extreme example of removing the linear structure of the traditional viewing experience and making it personalized. In a session covering this topic, Rob Lister, Chief Business Development at IMAX, called VR the “the next great platform for entertainment.” Currently Hollywood is using VR primarily as a marketing tool, which was very apparent at SXSW, but key disciples like cinema and gaming have started to more fully embrace the platform. While there are still operational intricacies that will make it difficult for VR to translate into the television space, some major mass media companies, such a Comcast ventures, have already started to invest in companies like Baobab Studios, the industry’s leading VR animation studio.

 

So where does this heavy personalization shift leave the community aspect of television viewing? While the social aspect of watching TV isn’t gone, the community built around shows is more digitally driven than ever. The future of streaming and VR will only further drive these solo experiences as headsets and program personalized VOD make their way into our living rooms. Viewing entertainment is no longer a passive experience; the future is immersive, personalized and frankly feels a bit isolating.