This is the year the internet will transform TV. It’s already started.
Television networks made that clear during their annual Upfront presentations this month. Networks use them to wine and dine big ad buyers in hopes of selling lots of ads before a new TV season starts next fall. It’s also a perfect time to launch new strategies. Here is what happened.
New strategy one: networks are pushing forward on new types of internet programming.
The CW introduced this strategy in mid-May by announcing CW Seed. The new digital network will carry shows that wouldn’t normally run on its broadcast network. The CW, a joint Time Warner/CBS venture, isn’t the only one creating space online for new types of shows.
Last week, the Discovery cable network announced an online-only network called TestTube. Like CW Seed, it will carry new types of programming on topics ancillary to Discovery’s main brand.
Moves like these acknowledge that the TV landscape has been changed by internet video. Traditional networks clearly feel a need to create new content for the audiences and advertisers who have moved online. Any success by the CW or Discovery will inspire more to follow suit.
New strategy two: networks are altering the nature of their traditional programming.
First: More choices. This is important because competition defines what qualifies as a good TV program. Second: New viewing patterns. Online, there is no such thing as program scheduling. People watch several episodes at once, on-demand. They binge on it.
This is incredible, given the infinite choice people have in this new internet-based media world. It represents a huge level of commitment. This devotion is helping to change the way advertisers think about the shows they buy. Take recent remarks by AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan.
At a Barclays bank financial conference on media last week, he reportedly said sponsors want to buy the shows audiences “live and die” by, as quantified by criteria like social sharing online. In other words, they want to buy shows that are more than just the best thing on in their time slot.
Think of it this way: Traditionally, a TV program’s success was defined by the number of ratings points earned during its scheduled airtime. That could mean a show was beloved, or that it was the best-worst thing to watch on TV in the hour it aired. This won’t fly much longer.
In an era of infinite choice, advertisers only want to buy the video people prove they love, such as by sharing it on social media or binging on episodes. Advertisers don’t want to buy the best-worst thing any more than people want to watch it.
So, TV networks have started to rethink their shows. Last week, the media blog Deadline published this line by Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger: “All of the broadcast networks are moving toward year-round original schedules, less re-runs, [and] more frequent ‘mini-events.’”
For instance, FOX is prepping the return of Jack Bauer with a new half-sized, 12-episode run of “24.” A shortened order changes the dynamics of a whole show – it changes the way a story is structured, the way characters develop, the way story lines mature, and so much more.
All told, both strategies show the internet is now rebooting the way TV networks think about their programming. And that is huge. At heart, the TV business does not exist in isolation. It acts as a conduit for artists – writers, directors, actors, and more – to tell stories, have fun, and live a life.
Until now, they were asked to do so in a way developed long before the internet arrived. Redirecting their energy is the leap that leads into Alice’s rabbit hole. Where it goes, nobody knows.
(Disclosure: James Abels runs a software start-up focused on media creation and distribution.)