Viacom, Fremantle execs say second screen is key to broadcast strategy

AMSTERDAM -- Broadcast media executives at IBC 2013's opening keynote address agreed that media is changing and that second-screen engagement is a key part of their strategy, but are taking slightly different paths in the way they distribute their content outside the traditional channels and in how they engage their viewers.

Representatives from Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and Fremantle, two of the largest content producers and distributors in the world, joined writer and media commentator Raymond Snoddy and communications and advertising executive Robin Wight in discussing how their industry segments are responding to changes in technology and viewer preferences.

Viacom, for one, is actively using social media applications, such as a subscription-based app for MTV Europe and a soon-to-be-launched "Mon Nick Junior" application targeting preschoolers. It's also studying different demographics, particularly millennial and post-millennials, to glean ideas for additional multiscreen products.

"The world Viacom operates in is changing and that has implications for us and our constituencies," Robert Bakish, president and CEO of Viacom International Media Networks, told attendees at "Broadcast and Beyond: Reshaping the Media Ecosystem." He said changing distribution models, particularly to smart devices, as well as "the most robust TV infrastructure in history"--encompassing pay TV, DTT and IPTV--are driving the emergence of a "true multiplatform consumer": those who have a television but can't live without their connected device.

Linear content is very important, Bakish said, but providers need to supplement it with on-demand functions and alternative formats like short-form video, games and social media interactions.

Still, the media company's increased focus on the multiscreen environment does not appear to have translated to increased dollars--yet. Bakish indicated Viacom is hoping that will change.

"It is a strategic necessity, particularly for the younger demographic," he said. "But our multiplatform products have had their revenue streams enhanced with social engagement. It's not only a game of ego numbers, it's a business."

Keith Hindle, CEO of digital and branded entertainment for Fremantle, said the scale and creativity of second- and third-screen products is so significant that "we are investing in it in a major way." That includes digital extensions of its television programs, like "American Idol," to enable multi-device viewing and smartphone apps that enable voting; and brand extensions based on the global appeal of its shows. The company also relies on the strength of social media to drive ad sales for its biggest series, such as "Idol" and "X Factor."

Fremantle is selling its content through several distribution points. Beyond broadcasters, it can offer its series through EST and TVOD providers like Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iTunes, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Play and others; or SVOD providers like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX). It's also exploring new avenues like producing original content for these providers ("House of Cards" being the most recent example).

For both companies, YouTube and the short-form video content in general is taking a more important place. However, they sit on different sides of the spectrum when it comes to how viewers access and share that content. Fremantle dealt with the problem of viewers posting unauthorized copies of its shows by "capturing them and monetizing them for ourselves," said Hindle, by using an application on its YouTube channel. Viacom famously pursued and sued thousands of YouTube users who had posted its content without permission.

Bakish said offering multiple platforms with different types of content, as Viacom does, will continue for some time, as there is a supply-demand imbalance in ad-supported, short-form video space. "[We] shouldn't put all TV content out for free; however free ad-supported Internet is… relevant for certain types of content," said Bakish.

Show coverage: IBCLive 2013

Commentary: Can video stand on its own?

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