Cable channels on OTT: Listen to the audience, but don't forget the brand

AMSTERDAM--Content providers, cable companies and distributors trying to figure out where to put their online investment dollars would be wise to invest in content rights and distribution, panelists said at an IBC 2014 session here on managing content portfolios. But to make the right decisions, they need to strike a balance between viewer preferences and maintaining the integrity of their brand.

Moderated by Thomas Siegman, SVP of innovation, strategy and client relations at RSG Media, and featuring executives from content producers and distributors including Univision, Fox News Channel, Walt Disney India and Conde Nast, the discussion, "Managing Multi-Billion Dollar Content Portfolios for Maximum Value" ranged from managing content, to the evolving responsibilities of technology executives, to branding and advertising issues.

In response to a question on what they would invest in first, Vipp Jaswal, head of international affairs for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, said, "I'd be investing in rights," specifically to content as well as distribution rights.

Univision SVP of Enterprise Technology Services Mai-Wah Cheung agreed in part. "I would invest more in content and marketing," she said.

The panelists' responses mirrored those of archived content managers who, in a separate conference session, spoke to the critical importance that content rights now have. With broadcasters, cable channels, pay-TV operators and over-the-top providers all jockeying for position in the online video space, who gets rights to what content, and when, is becoming almost hopelessly snarled.

For Joe Simon, CTO at Conde Nast, closely managing content that channels do acquire was important. "Don't lose the brand," he said during the session, a key factor for niche brands such as Vogue in which Conde Nast specializes. 

The panelists brought a range of perspectives to the content management scenario. For Fox's news and business channels, news content is consumed almost as it happens. "News is content that has to be wherever you are," Jaswal said, explaining that Fox must consider the different types of devices it delivers news to, from TV screens to mobile devices. For technology investments, "it's a sort of relay race ... a never ending challenge," he said.

Manas Mati, executive director and head of technology for Walt Disney India, noted that the biggest growth in mobile viewing is happening in Asia, "largely due to video." Knowing where and how viewers are consuming content is helping to drive programming decisions.

That knowledge plus direct viewer feedback, such as through social media, is affecting the content itself. When Univision recently brought a second-screen viewing element to its popular telenovelas, allowing viewers to quickly catch up with their soaps as well as leave comments and feedback, the popularity of the offering changed how the episodic series were scripted. "Univision had to change the script (of the shows almost daily), even as they filmed the episodes, due to user feedback," Cheung said. "It messes up their metadata because of the content changes."

Conde Nast, on the other hand, doesn't rely so heavily on user feedback. "If you're a tastemaker, you cannot listen to your audience," Simon said. "You make the call" as to what is fashionable and fits the brand image, he added.

Overall though, data and analytics are on providers' minds. 

Creating content that is compelling is possible "when you interact closely with the audience (through mobile and other venues), and not just TV ratings," said Mati.

"If a company doesn't know (how to use data), they would not continue to be successful," Cheung said.

Show coverage: IBC 2014

Related articles:
Archived content providers battle broadcasters for share of the OTT market
Comcast, Univision reach long term carriage agreement
Four reasons why TV Everywhere isn't ready for prime time