Google, Scripps, BBC: balancing consumer demand, video technology an expensive proposition

AMSTERDAM -- The sky is not falling and TV is not about to go the way of the steam engine, but the broadcast industry over the next several years is facing several challenges, both old and new. Over-the-top video is part of the "new" category, but networks also continue to wrangle with their old nemesis, money, as they balance legacy infrastructure and consumer demand for connected experiences.

Those observations were part of the discussion at the IBC Show's opening keynote, "The future is now: broadcasting in an age of challenge." Moderated by veteran broadcaster Ray Snoddy and featuring speakers from Google, BBC, Scripps Networks International and Middle East-based pay-TV provider OSN, panelists gave an overview of the global television landscape from their points of view.

The consensus? While OTT video, social media and other next-generation technologies are expanding the ways to reach viewers while simultaneously fragmenting those audiences, the media and entertainment industry needs to embrace and leverage them.

Google's Thomas Riedl, head of Global Android TV Partnerships, laid out the case: About 2.5 billion people worldwide are connected to the Internet, a number that may double by 2020. Most are getting online via that "amazing supercomputer you have in your pocket," the smartphone. Music, the Minecraft video game, and PewDiePie were among the top YouTube queries in 2014, and Internet celebrity Grumpy Cat has signed a movie deal. The data present "staggering numbers and opportunity," he said, but at the same time consumer demand for connected experiences is rising. That requires media and entertainment companies to get creative.

BBC World Service, for example, has a mission to get news to countries where it's hard to get reliable news, whether due to government censorship or less-developed technology infrastructure. Fran Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service, cited last year's Thailand coup as an example of using social media to get its message out. The BBC created a Thai-language Facebook page to share and discuss events as they took place in the country, augmenting the news service's radio and television offerings.

Entertainment-focused Scripps Networks International, meantime, is continually developing ways to present its content across platforms, from television to online apps, to keep its audiences engaged. Scripps has a number of cable networks including HGTV, DIY, Cooking Channel and Travel Channel in the U.S., and international versions of Food Network, Travel Channel and Fine Living among other channels.

"I think in this age where we've got incredible advances in technology … the sky is not completely falling. More video is being consumed than ever, irrespective of what device you can watch it on," said Phillip Luff, managing director UK & EMEA for Scripps Networks International.

That multiscreen plays to Scripps' type of content, Luff said. For example, Food Network's broadcast cooking shows offer their featured recipes online as well as via an app.

"Our target audience is slightly older … our audience is asking for lean-back entertainment," he said.

Supporting those audiences by understanding how they access content and what they want; taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, and being creative in a competitive and noisy environment are key components of Scripps' strategy, Luff said.

However, meeting those components isn't cheap, even if the technology to record and distribute video via IP is increasingly inexpensive. David Butorac, CEO of pay-TV provider OSN, said that Grumpy Cat's new movie deal meant a significant amount of cash being spent by a studio to acquire rights, produce and market the movie. If it's a hit, providers like OSN have to pay more money to license the movie for their subscribers, and so on.

Still, broadcasters and pay-TV providers have to stay abreast of the way viewers want to consume content -- be that through the traditional lean-back experience or by binge-watching via an SVOD service or an operator's on-demand offerings.

"Broadcasters the world over if they don't adapt will wither on the vine," OSN's Butorac said. "… [we] have to adapt to what the consumer wants, and then build the products to make that happen."

Full coverage: IBC Live 2015

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