TVNZ has confirmed that it plans to require users to register with a username and password to access its on-demand service later this year.
Thor Bayer, the broadcaster's head of digital media, says that this move comes as part of TVNZ's plans to evolve its on-demand offering.
"Registration is increasingly common in banking, online shopping and social media, and consumers are used to it," says Bayer. "Introducing this will enable us to launch new features to make the user experience better. We want to get closer to our viewers and give them a better experience."
Included among these add-ons is a feature that enables users to start watching a show in one channel and then pick it up at the same time on a different channel.
In this sense, a viewer could start watching a show on a smart TV, pause the programming and then finish watching on a smartphone or tablet. Bayer says that without the requirement of registration, it would not be possible for TVNZ to launch intuitive features like this.
The registration requirement would also enable TVNZ to better target viewers based on the information that they enter upon starting an account. And while Bayer admits that this might prove a useful tool to advertisers in the future, he says that it isn't the primary aim of introducing the service.
"We are already good at targeting viewers based on which shows they choose to watch," he says. "This is still a work in progress and we will see further down the track how we can go about building it up for advertisers."
While TVNZ's online advertising revenue is growing, it is still only contributes moderately to the overall revenue of the company. According to the figures released last week, the company’s television revenue dropped from $312 million last year to 306 million dollars this year, while digital media revenue rose from $9.9 million to $12.9 million.
One thing that TVNZ does have on its side is a strong Kiwi appetite for its online content. In speaking on the results over the course of the last year, the broadcaster's chief executive Kevin Kenrick pinpointed digital media as the standout performer for the year.
"TVNZ Ondemand streams were up 78 percent for the year and now average more than one million per week, and an increased focus on publishing more, and faster, news online boosted onenews.co.nz video streams by 63 percent,” he said in a release.
Given that such a high number of viewers travel through the TVNZ Ondemand hub on a weekly basis, it gives the broadcaster an opportunity to tap into some additional commercial opportunities.
Bayer would not confirm that TVNZ was planning to launch paid content on TVNZ Ondemand, but he didn't dismiss it either.
"For now, our position of strength is that we are free—and we all love getting something for free," he says. "But we are currently weighing up all our commercial opportunities."
TVNZ Ondemand is currently ad-funded, and Bayer says that this sees about five ads—via pre-rolls and mid-rolls—appear during a 30-minute show. And though this might sound like a lot, Bayer says viewers understand that advertising is part of the equation when it comes to watching free content.
But advertising isn't necessarily inevitable when it comes to the online experience any longer. The proliferation of ad-blocking software has made it easier for users to avoid ads. And while TVNZ has not yet introduced measures that preclude users from using ad-blockers, MediaWorks has started taking steps against these apps (however, MediaWorks has no plans at this stage to require users to register to access its on-demand services).
"We started looking into this two years ago, and have progressively been rolling out notices across our websites since then," Graeme Underwood, the general manager of interactive sales for MediaWorks Interactive, told StopPress in July. "We’ve been successful in stopping a number of the most popular ad blockers. [But], as with everything in this area, technology is always advancing. The availability of new streaming technologies is likely to make ad blockers (as they currently are) obsolete and potentially unusable within the next three to five years."
Given the tendency of users to avoid ads, both Spotify and Pandora have introduced subscription models that give listeners access to ad-free streaming for a monthly fee.
Bayer was asked if this was something that TVNZ might consider doing with its on-demand offering, but he simply said that further details would be released to the media in due course.
If TVNZ were to introduce a paid content section to its on-demand offering, it wouldn't be the first time that the company has required viewers to pay for content. Until recently, TVNZ held a stake in Igloo, a subscription-based TV service that gave viewers access to additional channels, but the broadcaster has pulled out of the service, selling its remaining 34 percent stake to Sky. In addition, TVNZ has also pulled out of Hybrid Television Services, and Kenrick says that the “recent exit of these non-core assets has freed up capital to invest in technology infrastructure to fast track online growth and to refurbish its Auckland building to meet future accommodation needs in one central location”.
Bayer says that as part of this plan TVNZ is rebuilding its on-demand offering from the ground up, with the aim of bringing its content to as many devices as possible.
"We live and die by our content," says Bayer. "It's about people coming to our services to watch our shows, and about our shows becoming the most-watched in the country."
Last year, 18 TVNZ shows were included in the list of the 20 most-watched programmes over the course of the year and, in an effort to carry this success across to its online offering, Bayer says that the broadcaster will be pushing its Ondemand Firsts offering harder in the coming months.
He says that this may even see some shows available exclusively online, as the broadcaster continues to grow its digital audiences. Also, given that it's cheaper to purchase online streaming rights than television broadcast rights, this could see TVNZ increase its programming portfolio without having to fork out huge sums of money.
Bayer says TVNZ Ondemand is largely still being used as a catch-up viewing service, and it continue to play this role in the future. But the service is also changing. With the release of box sets and the potential exclusive content in the future, TVNZ's on-demand offering is starting to function not so much as complement to linear TV but as a service that's attractive to online audiences. And as digital continues to expand and more eyes migrate to the online realm, it will become increasingly important for broadcasters to give viewers a reason to visit their online hubs. And, as has always been the case in the TV industry, the number of eyes will largely be determined by the content on offer.