Why the social feed is the future of TV

It’s no news that TV is in trouble and there is more gloom from the latest GroupM report. Viewing is down 30 percent (16-24yrs) in some markets with TV taking only 17c of every new ad dollar. With a $200B industry to defend it’s not all bad news but suffice to say it’s probably time to look at a new approach.

Help is at hand for those of you looking for some answers. From the team at REDEF we have a perfectly formed summary of the market, and from investor/CEO Jon Steinberg we have a handy new term and a vision for distributing linear TV. 

The REDEF work articulates those known truths (traditional broadcasting/cable is screwed) as well those half-formed ones (the sheer distribution power of social media platforms) and then succinctly delivers a statement on the future.  To which I couldn’t agree more: SVOD services as the new networks (yes), the social feed as the new centre of distribution (double yes), with special interest OTT services filling a few of the blanks (indeed). 

Filling in some of those blanks, Steinberg makes a case for what he calls Post Cable Networks (PCN). That is OTT services delivering live feeds of content to supply the consumer with a need for ‘ambient’ lean back content. Post Cable Networks is a good term but as well as giving us snappy jargon, Steinberg makes the great point that some content works best served up and delivered in real time (news, business, sport, and of course the general time wasting stuff we watch rather than going to bed). 

There is a growing ecosystem for PCNs and plenty of money chasing it. Steinberg’s own cheddar.tv has raised $10M, pluto.tv nearly $30M and Xumo has been acquired by Time Inc. The model is a good one; if Netflix and Amazon are going to suck up all the premium titles, where does everything else go?  This content could stay on traditional networks of course, but they are not the disruptor and come with a cost-heavy business model built on being able to compete for the best content and create a mass audience for advertisers. These are symbiotic pillars and as one weakens it threatens their entire structure.

In my view there is another vision for the future state of Post Cable Networks in the shape of content delivered via the social feeds that dominate our media consumption. As the GroupM report says, ‘Young audience defections and poor measurements limit TV growth’. If only there was a platform with youth engagement and a data rich ad network.

With the arrival of Facebook Live and competing platforms, we can now programme and schedule broadcast quality TV through these structures. Why try to develop an audience for your own OTT service when you can take advantage of a captive audience of billions elsewhere? You can also add, by default, a social layer, allowing audiences to interact in real-time through the platforms themselves; let’s just agree to not call it social TV.

There are revenue opportunities through sponsorship and advertising and there are new TV like platforms being built if your audience cares to look up from their mobile. Facebook and Twitter are also making investments themselves and trying to encourage a marketplace for others.

These platforms come with baked in virality, mass audiences and powerful ad networks, with further smart infrastructure available from the likes of Grabyo and many others. There is huge potential here, whether you are delivering niche content or planning global shows to draw in millions. Yes, the new live programming has a problem dealing with extreme broadcasts but better AI moderation and the current consumer reaction to them will likely counter any moves to legislate against it.

The audience is in place and conveniently located in the modern version of the water cooler, the social feed.  The only piece currently missing is something to watch. Perhaps, it’s time to watch this space.

  • Sam Aldred is the director of Receptive.tv. He regularly writes for StopPress on issues relating to the television industry.   

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