October 16th, 2012

I have just returned from the IBC Conference, otherwise described as the Planet Klingon – by its own delegates! –  in Amsterdam. It is my third visit in just over a decade, and although on the surface much remains the same (dress codes, conference topics, and several people vaguely resembling Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons!) some things do change below the surface. One such thing is the realisation that TV is not only not going to go away, but that it is integral to the success of many of the products and services on display.

My role at IBC this year was to argue against the proposition that “connected TV will render traditional TV channels irrelevant”.  Part of me was surprised this was still up for debate, but then I remembered the setting. There was a robust debate from John Honeycutt of Discovery, Nigel Walley, Anthony Rose, Saul Berman et al resulting in a strong majority of the audience voting against the motion – i.e. there is a place for ‘traditional’ (I do hate that word – it assumes a rejection of change) channel brands in the future connected world of television.

Mind you, as almost exactly the same proportion had voted the same way in the pre-debate benchmark vote, it means the two teams technically tied. It does, though, demonstrate the seismic change in attitudes to TV’s future role amongst the tech community, totally different to even 3-4 years ago, and that is worth thinking about. Even if we hadn’t managed to shift the balance during the debate in the slightest!

As far as my own personal contribution went, my preparation for the debate gave me a renewed sense of the continuing importance of channel brands in a connected TV world. Branding becomes increasingly important whenever choice and functionality is improved, and the TV viewing environment is no different. But, I can hear you ask, why shouldn’t those brands be Google or Apple or even zeebox?

I attempted to answer that in four parts.

First of all, brands have to stand for something relevant to the choice process and channel brands have proven to be a very defined and relevant short-cut to programme choice for decades. Viewers understand the difference between an E4 late night drama and an ITV Sunday evening one, a Discovery documentary and a Nat Geo competitor. People use channel brands all the time, as several on demand aggregators have found to their cost.

Secondly, channel brands offer a guarantee of quality (after all, the essence of what a brand should stand for); for most viewers,  it is important that a programme has had a peak-time, ‘proper’ channel transmission; a bit like theatrical release is important to the DVD market (and ‘straight to DVD’ tells you all you need to know).

Thirdly, we should never underestimate the importance of now! What is on the telly now is significantly more important than what’s on my planner or on demand, which is why the latter are often used a safety net and the schedules remain first port of call. Social media and channel programming strategies are making now more important all the time, and while the schedules take precedence, the channels that create that content will always thrive.

Finally, I talked about the context of viewing; most of which is still shared with other people. This is always missed out by those advocating an individualised, targeted, solitary viewing future, and it means that the aggregators’ main USP – personalisation  – will only benefit those living alone or preferring to watch alone (most don’t). Shared viewing is more about compromise than the personalised, something the channel brands are uniquely able to provide with their much-derided ‘general entertainment’ tag.

I also looked to a future where channel brands can increase their revenue base through opportunities such as merchandising, live events, PPV, micro-payments, data value and a whole bunch more. They can be much more than just a navigational aid in TV’s connected future.

They will need to adapt in order to thrive, but when even the IBC Crowd are pronouncing their faith in the ‘traditional’ TV channels, it is time to reaffirm their relevance, past present and future.


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