Analysis & Opinion

Tomorrow Calling – but will broadcasters and operators pick up?

Stella Medlicott, CMO of Red Bee Media

Stella Medlicott, CMO of Red Bee Media

Broadcasters and TV operators take note: consumers are tired of clunky user interfaces, weary of digital rights issues, and willing to run into the arms of a big technology company like Apple or Google if these problems are not resolved, and fast.

That is the outcome of a year-long project by UK asset management specialists Red Bee Media, which has been gazing into its crystal ball for the past 12 months (actually, running think tanks, roundtables and consumer polls) to find out what the TV industry will look like by the conclusion of this decade.

I spoke to Stella Medlicott, Chief Marketing Officer for Red Bee Media, during the IBC trade show which ran last month, to discuss the study’s most significant findings, and what broadcasters and TV operators can do if they are to avoid becoming yesterday’s men.

But first – why did Red Bee Media spend so much time and energy on the Tomorrow Calling programme?

“We started this project a year ago, and the reason that I initiated the project was that after I joined Red Bee Media I spent a lot of time talking to our customers about the challenges that they are facing, and obviously the senior people that I was talking to were saying that the challenge they have is anticipating what the future is going to be,” says Ms. Medlicott.

“We took this information away and we thought it through and we came up with the programme of Tomorrow Calling, which we have used for our own purposes, to drive our own product strategy, and work out where we need to invest in new product services, and also acquisitions of organisations that we wish to make as well, in order to position ourselves optimally.

“But in addition to that, we also wanted to share it with our existing and prospective customers, and as we have ran each phase of the project (starting with technology, then consumer behaviour, and finally looked at changing business models), we had a series of events, think tanks, and roundtable events, in which we invited people to come and discuss the challenges of the future, and use the research that we had done in the build-up to that as the basis for these discussions.”

After interviewing a series of people from technology companies, broadcasters and CE firms for the first phase of the project, then hosting a roundtable event with around 100 people watching on a webcast which centred around where technology trends are taking the industry, Stella realised that the project were generating more questions than answers.

As she puts it, “We can see all the technology is moving ahead, and we are not really embracing a lot of the technology, but what is it that consumers want?”

Back to the drawing board

So a second phase was devised to understand the challenges, the frustrations that consumers have today with how they receive and view content, and they were also quizzed on how they want to be viewing content in the future.

This phase was done through a number of in-home surveys as well as online surveys, and Red Bee Media pulled all of that data together, and then debated it as part of a panel debate in November 2011.

Then the final phase was done last March, says Stella: “We understand that technology is changing, we understand that consumers are frustrated with the way that they get TV today – that was one of the big themes that came out of the second phase, as they couldn’t find the content they wanted to watch, they got frustrated with a lot of the restrictions around content rights: as devices proliferate and they are able to get hold of a lot more content, there is a huge frustration building between consumer demand and the industry.

“So we wanted to look at how the industry thinks this is panning out, what does the industry think we need to do, and what will the industry models look like in 2020. For example, how is the pay-TV model going to change in 2020, how is the advertising model going to change, what is going to happen to the existing broadcasters, what is going to happen to the existing platforms, who are the competitors that are coming in.”

Rise of the machine (companies)

One very significant finding that came out of this stage of the study was that consumers trust the big technology brands, and often the big retail brands as well, to be able to deliver TV content to them: they think that Apple can do anything, and Google are great aggregators so they can do anything, so why can’t they deliver my TV content to me?

“When we interviewed people within the industry, that came through as their biggest threat – the digital gatekeepers are the biggest uncertainty, the biggest unknown facing existing players, in that they are uncertain what role these gatekeepers are going to play.

“What we found in our consumers surveys is that the amount of content is so prolific that they are missing programmes, they are missing the start of programmes, and that started to really flow out as one of the themes, so we started to get into how consumers decide what they want to watch, how do they make their decisions – is it around channels, or genres etc.

“We then compared it to how they use Amazon and social media tools to drive their selection. The theme that has come through is that it is a mix of things, people need a lot of things to make their decisions, whether that is social recommendations, or curated recommendations, or automatic ones.

“What really came out is that frustration is very much around the fact that you can’t even search for content a lot of the time, it is integrating together the fact that you can find content and then make sure that you don’t forget about it, set your PVR to record etc. The whole area of second screen, and what second screen devices can do, has really come through as one of the main themes here.”

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