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Social Television Summits: Five Takeaways for Factual / Great Access to Commissioners at History Makers Summit, NYC

By David Rosen

Top experts and decision-makers recently came to New York to throw light on how the commercial TV business is adapting to the disruptive force called “social television.”

I joined them at three conferences:

  • The Social TV Summit focused on how the industry is responding to “out-of-the-box” changes.
  • The Future of TV Forum examined the industry’s efforts to keep technological disruptions “inside-the-box.”
  • And TV of Tomorrow combined these two approaches.

The vibe of all three events was caught by an industry wag who remarked that the old “www” for “World Wide Web” now means video “whatever, whenever, wherever.”

Here are my observations, plus Takeaways for the factual TV sector.

Disruption Is Accelerating

Broadband is a disruptive technology which is challenging the TV business in three critical ways.

  • It represents a new way to distribute programming content through either Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) or Over-the-Top (OTT) methods.
  • It combines linear programming with a new, more interactive or social media experience through services like Twitter and Facebook.
  • It is spawning the addition of a second and sometimes third interactive device (e.g., computer, smartphone or tablet) as part of the viewing experience.

The Old TV Model Has Problems

The broadband disruption comes at a time when the TV business faces significant structural challenges:

  • New TV sets sales have stalled, due to the ongoing recession, the failure of 3D-TV to catch on, and the changing viewing habits of the Under 30 demo.
  • Cable TV subscribers, especially younger ones, are either “cord cutting” by giving up their $100 a month cable connection, or just not subscribing in the first place. Instead, many are opting for broadband-only access via an alternative set-top device. Examples include a games player, Roku box, computer or smartphone.
  • New “cash registers” are dislodging the traditional roles of cable operators and TV networks for collecting subscriber’s fees and advertising revenues.
    • These new “cash registers” include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and iTunes.
  • This development may lead to a more a la carte programming model, which erodes the viability of traditional cable/satellite operators and TV networks.

Online Video Advertising Will Boom

Veteran media forecaster Jack Myers is bullish on how the online social experience will contribute to significant growth in overall TV advertising.

  • He estimates that for 2011, social TV advertising and marketing spending were $150-$200 million.  His projection for 2020 is $8-$12 billion!
  • Online video advertising revenues are projected to grow from an $3+/- billion in 2011 to $30 billion in 2020.

Myers forecasts that in 2020, existing “broadcast and cable networks will capture 70% of this spending.”

  • That’s very good news for the wave of young programmers and ad sales teams who signed up to work in the ‘Integrated Content’ departments at established linear channels.

Where Are We Headed?

The industry experts who attended the three conferences shared a general outlook on how the TV industry will evolve.

My five Takeaways are intended to capture this consensus and at the same time help documentary and other media makers to map their paths forward:

1.  Social television offers four benefits, and they all need to be orchestrated by content creators and distributors:

  • Socially-shared exchanges among viewers.
  • Engaging games and voting schemes.
  • Value-added information.
  • Interactive engagements.

2. The multi-screen TV experience is growing in popularity.

  • The challenge is how to effectively utilize the “other screens” to enhance the overall viewing experience.
  • As one speaker cleverly put it “Your dual screens shouldn’t duel!”
  • Each screen offers a different experience: the big “wall monitor” is for viewing while the smaller smartphone in your hand or tablet in your lap are for engagement.
  • Content developers need to engage viewers on each screen.

3. The key to social television is “engagement.”

  • “Engagement” is a buzzword that captures the effort by TV producers, programmers and sales departments to overcome the disruptive effects of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools, and instead to harness them to strengthen TV ad sales.
  • However, “engagement” is not easy to track. Accurate audience measurement lags behind the new TV viewing practices.
  • New ratings standards for social TV are an urgent industry need.
  • The good news for social TV pioneers is that research shows that multi-platform viewing increases engagement.

4. A strong “call-to-action” in the storyline of feature-length and shorter-form docs is the best means of engaging viewers in the social TV experience.

  • The call to action can help with the sale of the doc or other branded products and services, as well as with contributions (of money, time and talent) to the cause associated with the film.

5. If you think cable budgets are rock bottom, get ready for a new haircut by Social TV.

About the Author

David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant.  He is the author with Peter Hamilton of the indie classic, Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove), originally commissioned by the Sundance Institute and the Independent Feature Project.  David can be emailed here.  For more about David’s writing and services click here and here.


History Makers International – A Summit for Informative Media
January 25-27, 2012
Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York City

History Makers International attracts the world’s leading producers, development executives, researchers, archive houses and distributors from over 20 different countries in one place.

Newly announced sessions at this year’s summit illustrate the diverse concerns of program makers and their rapidly changing World.

The creators of George Harrison, Living in a Material World have agreed to show us how they combined their incredible archive and home movies with remixes of original recordings of Beattles’ songs and Harrison’s later pieces, and intimate and candid interviews, to make a powerful and fresh story.

Covering the Arab World: A Master Class With Al Jazeera -Al Jazeera has managed to create a unique on the ground approach, which has resulted in an amazing body of tough and authentic programs covering all the front lines that have been in the headlines.

The first recipient of our Outstanding Achievement Award for Archive Preservation and Restoration will be presented to Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, Paris. As well as receiving the Award, Serge will present his highly entertaining Archive Cabaret, including a presentation of George Melies’ 1902 colour classic A Trip to the Moon.

In the year of the Obama election contest, we will be featuring the largest archive of African American History, Chicago based, The HistoryMakers. The founder and Executive Director Julieanna Richardson will be conducting a tour of this unique collection.

The Development Executives for Feature Documentaries for AE Network’s History, Molly Thompson and HBO’s Nancy Abraham will join Simon Chinn, producer of Man on Wire and Project Nim to discuss the art of successfully producing full length documentaries for Television and Cinema.

These join our already announced sessions on NHK and the Tsunami, the new AE Networks’ H2 Channel, finding the characters in reality series “Swamp People” and “American Restoration” and Opportunities for Games Integration and Interactive Storytelling to make this one of the richest mix of experiences ever at History Makers International…

As a reader, attend History Makers International 2012 for a very special discounted price of $649 (expires January 8th, 2012) Register NOW and save!

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