Welcome back to From Search to Screen! After a few months of downtime we are back. During the time away, my household did an experiment in cord cutting, cancelling our television cable subscription for a few months to see what the experience would be like from the perspective of the consumer. I also wanted to see what kind of content we could get for free, using the devices we already had (which include an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Sony TV with a Smart TV hub, and PC laptop and desktop), and without gaming the system. This meant no workarounds or extra technology that got us access to Netflix US or UK or Hulu. We didn’t even get Apple TV. The following are the results of this experiment.
Access to Content
Overall, my household was able to access about 85% of our preferred TV shows via mobile apps and broadcaster websites. It required a lot more work in terms of keeping track of what was on where and when as we couldn’t just PVR it and had to watch a show before it expired and disappeared. The Apple devices in our house had a much easier time accessing content than my Android smartphone. All the major Canadian broadcasters have an iOS app including CBC, Global, CTV, and City. The ONLY one that had an Android app was City (although Global has recently released one, and City and Global are also currently providing a Windows 8 app). There were no Smart TV apps for any of the broadcasters and surfing the web through that device was a highly painful experience. Surprisingly, many broadcasters and specialty channels like Space are using Flash based players on their websites, which means they are not mobile or Smart TV friendly. If we wanted to watch content on the big screen, we needed to hook up the laptop. (I know with AppleTV this would have been MUCH easier, but I was determined to forge on!)
The User Experience
Once we figured out HOW to access the content, it was time to sit back and relax. Well, sort of. As I mentioned above it was important to understand when shows came available and when they expired, so you couldn’t ever really relax about it if you wanted to catch a particular episode. In my family we also often binge watch several weeks of episodes at a time, and this was just not possible in this brave new world. One of the biggest annoyances was that in the evenings, we often had problems with the streaming of video, and 95% of the time this was through the CTV site. The buffering of content with this network often got so bad it was impossible to watch in the evenings. Was this because so many others were doing the same thing at the same time and the CTV website couldn’t handle it? Sometimes it felt like this was deliberate strategy to drive viewers to watch through the TV broadcast. Whatever the reason, it was extremely frustrating.
And let me take a moment to talk about commercials. Now I don’t know if it’s just because there are not enough advertisers out there interested in the online space yet, but in a world where the price of the admission was having to watch the ads (which I was willing to do) to see only one ad repeated endlessly every commercial break during an episode was extremely annoying. I think this was to the detriment of the advertiser brand and to the overall user experience provided by the broadcaster. Hopefully in the future there will be enough advertisers to make the branded content/ads more interesting and varied.
I must admit that when our cable kicked in again I was happy to not have to work so hard for my TV content. But I had reaffirmed that my kids (who are 12 and 14) don’t really watch TV. They much prefer binge viewing on Netflix or watching pure web content on YouTube. They barely noticed the experiment. The biggest impact was on the older generation in the house.
Would we do it again? Not without better technology. Investing in AppleTV sounds like a really good idea and I’d even explore other options (there are many, such as Aereo making a big splash in the US). However, I recently took part in consultations by the Canada Media Fund (which are still happening across the country) and learned that last year, for the first time, the pool of money they get from the broadcasters to invest dropped; it was about 4% less than the year before. Who is to blame? Probably the cord cutters. A recent study shows that 8% of the Canadian population isn’t subscribing to cable TV any more. So, despite my frustrations with the conventional broadcast system, if I want original Canadian content I can see my cable subscription is still critical to that investment. This realization means I will likely continue to pay the cable company for access to content…for now.
Times are changing. Like my kids, younger consumers want more choice, more access, more flexibility, more control, and many want more engagement. The reality is that in the future (which to some extent is already here), the television becomes simply another screen for consuming content (and not necessarily the most popular one). It no longer holds court at the center of the family viewing experience, nor do broadcasters hold the same kind of gatekeeper power they held in the past. If they want my continued business (and more importantly my kids’ business) they will need to meet the consumer in the online world and provide greater, unique value than the user can access alone (such as the whole social TV phenomenon).
This new disconnect also provides huge opportunities for content creators who want to go direct-to-consumer and avoid the broadcast model entirely. If a new effective direct-to-creator investment system appeared (and I’m not sure crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter are it) then I might change the way I pay for content. Whatever happens, the audience is in more control than ever before and it’s exciting to lean in and watch the story unfold.
It’s good to be back after our short hiatus. Do you have any burning questions about digital marketing for your TV, film, web series or other online video project? Love to hear them. Share your thoughts, ideas, questions below or send them to me at annelise (at) veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: [CASE STUDY] Digital Marketing for Transmedia: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries