The Future of News is On Demand

5 things news directors need to know to win at OTT

Technology-driven changes in consumer news habits were the focus when leaders in broadcast news and technology met December 11-12 in New York at the 2018 NewsTECHForum. The chief catalyst for change? The rise in on-demand and “OTT” viewing as the most direct threat to traditional live linear viewing. Here are five critical things TV news leaders and executives need to understand and respond to now to insure their content remains relevant in this new, disrupted viewing ecosystem.

1. Don’t feel bad if you’re confused about “OTT”

The term “OTT” is like ‘bitcoin’ for many broadcasters. Everyone knows it’s important. No one wants to admit they might not fully understand it. ‘Over the Top Television’ in practice is used as a catch-all term for all the video you can now watch on-demand via your TV without using cable or broadcast.
ROKU remains the leader in terms of audience size among the smart TV applications, followed by Apple TV and Amazon Fire. Others use the OTT term when they are talking about bundled programming services available to consumers, like Netflix and Hulu and YouTubeTV. In its broadest use, OTT encompasses all the new ways that consumers can watch video “on demand,” controlling what they want to watch and when they want to watch it.

Photo by Pinho . on Unsplash

2. On-demand has surpassed live TV viewing

This was the first year that prime time viewing via OTT eclipsed live linear broadcast viewing during prime time, according to SmithGeiger research. Binge-watching and time-shifted viewing are the new norm for younger viewers and that trend will only continue, Andrew Finlayson of SmithGeiger told the audience at NewsTECHForum.
According to SmithGeiger research, 53% of survey respondents said they watched TV via OTT during prime time, one percentage point more than said they watched TV via broadcast or cable. It wasn’t long ago that all viewing was live/linear, and Finlayson says broadcasters should expect the trend toward OTT-first viewing of TV to continue.

3. Who’s My Competition?” has a new answer

Netflix is now a bigger threat to a news director’s evening newscast viewership than that other local TV channel across town. Increasingly, audiences will turn on their TV and ‘default’ to one of these streaming services, bypassing live linear channels altogether.
In this second ‘Golden Age’ of television, audiences have countless episodic shows available to binge-watch. Broadcast content leaders need to ask: ‘How can my newscast compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu?’ Put another way, how much of the typical 30-minute newscast is compelling enough to watch later, on demand? By contrast, what percent of today’s newscast is currently filled with commoditized ‘spot news’? These stories are like old milk. Their short shelf life means their relevance expires quickly. Success in the OTT space will require stories that are compelling live and on demand – worth watching now, and later.

4. OTT rewards a different kind of editorial story selection

Today’s local news story selection bias toward ‘urgent/now/breaking’ is an artifact of an era now over. When all viewing was live, local TV news was rewarded for its urgency. The most obvious examples are those ‘eye-candy’ or ‘wallpaper’ voice-overs of car crashes, fires and police arrests. These stories may have been hard to resist in the moment, but they offer no lasting substance or value.
To be sure, when there is a significant local breaking news or weather story, viewers do return to watch live local news. Too often, however, the slug “Breaking News” has become more gimmick than descriptor.
As the shift from live toward OTT and on-demand viewing continues, a different kind of story selection will be required. In the Darwinian fight for survival, the OTT/on-demand viewing environment rewards the best storytelling. Just look at the programs that drive passionate binge-viewing. The local news stories worth watching on demand will be stories with a “long tail” — stories that are still worth watching a few hours later, or a few days, or even weeks and months later.
Changing newscast content to compete in the on-demand world will require making different decisions at the start of the editorial process. The single most valuable action a content director can implement immediately in each day’s morning meeting is to put all assignments through this simple filter: Is there a way we can tell this story so people will also care about and want to watch it later in the evening, as well as next week, next month and next year?

5. OTT will require made-for-platform news content

Many broadcasters have fledgling OTT apps on ROKU, Apple TV or Amazon Fire. These platforms are still not mature and in the early days, OTT content leaders at the NewsTECHForum panel agreed: Live streaming is for now the most popular use of a TV station’s OTT app. But those broadcast experts also agreed more must be done if newsrooms hope to compete for viewers on OTT.
The no-cost, immediate way to adapt local news content strategy for an OTT world is to filter daily story assignments with a bias toward stories with a long tail. But that is only a bridge strategy.
Broadcasters also need to begin developing content aimed at and optimized for viewers whose default path for TV viewing starts with services like Netflix or Hulu. Broadcasters like Cox, Raycom and TEGNA (my previous employer) are already experimenting with made-for-platform OTT content, from short, on-demand news updates refreshed throughout the day, to an entire OTT channel dedicated to investigative reports.
Another great programming opportunity for broadcasters is to organize and bundle their best franchises – those On Your Side reports, that outdoors reporter, the money-saving guru – that can be hard to find via live viewing. A local TV station can make the most of its channel on ROKU, Apple TV or Amazon Fire by offering these franchises “on demand” in playlists.
The future of news is live and on demand, and OTT will reward news organizations that serve viewers well with both kinds of content.

Related:

Article: Why Stations Need to Forge Ahead on OTT — Read here.

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