Four Things Australian TV Broadcasters Could do to Become Better User-Centric Companies in 2013
2013 is shaping up to be a massive year in the Aussie broadcast TV industry. Online ad revenues are about to overtake free-to-air (FTA) TV ad spend, there’s talk of a consortium of FTA channels launching a Hulu-like aggregated TV service and sole Pay-TV operator Foxtel is aggressively seeking to improve its subscriber numbers by pursuing content deals like its recent exclusive one with HBO. On top of that, almost every broadcaster is rushing to launch a fuller suite of connected device apps to meet the demand for content at any time and on any device.
Connected device availability, depth of quality content and affordable (or free) data usage are all critical to attracting customers. However, as the competition heats up, so too is the urgency to deliver on expectations of a world class, multi-device user experience. Users are a fickle bunch, and they tend to flock not only to the best value experiences but also to the simplest ones. Here are four things Aussie broadcasters (or a consortium of them) could do to become better user-centric companies.
1. Reorganise Business around the User
Being a user-centric business isn’t the same thing as being an audience-centric one. It’s about recognising the majority of touch points a person has with TV content these days are either using or heavily influenced by connected devices and reorganising the business to work with, rather than against, this trend. Unless the business is committed to doing this, user expectations risk not being met as entrenched teams continue to think in broadcast centric terms and the digital department as only an extension of content delivery. (Re)integrating digital talent into the broader organisation might be a painful experience (just ask anyone who works at News Ltd in Australia), but it must be done to create a paradigm shift to user-centric representation that goes all the way up to the C-suite.
Speed is also key in the transition to user-centric management. For broadcasters like Channel Seven and Channel Nine, with existing joint ventures with news portals for catch-up TV (Yahoo!7 and NineMSN respectively), the best bet for transitioning to a form of user-centric organisation is paradoxically through the FTA consortium’s proposed aggregated service. As an entirely separate new business, unencumbered by traditional reporting structures and competing visions associated with individual broadcasters, user-centric organisation for this service could be formed immediately. This is arguably why Hulu (a JV between several US media companies for on-demand streaming of TV and movies) was only successful when it became its own entity rather than continuing as an internal start-up (the initial model NBC put in place).
2. Stop Thinking about Audiences
Instead of thinking about audiences for TV content, I find it useful to now think of content as the object of an ongoing, global conversation among different sets of participants: the producers, cast, channel and a community of fans.
Fan users expect to participate in an ongoing social dialogue about content using their preferred device from the moment it’s first available anywhere in the world and, in the case of the live TV, actually with the content. The conversation tends to follow a series of stages and communities of users can be built around each stage, but stuff up the timings and the opportunity for building large-scale communities of users diminishes.
Live TV shows like The Voice are the arguably the best examples we’ve seen in Australia of multiple sets of users contributing to the production and distribution of show content. However, the same principles can apply to other non-live genres; the ABC’s early release of the 7th season premiere of Dr Who via its web TV platform iView being a great example of thinking about content in this way. By making the episode available on iView only a few hours after it aired in the UK, the ABC was able to capitalise on the interest of the show’s core fan users who in turn created conversational buzz and attracted additional, mainstream users to the broadcast event several days later.
3. Discovery and Personalisation is Key to the Experience.
With an increasing supply of available content from multiple sources, users now need more help than ever to find the sorts of stuff they like. The ideal content discovery process includes a form of personalised search, recommendations from a users social graph along with an overview of what the broader community is doing and thinking. It doesn’t mean that users are dupes and they’ll follow whatever the most popular is in these categories – far from it. However, experiences that provide a simple, intuitive overview will be more successful in gaining and retaining users.
Indeed, solutions like the European HbbTV standard sound great as a way of converging broadcast, IPTV and ‘over-the-top’ TV through a set top box for the digital TV screen. However, their true potential needs to be realised in a unified user experience for discovering aggregated provider content (like a social program guide), with a continuity of that experience also available across connected devices.
4. Design for a Continuous Experience Between Preferred Devices
Most media companies currently talk about meeting user demand for content whenever and on whatever connected device the user wants (SBS and the ABC appear to be currently winning this race). However, we’re getting close to reaching the stage of ubiquity of content available across devices. This means pretty soon users are going to care less about sheer availability on their preferred devices and more about a continuity of experience between their devices.
SBS on Demand’s playlist, which syncs between devices for subscribed users is a good, early example of such continuity in the Aussie market. Users can add shows to their playlist, sync the playlist between their devices and receive alerts when new episodes are added – all of which keeps them in the SBS experience and drives additional viewings. Exploring further possibilities for these types of features (e.g. like pausing an episode on one device and picking it up where you left off on another) are going to become critical in retaining users for Australian broadcasters in 2013.
Big changes to the Australian TV broadcast industry have been happening for some time, but now more than ever it’s time to seriously start organising for the shift by putting users first. Content may still be king, but focusing on users rather than audiences has become the key to understanding how it can best be produced, distributed and monetised. Without a quality user experience to differentiate the service, the choice for pirated downloads or a competitor’s service is simply too easy for users to make.
Rodd Messent is VP, Strategy and User Experience (APAC) at KIT digital. He has been helping businesses succeed by focusing on what matters for users for the last 12 years.