Business Technology

Sunday 25 February 2018

Video killed the internet star - websites that want to be on TV

Canny TV networks recognise that working with the digital disrupters is in their own interests
Canny TV networks recognise that working with the digital disrupters is in their own interests
Steve Dempsey mast
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Last week The Huffington Post announced that it was launching a 24-hour online video network, which will feature live programming, documentaries and original series. It'll also be setting up film and television divisions to produce this content and acquire, license and distribute other audiovisual content, including feature-length films. This follows the creation of HuffPost Live, its own online broadcasting channel two years ago.

But Arianna Huffington isn't alone. More and more online entities are trying to ditch their old platforms and reinvent themselves as TV companies.

Gossip and entertainment website Radar Online, is teaming up with The Weinstein Company to produce a pop culture talk show that reflects it's online take on the world - which mostly amounts to updates on what various Kardashians are doing.

Multimedia network Vice Media and HBO recently announced a major content deal, which includes a daily VICE newscast more VICE programming and a VICE branded channel on the online streaming service HBO Now. BuzzFeed has also hinted that it's thinking about dipping its toes in TV.

Most interestingly of all, has hooked up with America's favourite moustachioed medical practitioner, Dr Phil McGraw. They're launching a TV show later this year that will combine showbiz, health and lifestyle news. It will be an international affair, with studios in New York, LA, London and Sydney. CBS Television Distribution, which handles Dr Phil's current TV show, will be involved in distribution.

Dr Phil seemed chuffed to be buddying up with the most visited news website in the world.

"We are always looking to reinvent TV, reinvent how to tell stories on TV, how to connect with viewers," he said. "We love and it was such a great source for us in finding human interest stories and seeing what was happening around the world."

So why are Dr Phil and co so eager to reinvent television in the internet's image? And why are others clamouring to create TV-style content for online audiences, regardless of what device they use to watch it?

TV has been relatively insulated from the destabilising effects of the internet.

While audience attitudes towards other media are changing rapidly, viewers are still beholden to the box. Reuters' recent Digital News Report 2015 found that television news is seen as a source of more accurate, reliable and quicker news than radio, print, online or social media channels in the US, UK, France Germany, Spain and also right here in Ireland.

While the internet has eaten into print advertising revenues, TV ad spends have been relatively unscathed. Many TV networks of different shapes and sizes have managed to evolve beyond the ad-only revenue model.

The likes of Sky and HBO have proven that viewers are willing to pay for quality programming. Newer entries like Amazon Prime and Netflix are targeting the same money pot, albeit from the online rather than broadcast angle. Either way, while consumers aren't willing to pay for news content online, they accept that good TV doesn't come for free.

But perhaps it's overly simplistic to think that TV is sitting pretty, and the influx of online entities into the TV market is a sign that they're trying to get onboard the TV gravy train. I suspect canny TV networks recognise that working with the digital disrupters is in their own interests.

Let's go back to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2015. Under-35s have drastically different ideas about accuracy, reliability and speed. Guess what: they don't think TV is top of the pile. Online sources outperform TV in all areas, and are also seen as providers of better analysis. Even social media outperforms TV as a medium where users can find relevant news - although social channels do lag hugely behind in terms of trust.

Reuters says that this generational split is widening year on year. Young people prefer to get their news online, and they have a preference for a particular type of media. You guessed it - video. Here's what the Reuters report has to say: "Alongside increased consumption of news consumption via smartphones and the on-going importance of social media for news discovery, the report also identifies a significant increase in the consumption of online news video."

As a result social networks and publishers are prioritising video content like never before. But lest we get carried away, not everyone's getting on board the good ship online video.

Reuters found that of those who don't use video, 40pc say that reading text is more convenient, 29pc dislike pre-roll ads enough to avoid online video, and 21pc don't want to watch video on piddly little screens.

So there may be some way to go before we see a mass conversion.

So perhaps the likes of Radar and the migrating to TV is best seen as TV broadening its appeal, rather than an online invasion. TV can use these partnerships to build on its position of strength and foster a relationship with audiences that may otherwise become less beholden to the box.

Others, like the Huffington Post, are creating TV quality programming, mostly for online distribution. They are playing a riskier, but potentially more profitable game.

But they'll need to have deep pockets. A report in The New York Times magazine recently claimed that despite its 200 million-plus unique visitors a month and $146m in revenue, the Huffington Post still only barely breaks even.

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