Feature Story

How the Internet is Changing the Way We Watch Television

by Jason Deign

Today's connected device-toting viewers are changing the rules of broadcast media, forcing show designers and advertisers to rethink how they work.

Please do adjust your set. The way we watch television is changing thanks to the impact of Internet technologies. And for show designers and advertisers this means a new set of rules.

According to recent figures from Accenture, the consulting, technology, and outsourcing firm, viewers in the United States and the United Kingdom are seizing control of the small screen, with 49 percent of consumers now viewing over-the-top (OTT) content as well as usual TV fare.

This figure shoots up to 82 percent among viewers between 18 and 24 years old, among those 60 percent say they watch at least a quarter of all their TV content through a broadband connection on the television set, compared to 32 percent of United States consumers overall.

And people no longer watch TV content only on TV. Viewers today are just as likely to watch their favorite programs on mobile devices, or learn about new shows from social media rather than programming schedules.

Pew Internet has also recently discovered that 46 percent of adult ‘net users are creating their own content and 41 percent are helping reach an even wider audience by reposting it on social media sites.

The thirst for greater control over when, where, and how to watch video content is also driving a boom in Internet-connected TV sets.

Earlier this year Juniper Research published a study showing the number of residential TVs connected to the Internet via devices such as Blu-ray players or set-top boxes would reach close to 650 million by 2017.

"The consumer demand for connectivity and content has influenced the connected TV segment in a major way, along with the integration of social media, multi-screen strategies, and applications," says Juniper Research senior analyst Nitin Bhas, author of the report.

"The revenue and profitability of traditional entertainment services within the home has attracted many new players, including content aggregators and platform providers such as Apple and Google."

This change has profound implications for content owners, advertisers, and the service providers whose networks are increasingly being tasked with carrying large volumes of video.

Charlie Marshall, strategy lead for the media and entertainment industry at Accenture UK & Ireland, says that underlying what we could call ‘Internet connected TV' there is actually a range of delivery models, from scheduled, linear IPTV to non-linear video on demand.

"From a consumer perspective," says Marshall, the difference between these technologies: "should be academic. For a service provider it is not, because the different delivery modes have different business models."

An obvious example of this is the difference between a pay-per-view or triple-play offering, where a service provider can expect a subscription fee in exchange for delivering video, and an OTT provider such as YouTube, which creates traffic with no reward for the network owner.

Program makers, meanwhile, have to bear in mind that their programs are no longer as likely to be viewed on a traditional TV screen.

Audiences can and do access video content via computers, tablets, and smartphones, and sometimes all at once: eDigitalResearch and Interactive Media in Retail Group have found that four out of five smartphone and tablet owners use the devices while watching TV.

Such habits are creating new opportunities for program makers to reach viewers. In the United Kingdom, for example, the BBC recently ran a series depicting the famous detective Sherlock Holmes in a modern-day setting.

Says Marshall: "As part of the TV show, whenever Watson was writing his blog the entry would be published on the Sherlock Holmes website.

"It is a world where content is not simply re-purposed from one screen to the next, but where each screen's unique attributes are orchestrated into the narrative itself."

Finally, advertisers, which have traditionally been the source of funds for most TV content, are also struggling to come to terms with the new viewer behavior.

With traditional TV commercials they could be reasonably certain of reaching a given audience and target demographic, even allowing for the fact that many viewers switch channels or take a break when the commercials come on.

With many Internet-connected TV models, however, there is no such thing as an ad break. So the advertising industry is getting creative in the way it reaches audiences, for example by buying ads that play ahead of popular YouTube clips. And this is not altogether a bad thing.

For one thing, the amount of information that brands can glean from digital media is much greater than with broadcast TV. As well as whether someone has watched an ad, the advertiser can tell for how long, where, and when.

And with clever production, digital platforms can help advertising stand up as content in its own right. What brand would not lust for the kind of coverage achieved by ‘A Dramatic Surprise in a Quiet Square', an ad that Mashable claimed was the third most viral video in 2012?

Perhaps fittingly, the ad was for the launch of the Turner Network Television channel in Belgium. Which just goes to show that even if viewing habits are changing, the popularity of video, and the opportunities it provides, just keep on growing.    


Jason Deign is a freelance writer located in Barcelona, Spain.

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