Tuesday, March 3, 2015

TV on the verge of transformation

Is the television industry on the threshold of a major transformation?  A number of recent industry research and reports are suggesting that major changes in how people access and view television is coming, and that will severely impact advertising revenues for local TV stations, broadcast networks, and multichannel video distributors (cable, DBS, etc.)

The changes have been going on for a decade or more, as video shifted to digital, as Internet connection speeds increased, and as new viewing platforms (PCs, smartphones, mobile tablets) emerged, and huge new collections of video content have been made available to viewers (YouTube, Netflix, etc.)  These have opened new options for viewing, and have shifted control over viewing from the media outlet to the audience.  Online video (from online rather than traditional TV sources) is booming, audiences are increasingly using options for time-shifting. The last few years have also seen audiences becoming increasingly multi-platform - watching TV on a wider range of devices.  Use of mobile devices for watching video has risen rapidly in the last few years, particularly among younger audiences and ethnic audiences.

A recent Morgan Stanley analysis noted that shifting viewing patterns have contributed to a 50% drop in broadcast network average "live" ratings over the last decade - the measure of audience that watched the initial live broadcast. While some of that decline has resulted from cable networks capturing various niche segments, more recent declines have resulted from the rise of time-shifting options. This has led the TV industry to push for a shift to other ratings measures that include delayed viewing - Live+3 (any viewing within three days of initial broadcast) and Live+7 (any viewing within a week).
Underlying this has been a major shift in what ratings represent - from audience at a certain time, to audience for a specific program/episode.  And created a problem for advertisers, as the delayed viewing options do not necessarily include the advertisements aired during the initial live broadcast.
The figure above shows that the decline hasn't been fully reflected in TV advertising rates and revenues.
The broadcast networks have been able to remain the access points for the very large, mass, audiences, and have used that status that to push advertising rates higher (on a CPM, or per-viewer, basis).  But the advertising industry is starting to push back, as some cable networks are reaching broadcast network viewing levels (for certain programs, at least) and mass advertisers are less willing to buy ads at inflated CPMs for programs with large proportions of delayed viewing.  Analysts suggest that the broadcast networks will be unable to maintain all of the current premium CPM pricing in the long term.
The shift in audience viewing patterns is holding true for cable networks as well.  While the decline in live viewing for cable networks has not been as precipitous as that of networks, they are subject to the same change in audience viewing behaviors.  The impact on cable networks, however, is mitigated by the fact that many get the majority of their revenues from licensing/subscription fees.  Those rates and prices are based on audience demand for access, rather than the number of viewers.  Thus, while cable networks may take a hit on advertising revenues, the overall impact on revenues is lessened.
The relative stability of licensing/subscription revenues is encouraging broadcast networks and stations to explore, and try to exploit, that additional source of potential revenue.  Licensing and subscription revenue levels have been increasing rapidly over the last decade or so, and are rapidly nearing the cross-over point - where the TV industry will earn more revenues from licensing than it will from advertising.
 The last year has seen a number of retransmission consent battles between the broadcast networks and major MSOs - with the networks arguing that their licensing fees should reflect their audience levels.  However, as noted earlier, licensing/subscription prices and revenues are based on audience demand for content, not on advertiser demand for audiences.  And general-interest mass channels have relatively low overall values for their content, more competition, and more close substitutes, than the targeted niche cable networks.  Licensing network access is not likely to generate the audience demand required to replace advertising losses - although the networks might find better success licensing specific programs rather than the network overall.  (Particularly if the broadcast networks continue to distribute their content through free, over-the-air TV stations.  Audiences are not likely to pay for network content when it's available over-the-air for free).
Increased licensing and subscription fees is already driving some viewers out of the traditional pay TV market.  These "cord-cutters" are finding that online video sources and free over-the-air TV can provide the video content they desire at much lower cost that multichannel bundles.  While the phenomenon is fairly new, studies suggest some 8% of the TV consumers have dropped all traditional pay sources (cable, DBS, etc.), another 15-20% have cut back on pay TV, going for smaller bundles of channels, and/or dropping Pay-TV services (like HBO) in favor of streaming video services (like Netflix).
The newest challenge for traditional multichannel systems is Dish's new SlingTV streaming video service, which bundles live streaming of 15 of the high-value cable networks and Video-On-Demand for just $20 month.  (See earlier post on the subject).  The SlingTV basic bundle is likely to prove to be a close substitute for basic multichannel bundles that cost 3-5 times as much, feeding the flurry of cord-cutting.
One analyst argued that the shift in audience TV viewing behaviors reflects a structural transition from ad-supported networks to streaming video services. It's certainly in progress, particularly among younger viewers. How long the transition will take, or how complete it will be, is still unknown.  But the change is structural. The bad news for traditional TV services is that with a structural change, it is unlikely that viewers will return to old habits.

Sources -   Broadcasters fear falling revenues as viewers switch to on-demand TV, ft.com (Financial Times)
BRUTAL: 50% Decline In TV Viewership Shows Why Your Cable Bill Is So High, Business Insider
CHARTS: Why Audience Ratings Have Collapsed For Cable TV Shows, Business Insider
The Evolution of TV: 7 dynamics transforming TV, ThinkWithGoogle white paper.
Evolution of TV: Reaching Audiences Across Screens, ThinkWithGoogle white paper.

No comments:

Post a Comment