Cable companies and television networks can’t take a trick at the moment. As if digital disruption and cord cutting wasn’t making life tough enough, now comes the rise of participatory broadcasting, the phenomena where viewers collaboratively interact while consuming content, and maybe even participate.
Still coming to grips with on demand and online/mobile viewing, traditional broadcasters must now find a way to provide immersive and engaging viewer experiences to compete with the likes of Facebook Live, Meerkat and Periscope.
This trend is already changing how people consume and engage with content. This is similar to the disruption conventional television broadcasting brought to radio – a fundamental paradigm shift in the nature of content and richness of the experience. As it more accurately mirrors real life, the engagement is greater.
We are in the early days of this new phenomena, but as I considered how we got here it became very clear there are some new rules for broadcasters that will determine their ability to stay relevant over the next few years (maybe sooner).
Broadly, we can look at this evolution in three waves:
First Wave – Technology Enablers:
Technology enablers like WebRTC, browser support for features like WebSockets, and general proliferation of mobile devices and connectivity provided an opportunity for intrepid developers to try and develop new ideas. For WebRTC, the starting point was with was peer-to-peer communication, and the ecosystem of vendors was still nascent. The first wave focused on applying simple communication scenarios to real-world problems. Doctor – patient in TeleHealth, social applications with 1:1 calling, etc. This wave was forged by the early adopters, who kicked the tires and worked out the kinks.
Second Wave – Market Adoption and Consumer Behavior:
The prevalence of applications like FaceTime and Skype had changed consumer notions of video conversations online – face-to-face was no longer a novelty. Basic technology evolved and gained traction, ecosystem vendors and communications platforms entered the scene, helping developers build RTC experiences into their applications. Cellular connectivity improved with 4G LTE and new low-latency media servers were built to support the ability to do group calls (aka “multi-party”). This paved the way to new use-cases previously not possible – small online classrooms, business collaboration, social group use-cases, customer support with the ability to conference with specialists, group consultation in health-care, etc. Intelligent algorithms that dynamically adapt to changing network conditions made the experience possible on mobile devices across a range of environments.
Third Wave – Evolution of interactivity:
As media distribution technologies mature, we begin to see far beyond the 1-to-many streaming experiences, into the next frontier of group broadcasts. Imagine a scenario in which several hosts are conversing, bringing viewers on stage for Q&A, all while being broadcast to a large audience in real-time. The Huddle by Fox Sports is a good example of how an interactive broadcast application can shift viewers from merely watching (passive viewing), to actually being able to jump in and be part of the conversation (active participation). This is a deeply engaging experience for the audience, and uniquely blends produced-content with user-generated content. Several factors have contributed to this symphony: the early technology enablers, the audience growing accustomed to these new apps, and platforms like ours brokering distribution to ever-more endpoints connected around the globe.
Interactivity adds a complex layer of richness; a human experience in an online environment. I believe this phenomenon is fundamentally not only going to change how content is distributed and consumed, but change the foundational basis of what constitutes content itself.
There are a number of factors further driving this trend, including the democratization of content capture, lower barriers to distribution, social comfort in self-broadcasting and changing content distribution (see table below).
The New Rules of Broadcast
1) Let them shine
Most Americans are now walking around with a broadcast-quality video camera in their pocket, and not only are they armed, they are also ready to use it. This new generation of broadcasters are more than happy to comment or join the program, so program creators, whether the professional networks, corporations or Internet stars.
Most conventional media consumption experiences are not built for interactivity, and this will need to change. In a mobile world we now need to consider interactivity but also sources of content, and how to integrated that into the program. We have all seen news pundits pulling journalists, commentators in via Skype into a live TV experience. That very experience can be made more seamless to the end-user. Imagine using a CNN mobile application to not only view but be able to join in and participate in a live TV experience. This is just one example of a slew of supporting features like the ability to record content, post-process content, etc that need to be taken into consideration.
2) Let them discuss
When people go to a concert, they generally chat to the people around them. When they watch political debates, they generally share their reactions. Most millennials (in fact most people) engage with a second screen when watching TV. Broadcasters must do more to replicate these real life experiences and move past passive viewing towards collaborative and interactive. Just as on mobile, Meerkat has moved beyond simple emojis and chat reactions to include video reactions, so should professional content creators and broadcasters.
3) Let them be mobile
Most interactive broadcasts are built to several hundred viewers as best. In the new world, people will be consuming online digital media not only across a slew of different devices but also across a range of network conditions. Optimizing this experience for scale while keeping it low-latency is going to be the holy grail. For instance, how will people view a concert while chatting to their friends within a small mobile screen?
Like just about every other industry, broadcast is undergoing a constant digital disruption.
As barriers fall around content production and distribution and viewing habits change, it isn’t just the TV networks who are now fighting for audience attention and engagement. The winners will figure out this interactive mobile / TV / online hybrid world and continue to drive new viewing models. It’s no longer enough to broadcast, the audience is part of the show.