Digital Hollywood Panelists Discuss Challenges and Opportunities of Content Delivery on Eve of CES Show

LAS VEGAS — The challenges and opportunities of content programming in an increasingly online world were the subject of a Digital Hollywood panel Jan. 7 in Las Vegas on the eve of the CES show.

Three important challenges to an online content provider are facilitating “access, discovery and community,” said Soumya Sriraman, president of the subscription on demand service Britbox, which offers British programming. While access is getting easier for consumers, content discovery is a challenge and building an online community is even more of a challenge, she said, speaking on the panel “The Future of TV: From Primetime to Multi-Platforms.” One strategy Britbox has used to build its community is offering programming concurrent with its debut in the United Kingdom, she said.

PBS, too, is building its community of local station supporters through PBS Passport, said Ira Rubenstein, chief digital and marketing officer, PBS Digital. Those who donate at least $5 a month to their local station get online access to an expanded library of content not available on the PBS OTT platform. Meanwhile, another challenge for PBS is accommodating both an older audience that likes traditional linear TV and a younger audience that wants greater online access.

Finding an audience is aided by a platform, such as Twitter, which facilitates communities, noted Laura Froelich, senior director, partner management, global content partnerships at the social media company. Twitter helps its partners find and serve their audiences. The company is helping the PGA service its audience by uncovering the golf fans’ desire to see more than what is broadcast.

“Golf fans on Twitter were very, very vocal,” she said.

Different kinds of programming will begin to evolve, several panelists noted.

The PBS program “Frontline,” for instance, through its “Transparency Project” gives online viewers access to the entire interview of subjects in its documentaries.

Stefanie Schwartz, EVP, media networks digital partnerships and digital studios strategy and operations, Viacom, said her company is reimagining its program for mobile. For instance, for “The Daily Show,” the company created a segment called “Between the Scenes,” in which host Trevor Noah speaks to the audience in the commercial break only on social media.

Colby Smith, SVP, content and partnerships, ABC News, said through its 24/7 ABC News Live online platform, which launched in May, the network is deconstructing traditional TV elements to make them more dynamic. The breaking news and live events channel is found on various streaming services and social platforms. Referencing Netflix’s experimentation with a choose-your-own-adventure, multiple storyline strategy with “Black Mirror,” he envisioned online news content where the platform asks viewers where they want reporters to take a news story.

“That’s where it get’s really exciting,” he said.

“I think content is going to drastically change,” said PBS’s Rubenstein. “What is defined as content is going to drastically change.”

Digital Hollywood Panelists Ponder Future of Skinny Bundles, Digital Delivery

Skinny bundles and virtual MVPDs are an imperfect solution to the desire of consumers to get the content they want at the price they want, while an a la carte online delivery system that perfectly satisfies consumers’ desires has yet to be fully realized.

That was the consensus of panelists at the “Internet TV Packages” panel at the Digital Hollywood conference Oct. 18 in Los Angeles.

“The consumer cares about two things, value and choice,” noted panelist Thomas K. Arnold, publisher of Media Play News. While choice has expanded over the years from only a few networks to an array of cable channels to videocassettes and discs and digital delivery, finding content is getting more complicated.

“The important thing here is curation. The old manual curation by networks is going away,” said panelist and consultant Robin Wilson, director, RW TV. He said the future is one in which consumers can “self-curate” content or in which curation is automated.

While some pundits say only younger consumers are peeling away from traditional viewing, even Baby Boomers, still working and facing a time crunch, are also moving away from appointment TV, said panelist Josette Bonte, managing director, Digital Content Strategies.

“There is definitely a problem to be solved by the industry,” she said. “I would like to have my own skinny bundle.”

“Current skinny bundles are just a patch up job,” Wilson added.

“It’s the same problem that’s always been the problem,” Arnold noted. “These internet services, they’re great for service, but bad for discovery.”

Consumers who are watching subscription services have a hard time breaking out of that silo, Arnold said.

“Your likely going to stay on Netflix or Amazon after watching a show,” he said.

To truly curate your own content can be difficult, he said, noting that his family had to “piece together our own skinny bundle” from offerings on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to watch an entire series of a show they loved.

He predicted that consumers in the future would be paying more for entertainment but in smaller increments, comparing it to gym memberships that have retained consumers by offering ultra-low prices.

“At $10 a month, people are going to get them all [even niche OTT subscription offerings],” he said. “At $10 a month you’re not going to really notice it.”

Bonte said niche SVOD services “definitely have the chance to complement the bundles.”

Technology — perhaps from Google, Amazon or Roku — will overcome the difficulties of getting to different apps and online services to get content, panelists said.

“The idea of switching from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2 will be as archaic as rewinding the videocassette,” Arnold said.

Device integration with artificial intelligence will also assist in content discovery, Bonte said.

Panelists also pondered the growing competition in the SVOD market led by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, soon to be joined by Disney and WarnerMedia — and the data from SVOD services that is informing what content consumers are fed.

Netflix is “definitely good at use of data” to determine content, Bonte noted. It’s an advantage for the company, Wilson added.

Netflix knows a lot about what consumers are watching, but “they won’t tell us,” Arnold said, adding that research company Parrot Analytics is using social media and other measurements to try to estimate the popularity of SVOD original programs.

One audience member noted that Netflix’s recommendation engine is less than perfect, causing her frustration as it served up the same type of content over and over.

Data targeting with ads, too, needs improving, Wilson noted. The ads served up should be more efficient, “not bombarding” the consumer.

One audience member noted that Rotten Tomatoes, which calculates content ratings based on human reviewers, is one of the most popular content recommendation sites online.

Newfangled content delivery technologies have a way to go, Arnold noted. “People who talk about artificial intelligence forget that first word, artificial,” he said.

Speaking at Digital Hollywood on Oct. 18 were, from left, moderator Patrick Redmond; Media Play News publisher and editorial director Thomas K. Arnold; and consultants Josette Bonte and Robin Wilson.