Forecasting gurus the world over have dire predictions for broadcast television, which, according to those naysayers, will succumb to SVoD or streaming in general over the next few years. There is no turning back the tide, they say, adding that simply wanting the situation to change won’t do much good. Hope, after all, is not a strategy.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the gurus, use of digital antennas is actually increasing, and broadcast technology (with the new ATSC 3.0 standard, or “Next Gen” TV in the U.S. and DVB-T2 in Europe) will make over-the–air TV more interactive. Their streaming features will ensure that local TV stations reach more viewers (including those on the move), and the SVoD icon, Netflix, will soon join them by reaching a sort of “broadcast status” with live streaming and advertising. This, according to Jason Bazinet, a Citibank analyst, is to compensate for a loss of two million subscribers projected for this year. Bazinet estimated that Netflix can generate ad revenue of $10 per month from U.S. users, and $3 per month from non-U.S. users.
Observers from Africa also rebuke the naysayers: “Terrestrial television isn’t going to die. [In Africa] there are government mandates to keep doing it,” said Sisanda Henna, the recently-appointed MIP Africa president. (Full story on page 18.)
It would certainly be a surprise to those gurus if broadcast TV defies “their” odds and turns out to be as vibrant as ever. Indeed, research often results in known facts becoming even more obvious, but surprising results are often observed.
Yes, broadcast programming will undoubtedly change, with more news and weather (especially live storm coverage), parades, and concerts at local levels, and sports, reality, and talk shows at national levels. This programming will make up the bulk of broadcast schedules. Now, more than ever, should the 1971 saying “Act locally, think globally,” be applied (The original phrase was actually “Think globally, act locally,” but in the case of broadcasting, the order could be switched). Even though broadcast TV won’t let producers “push the envelope” like subscription channels do with scripted shows, reality shows on broadcast TV are certainly pushing boundaries.
The broadcast business model will also change, with less traditional ad revenue, and lower cable and satellite retransmission fees. But product placement will increase, as will advertising from subscription streaming platforms. So the very culprit that is expected to cause the demise of broadcast TV will actually provide it with more revenue.
Other income for broadcast TV could come from local stations licensing their local productions both domestically and internationally. Sports betting could be another source of income, as it would be safer than general Internet betting (after all broadcasting is regulated, while the Internet is not). In the past, some good local productions came from PBS stations (like WTAE in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), commercial stations (like WCVB in Boston, Massachusetts), and now station groups like Sinclair and Nexstar are licensing some news programming.
On the other hand, the business model of SVoDs is to constantly increase their number of subscribers, either picking up new ones or siphoning them off from other similar platforms (the so-called churn).
SVoD uses a “dog chasing its own tail” type of business model that requires constant promotion to justify spending large amounts of money to offer original content in order to attract more subs. And the best way to promote their offerings is through broadcast television. Because, you see, even though broadcast ratings are getting lower, the stations’ cume (cumulative audiences or total reach) remain high, and streamers need to reach those viewers in order to wow consumers enough to lure them away from the competition. Naturally, promotion within their own streaming platforms is ineffective in generating new subscribers, since those who are watching are already subscribers.
Another benefit of broadcast television over streaming platforms is their ability to brand and popularize new series before they go on to attract new subs in their SVoD services. Examples of this phenomenon include Friends, The Office, and CSI.
Now, in order to make this review story more analytical, it is necessary to provide data, facts, and figures. According to the New Rochelle, New York-based Horowitz Research, TV antennas are now used in 48.4 million TVHH, or 40 percent of all U.S. TV content viewers 18-plus.
These U.S. TV antenna households are replacing the loss of some of the 55.1 million U.S. TVHH that, according to San Francisco, California-based Zippia Research, are cord-cutters. For broadcasters this is a mixed bag. On one hand they’re losing some retrans fees. On the other they are getting more viewers that have cut viewing options from cable and satellite services. It should also be pointed out that cord-cutting in Canada is not as severe as in the U.S. because the Canadian communications authority has imposed an a-la-carte cable subscription model, therefore consumers don’t have to pay for channels they don’t watch.
Broadcast television is also benefitting from the ATSC 3.0 technology, which is a hybrid broadcast and Internet Protocol-based delivery standard. It is the world’s first IP-based television standard. This means that it can carry Internet content and services alongside the traditional over-the-air 4K broadcast signals.
The advantage of digital antennas, especially with the Next Gen TV standard, among many others, is getting to watch programs in 4K for free, and getting to place sports bets using a remote. In addition, each TV station can now broadcast up to seven channels (four is most common) per signal, which are usually available on cable for extra fees. With ATSC 3.0 the number of sub channels can reach up to 30 per station. In certain areas there are now more than 100 free TV channels available to watch with an antenna. Smart TV sets (like Sony Bravia and Samsung Super 6) already have built-in ATSC 3.0 tuners.
About the decline of TV broadcast ratings, Nielsen (the leading U.S. rating service) recently lost its Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for under-counting TV viewing. In a statement, MRC said that total usage of television by persons 18-49 — the key demo used to sell advertising — was understated by Nielsen approximately two percent to six percent for the February 2021 measurement period.
Decline, however, doesn’t mean demise. Indeed, research data from the New York City-based eMarketer shows that streaming now accounts for 26 percent of the time people spend daily with TVs, which, even though edging past broadcast TV, still accounts for 25 percent of total viewing. The issue, however, is not the share between broadcast and streaming TV, but the reduction of the viewing time in general. eMarketer forecasted that TV viewing time in 2023 would continue to decline. In 2021, the average viewing time of TV was three hours and 17 minutes, but the estimated amount for 2023 is two hours and 51 minutes a day. Still, according to eMarketer, this trend is expected to reverse, meaning that the average U.S. adult will spend 15 minutes less with television in 2022, but only 11 minutes less in 2023.
(By Dom Serafini)
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