Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Channel Brands are Losing Power

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast May 22, 2019

As ecosystem changes, content creators need to rethink how they value IP, says Kate Bulkley

At the New York television upfronts for the advertising community this month, a top Warner Media executive dropped a bombshell when he said that where a programme or series airs is no longer all that important.

Indeed, Brett Weitz, general manager of Warner’s TBS and TNT channels, said that simply defining programmes by genre and placing them on the corresponding channel is “narrow-minded” thinking and perpetuates the “networks of old”.

Advertisers gathered to hear about Warner Media’s new programming were told that ITV Studios’ gritty drama Snowpiercer (pictured above) will air on TBS, a channel mostly known for comedy, instead of TNT, where it was originally due to air. Weitz made it clear that there will be more of this kind of bending of traditional channel brand borders.

For an industry that has worked hard to build channel brands with unique ‘personalities’ that serve consumers as viewing signposts, this is pretty radical stuff. And Weitz is not the only one spouting a new broadcasting tactic.

Others have also moved into the brand-bending business, including AMC Networks and Viacom, both of which have put several channel brands under single creative and corporate management.

So why are traditional channel genre fiefdoms under threat? The growth in streaming media consumption has played a big part. As traditional media firms create their own streaming services – Warner Media’s OTT service will launch later this year, for example – the importance of linear channel brands begins to fade.

“Channel brands won’t die but the mantra is to create a more flexible media ecosystem that embraces both linear consumption and streaming”

Big media is taking a leaf out of the Netflix handbook and leaning into 24/7, on-demand access to box sets. Weitz referred to this as pushing into “the next iteration of consumption”.

While channel brands won’t disappear any time soon, the new mantra coming out of New York is about creating a more flexible media ecosystem that embraces both linear consumption and online streaming.

For the traditional media companies, this means shining a spotlight on their own streaming services and convincing advertisers to spread money across both linear and online platforms.

This all comes on the heels of a recent Enders Analysis report underlining a very real risk for content producers and owners as the media ecosystem moves from staggered release windows to streaming platforms that are about all-you-can-eat, anytime, programme offers.

As these new strategies cater to an increasingly demanding consumer, the value of programmes is likely to decline faster. Indeed, Netflix has accelerated its content amortisation schedule repeatedly to reflect the so-called ‘front-loaded’ viewing patterns for its programming.

Simply put, Netflix’s emphasis on offering all episodes at once has propelled its growth and distinctiveness, but has also made it swift to remove shows and cancel series that no longer work.

The only caveat to this, according to Enders, is acquired series like Friends, The American Office and Grey’s Anatomy, which have proved ultra-successful with audiences, and evergreen. But apart from those outliers, the ‘post-premiere age’ carries a few health warnings.

If the long-term value of content is truly being eroded by always-available, on-demand box sets, then content makers need to seriously rethink how they are valuing their IP. If there is less back-end because of consumer fatigue, then content makers need to charge more up front or come up with a different kind of value model.

The counter argument is that the faster a show or series declines in value, the more demand there will be for content makers to produce even more content. What you might lose on the back end you can make up for on the front end.

In any case, approaches to how programmes are monetised and distributed are changing and that has far-reaching ripple effects both for how linear channel brands fi t into the new ecosystem and how content producers value and monetise their programmes.

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