Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Meeting the digital challenge

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast October 22, 2015

Branding and original content are key for UKTV

The future of TV channels – or should I say TV brands? – in a volatile digital marketplace is occupying the minds of top TV executives a lot these days.

Netflix and Amazon are commissioning more original content, while YouTube and multichannel players such as Fullscreen are pulling together paid online video bundles that mimic the pay-TV channel bundles of old.

AOL, Buzzfeed and Spotify, among others, are adding more video to their services to differentiate them- selves from rivals; Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba recently bid to buy the rest of online video company Youku Tudou; and Facebook has its eye on dominating the virtual reality space. Meanwhile, Apple says the future of TV is apps and is hoping the latest Apple TV will provide content through apps, not channels.

So it’s up to traditional broadcasters to respond. For UKTV, which has 10 channel brands, a foot in free-to-air and pay, plus emerging online and on-demand services, the answer has been to ramp up spending on original content while also figuring out how to create the best possible shop window in the digital world.

The extra money spent on originations has created returning series like Dave Gorman: Modern Life Is Goodish and new shows such as Marley’s Ghosts (pictured) and Bull, all of which have helped the UKTV group of channels generate a 9.3% share of commercial impacts, putting it on a par with Channel 5’s portfolio.

But while the TV channels are humming along, on-demand and online are going to require a different approach, according to chief executive Darren Childs. A little over a year ago, Childs resurrected the UKTV brand as an online umbrella for all 10 channels, replacing individual channel VoD players.

He told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch last week it had been a “mistake” by previous management to ditch the UKTV brand from the individual channels because it meant there was “no cohesion between the channel audiences”. Cohesion is clearly something he wants to foster in a fragmented digital environment.

He estimates that online viewing of UKTV’s channels could grow from 2% or 3% today to 20% to 50% in the next five years. “I can’t see why non-linear viewing will stop growing, so we have to sort out the monetisation,” he said.

Childs thinks of UKTV Play as a ‘store’ that will help it keep customers viewing as long as possible, but also knows that the technology is the “easy bit” of the digital equation. He says UKTV will not only have to leverage its programming brands online, but also start commissioning online-first programming in the new year, including a commitment to give opportunities to “fresh talent”.

And he is not averse to taking a page out of much bigger media companies’ playbooks. Childs is really interested in the online video aggregator model, or multichannel networks (MCN) exemplified by Maker Studios, which is now owned by Disney. So it is intriguing that British MCN Rightster, which has 2,500 content owners and more than 10,500 publishers in its online network, signalled late last week that it was open to buyout or partnership offers.

Watch this space.

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