Picture a Wednesday afternoon in September. It’s warm and sunny on the west coast, just in time for the Republican debate in Simi Valley, Ca. For anyone who wants to be dialed in to politics (no matter what team you’re rooting for), these debates matter, if only to help you understand your Twitter feed.
CNN assured cord cutters like myself that the debate would be live streamed. Sweet. Kick-off time rolled around and I headed to CNN.com to find… no live stream at all, at least not without cable authentication. I’m totally willing to pay to watch, but that wasn’t an option. So to Apple TV I turned, but CNN Go required cable authentication as well. And YouTube was a bust.
Cord cutting is harder than it looks.
For cord cutters around the world, this is the new “watching TV.” No longer is it enough to ask, “When is it on?” One must now also ask “Which app is it on?,” “Will I need a cable subscription?” and, of course, “Where is my Chromecast?”
Looking back, 2015 may be considered the year of great questions about the future of TV and video. Every week, another headline, from YouTube vs. Facebook to HBO, will they or won’t they go over-the-top? Who needs TV when there’s so much drama in real life?
At CakeWorks, we don’t claim to be able to predict the video future, but we do adhere to a strategic principle of “follow the video viewer.” Let insights into viewer behavior inform strategic decisions around content, syndication, and platforms. How are people watching video? Sometimes, the answers to the thorniest questions are hiding in plain sight.
Two innovations are driving video growth: the proliferation of high-speed Internet has made it possible to access video in new ways, and the mass adoption of video-enabled devices make it easy to record, broadcast and watch video. According to Nielsen, Americans spend over 600 minutes each month watching video content online, up 60% from 2013.
So where are all these video viewers leading us? Three (of many) areas in which we encourage exploration:
Mobile is at the forefront of most conversations about the future of video, especially if you attended Ad Week in New York. In Q2, mobile viewing made up 44% of all video views in the U.S., and it will hit 50% by end of year. Across the globe there are now more mobile devices than people. You don’t even need to see the stats — just look around. For many, mobile is becoming the first screen, and critical to business growth. Instagram’s mobile success was certainly part of Facebook’s rationale for its $1 billion acquisition. And viewers agree, which is part of the reason 5 million videos were posted on the first day of Instagram’s video launch.
Why this matters: Mobile video has created a new viewing moment: in-between, on-the-go; not at home, and not in the office. These lean-in video watching moments that did not exist ten years ago are now so pervasive that today’s hottest video company is a mobile one: Snapchat. With 4 billion daily video views, Snapchat is morphing from a messaging app to full-fledged media platform with its own ecosystem and 15-plus content partners on board, including the NFL. For advertisers and media companies, the strategic question to ask is, where are video viewers already aggregating and how can you be a part of it?
Short Form Innovation
In the old world, many of the most popular short-form video genres — game playing, epic fails, beauty tips, odd comedy and extreme eating — would never have made it on TV. Short-form video is the result of a renaissance not unlike the printing press, involving the mass distribution of tools to creators who previously had no outlet. Today, short-form video creators are getting millions of views on YouTube — billions if their names are PewDiePie or Freddie Wong. And check out this new school growth: Vine is now at 1.5 billion loops a day.
Why this matters: Everyone wants lots of views for their videos, and eventually revenue follows views. Understanding there’s a tremendous appetite for short-form video will lead to better content and monetization decisions. For media companies, consider the efficiency and social and distribution opportunities of short form vs. long form, especially if they have an existing library of video assets. For advertisers, short-form creators — the new celebrities — have carved out a sweet spot of sponsorship opportunities. For example, Michelle Phan and Bethany Mota can reach their respective 8 million and 9.5 million YouTube subscribers with a compelling message about the latest line of lipstick. Amazing.
When the pay TV industry lost 600,000 subscribers in Q2, it seemed big enough to make a headline and make it feel like cord cutting was real. While the decline was small in respect to the total number of pay TV subscribers, even folks outside the video industry perked up and thought, this is becoming a thing.
And it is. But doom and gloom is not the real headline. The real headline is TV is in transition, from linear to digital. Comcast’s quarterly broadband subscribers are up 400,000. Netflix streamed 10 billion hours in Q1. Amazon, which started as only a bookstore, just won five Emmys. There’s an argument that current cable bundles aren’t sustainable business models, and that’s likely true. But if viewers are only watching 17 out of 189 TV channels, should they be sustained?
Why this matters: Despite any resistance to over-the-top video, it’s already here. Verizon’s Go90, Dish’s Sling, Comcast’s Watchable — even the BBC — are testing the waters for streaming video, and what viewers are willing to pay for it. New advertising strategies that engage audiences and monetization strategies that grow revenue and viewers are sure to follow, recognizing the control viewers have over what and when they watch. As Kevin Spacey said a few years back regarding binge-watching, give ’em what they want.
As for me ever catching the Republican debate? Take note, CNN: after failing to find a legitimate option, off to Periscope I went, and within minutes, I joined a crew of six hundred others crowded into Leonard’s live-streamed living room. The picture was a little fuzzy, but I didn’t even mind all the commentary.
Lead the way, video viewers.
Todd Lombardo is the head of marketing at CakeWorks, a video consulting firm. He has held digital marketing leadership positions at advertising agencies, Fortune 500 media companies and Silicon Valley start-ups.