November 15, 2018Published by: Kieran Moriarty

The (streaming) revolution will not be televised

Remember the days of rushing home to catch your favourite TV show as it was broadcast? For many of us, this phenomenon is as archaic as dial-up broadband or listening to a CD.

During the last decade, the rise of streaming services and on-demand content has removed the need for viewers to plan their lives around TV schedules. These innovations revolutionised the ways in which we consume content, offering far greater flexibility and choice for viewers.

As we head into 2019, TV is heading towards another pivotal turning point, one which could spell the end of its existence in the traditional format. The big tech firms – notably Google and Facebook – are now looking to break into the broadcast content market. Both of these brands have launched their own online live streaming services to offer an alternative to subscription television. The question is, why?

In short, younger generations barely watch TV anymore. An annual report by Ofcom in 2017 revealed that viewers of traditional broadcast television aged between 4-15 and 16-24 had fallen 33% compared to figures in 2010. While older generations are still happy to sit down at 9pm to watch the latest crime drama, millennials, Gen Z and younger, are increasingly abandoning traditional broadcast television in favour of online streaming platforms.

Having witnessed the success of Netflix and Amazon, Google and Facebook have sensed an opportunity to diversify into this market and have subsequently launched their own services - YouTube TV and Facebook Watch. But what do these new online streaming platforms bring to an already competitive market?

In the red corner, we have YouTube TV. During a keynote speech in September, YouTube chief product officer, Neal Mohan, revealed that “television is the fastest growing screen” for the video-sharing platform. This claim was backed with the statistic that the number of EU consumers watching YouTube on their TV screens has grown 45% annually. Mohan also stated that YouTube TV hoped to use machine learning to optimise the service and give viewers more tailored content recommendations.

Machine learning is just one example of how Google is incorporating cutting-edge technology into its platforms to create a better viewing experience for subscribers. Many reviewers have commented positively about how the platform has been set up with mobile streaming in mind. By focusing on something that is often left as an afterthought by other competitors in the live-streaming market, YouTube is hoping to appeal to millennial commuters who want to watch high-quality, live-streaming content on the move.

In the blue corner, we have Facebook Watch. Like Google, Facebook has high hopes about what its platform can achieve. After an admittedly slow start, Facebook has begun to reap the rewards from heavy investment by attracting big stars and producers to create original content for its platform. Recently Sorry For Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen, has received positive reviews, while several other shows, such as SKAM Austin and Sacred Lies, suggest Facebook Watch has more to offer in terms of original content.

Although Facebook Watch may have a long way to go before it’s genuinely competing with Netflix or even YouTube TV, there are a number of content areas where Facebook Watch is making huge strides. The most obvious of these are news and sport.

Several US-based new shows from ABC, Fox and CNN have been scheduled into Facebook Watch’s content roster. However, this is not purely a US-focused initiative. In September, BBC News announced it will be launching a new topical weekly show on Facebook Watch called Cut Through the Noise, the first show of this genre from a non-US news organisation.

Following controversies about fake news this summer, it would appear Facebook is clearly looking to use its online streaming platform to rehabilitate its reputation as a legitimate and authoritative news content provider by commissioning this type of streaming content.

Live sport is another area where Facebook has been active, particularly in terms of bidding for live broadcast rights. From international cricket to niche pursuits like IronMan marathons, Facebook has been experimenting across a wide range of sports to refine its investment strategy. During this period, it has already had several success stories.

During the 2018 season, 25 baseball games were exclusively streamed on Facebook Watch as part of a deal with Major League Baseball (MLB). Over the course of the season, this content arrangement brought in 123 million views on Watch. Despite it being a new method of tuning in, the viewing figures highlight how fans were able to easily adopt new technology to ensure they could continue to watch the sport they religiously follow. The MLB streaming deal was hailed a triumph and has led to a prompt extension of the arrangement for the 2019 season.

Facebook is hoping to repeat the same trick with European football. In August, it pulled off a major coup within the football broadcasting world with the acquirement of an exclusive agreement with La Liga to stream games to users in India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Like the MLB, La Liga commands massive audiences from a huge, global fanbase (with Barcelona and Lionel Messi in particular playing a big part). With Amazon recently securing a rights package to broadcast Premier League football, it looks certain that Facebook will try to gain an even bigger foothold in this market in the near future.

So what’s next? Over the last 90 years, television has rapidly evolved beyond recognition from its original form. It appears the next logical step in this evolution is online streaming. With the recent flood of content creators entering the market and the continued shift towards flexibility and choice, will television soon be phased out as the primary means for watching our favourite shows? Stay tuned to find out.

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