Recent news in Wired magazine that the BBC iPlayer will soon include non-BBC offerings such as ITV Player and 4OD, as well as more social networking features, raises some familiar questions about the future of media brands in a multi screen world. Whether or not this heralds a future move towards a single media player for UK broadcasters (after Kangaroo was bounced by the competition commission), cross platform viewing on the social web is putting even more pressure on channel brands to differentiate in positioning and content.
For example, in the old world of broadcasting:
- Programmes were synonymous with channels and country-specific.
- People could only watch on one screen at a fixed time.
- Advertising, subscriptions or license fees paid for everything.
- Word of mouth was limited to water coolers and the daily print media.
Whereas in the new world of ‘multi-platform content distribution’:
- Programme brands are often international and as big as the channels that commissioned them.
- People can watch anything, any time on any screen (TV to PC to mobile).
- Viewers can get most of the content they like for free and consciously avoid advertising.
- Viewer ratings are now a primary influencer of choice instantly shared everywhere.
So your reasons for choosing a programme, and the place and time you choose to watch it, are now influenced by much more than the physical channel that made it possible.
But if you consider these pressures on broadcast brands, they could easily be applied to any other business sector since the rise of the social web. They boil down to the loss of channel control, the growth of choice, the rise of ‘freeconomics’ and the power of social sentiment.
So do they mean the end of the world as we know it?
Retail brands now live with the daily reality of multi-channel customers who expect a seamless brand experience between the high street and the browser – in everything from price-matching to stock management and loyalty programmes – and new competition springs up every week. And yet UK retail sales were up 4.8% year on year from 2009. Financial services brands used to rely on heritage and inertia as drivers of consumer loyalty, now price comparison aggregators present them in a naked beauty parade of tariffs, charges and APRs that make us question old loyalties. And new competition is coming from unlikely quarters like social lending that could only exist in the web economy. But the CBI and PWC signalled three consecutive quarters of profit growth in UK financial services businesses to March 2010. FMCG giants used to be able to rely on consumers not knowing who owned their favourite brands, or hold them to account for contradictory marketing strategies or sustainability credentials. Nor did consumers have augmented reality applications that compare price, quality and consumer reviews of products in real time as they make purchase decisions. And this year saw Q1 growth and increased profitability in many examples.
So despite these pressures, our favourite retail, financial service and consumer brands continue to thrive (alongside some new ones). Most surprisingly of all, this took place during a year of net reduction in advertising investment across the UK’s top 100 advertisers. Even in the music industry – whose parallels with broadcast media are obvious – the rise of music downloading has led to unexpected results like the highest ever UK single sales in 2009.
Why? Because more than ever, today’s successful brands know they have to stand for something distinct, follow it through in their products and services and increasingly embrace consumer opinion and participation. The social web presents an extraordinary opportunity to deliver a brand experience seamlessly, in real-time, to consumers prepared share the things they love. New technologies underpinning multi-platform brand and content consumption – for broadcasters and retailers alike – offer huge potential to evolve through co-creation, community building and producer-consumer business models. But they also put pressure on old walled garden practices that seek to control intellectual property, keep people in one place and draw artificial commercial lines between geographies.
Whether there is a single media player or not, the challenge for commercial broadcasters will be to embrace the change decisively and make sure they have a clear positioning, architecture and a portfolio of distinctive content brands to match. The rest will take care of itself.
Social tagging: advertising > BBC > brand > co-creation > collaboration > communication > experience > financial > FMCG > freeconomics > ITV > Media > multiplatform > retail