If a conference is called “Future of Video,” I figure I should probably be there. So on Monday and Tuesday of last week, I attended the Future of Video: OTT, Pay TV, and Digital Media conference put on by Parks Associates in Marina Del Rey, CA. This event focused on where the industry is headed with the rising penetration of over-the-top (OTT) services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, etc., 5G wireless service, and how to connect with new generations that never had to deal with TV schedules or using a remote to flick through channels.
The conference featured predictions and perspectives from executives at Google, AT&T, Warner Brothers, Fandango, Hulu, PBS, TiVo, Vudu, and many others. I wanted to learn how massive shifts in how people watch, where they watch, and what they watch will affect content producers.
One thing we all have witnessed in the last 10 years has been the ongoing displacement of traditional broadcast and cable TV by subscription services like Netflix and mostly free-to-view websites such as YouTube, Twitch, and Vimeo. Does length matter in today’s world? How does one pitch a show to network or studio? Is it better to get an agent and then a meeting with executives, or is it better to put something up on YouTube and get 1,000,000 likes quickly? With camera manufacturers pushing past 4K up to 8K and younger people watching more on small screens such as phones and tablets, does it pay to shoot in anything above HD if screens aren’t larger than nine inches? With OTT services growing swiftly, I tried to get these questions answered.
OTT is the opposite of broadcasting. In many ways, it is narrowcasting — many of the services cater to only certain segments of the population. If you like Major League Baseball you can get just the MLB service. If you are a college student who’s into the arts and more knowledge-based programming, there is Philo. If you are into esports (video games) and want to interact with the gamers live, there is Twitch. Many of the services are less than $15 a month, so many households have multiple OTTs. While many have hundreds or even thousands of programs to choose from, 28% of subscribers subscribe for only a single show. Some OTT services are making it with as few as 3,000 subscribers.
One of the most lucrative segments is esports. The Twitch OTT service allows viewers to interact with the gamers live, and 15–24-year-old males seem to love it. It is a $900 billion economy, with some star gamers pulling in $100,000 to $500,000 a month through ads, sponsors, and payments from viewers who may pay the gamer to do something in the game. No wonder AJA was showing tools for esports at NAB.
For those just looking to tell a good story, make a movie, or create a series that does not involve a gaming console, there is still a need — a big one. It turns out that there are a lot of people over the age of 24 who still like TV shows. And, even though there are tens of thousands of old TV series being streamed, people want new shows. That’s where content creators come in.
I sat in on a panel entitled “Distribution Opportunities and Challenges for Content Producers” that included Jon Cody, founder and CEO of TV4 Entertainment; Ryan Curry, head of tech and innovation at Combs Enterprises (rapper Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs’ company); Joel Fineman, director, publisher development at Premio; Bruce Littman, EVP content distribution at One America News Network/AWE (A Wealth of Entertainment); and Don Wilcox, VP multiplatform marketing and content at PBS. Afterward, I posed a couple questions. The first was, if more and more people are watching on their phones and tablets, not big-screen TVs, and content is being produced on cell phones and GoPros, why are content producers being pushed to jump from HD to 4K and now up to 8K? The answer I got was, “it depends.” They said that better-looking content generally gets viewed more, but resolution isn’t everything, and 4K is indeed overkill for some things. People who want to watch movies on a big screen may want to see it in 4K. If you are making a cooking show on perfecting a grilled cheese sandwich, or an automotive show on turbo-charging your SUV, HD is fine.
I then asked about show lengths, as network TV shows are 22 minutes long for a half hour and 44 minutes for an hour to leave room for commercials — but those requirements don’t necessarily carry over. Jon Cody summed it up in short form: “The story should only be as long as it takes to tell.” In the new OTT world, as demonstrated often on YouTube, you don’t need to drag out a story for the sake of filling time. If your entire story only takes two-and-a-half minutes to tell on video, don’t make it longer and bore the viewer. If its episodic, you can have one episode that is three minutes and make the next one 10 minutes or even an hour — so long as the viewer is engaged. If they don’t have time to view the whole thing, they will pause it and come back to it.
I talked to Ryan Curry of Combs Enterprises for a few minutes about how they do things in their shop. He explained that, while the company is responsible for all of Sean Combs brands that put out products including clothing, vodka, tequila, records, etc., most of the media production and post is kept in house. Distribution is done via cable and OTT services. He said that while the distribution model has changed, some things remain the same. The idea for a show or movie not only has to be good, but the pitcher also needs to calculate how many people they expect to watch it and how many “partners” (advertisers, brands, distribution pre-sales) could be expected to help fund the project. Ryan also said that today’s audiences see right through BS, so authenticity and honesty within a project are key to success, beyond just getting funding. You can see our full conversation below.
Another thing that has impacted many professional content producers over the last few years is amateur content. I asked whether standards were being followed as “consumer-generated content” becomes more popular on some services. From years of watching the good, bad and ugly on Youtube, my take is 85% of this content is shot on cell phones, 10% on action cams like GoPros, and 5% with actual video cameras. When content is being shot with an actual camcorder, under 5% of those are using a pro camera. And much of that is not of professional quality, because the user doesn’t know how to use the camera. Julian Franco, head of AVOD at Wal-mart’s OTT service, Vudu, put it bluntly, saying most “consumer-generated content is not good.” It was suggested that professionals shouldn’t worry; these folks aren’t green-lighting any projects being shot on cell phones.
Future of Video ended up being an interesting forum for finding more potential clients for production and post-production professionals. I’m sure there are some similar sessions at NAB, but with hundreds of booths full of gear for me to visit, I’ve never made it to an NAB conference session in my 26 years going there. Even though there were no booths full of the latest gear or sessions showing how the latest Oscar-winner was edited, it will definitely be valuable for content producers to check out the Future of Video conference at least every couple years to keep up with what is happening in the modern distribution world.