Four things Australian TV broadcasters should do to keep their audiences

Rodd MessentWith the ratings battle of 2012 officially over, Rodd Messent lays out four ways FTA broadcasters need to adapt to the new viewing habits of consumers.

2013 is shaping up to be a massive year in the Aussie free-to-air TV industry. Online ad revenues are expected to overtake free-to-air TV ad spend. Pay-TV competitor Foxtel is aggressively seeking to improve its subscription numbers by pursuing content deals like its recent exclusive one with HBO. There’s even talk of a consortium of channels launching a Hulu-like aggregated service to try and compete.

The standard individual broadcaster response seems to be to race to launch a fuller suite of web and mobile apps to meet the demand for viewing content at home and on the go (the ABC’s lovely iView currently winning). However, meeting demand for content on connected devices isn’t enough.

Unless Aussie TV networks start to think and act in truly user-centric terms organisation wide, the barriers to desperately needed service innovation will remain. Here are four things they (or a consortium of them) could do to become better user-centric companies:

1. Organise their businesses around the user

Being a user-centric business isn’t the same thing as being an audience-centric one. It’s about recognising the interactions a person has with TV content these days are either using or heavily influenced by connected devices (e.g. second screen apps) and reorganising the business to create user-centric representation across all departments and all the way up to senior management. Unless the business is committed to doing this, user expectations risk not being met as entrenched teams continue to think in broadcast centric terms and the digital department only an extension of content delivery.

For broadcasters like Channel Seven and Channel Nine, having effectively outsourced their digital teams for catch-up TV to Yahoo!7 and NineMSN respectively, the best bet for transitioning to user-centric organisation is paradoxically through an aggregated service. As a separate entity unencumbered by reporting structures and competing visions of individual broadcasters, user-centric organisation in an aggregated service could be formed much more successfully – just like Hulu in the US was successful when it became its own entity rather than continuing as an internal start-up (the model NBC initially put in place).

2. Stop thinking about audiences

Instead of thinking about audiences, I find it useful to think of TV content as the object of an ongoing, global conversation among different sets of participants: like the producers, cast, channel and a community of fans. Fan users expect to participate in an ongoing social dialogue about content from the moment it is released anywhere in the world and, in the case of live TV, actually with the content. Communities of users can then be built around stages of the content lifecycle.

Despite being a non-live drama, the ABC’s early release of Dr Who via iView is a great example of thinking about content in this way. By making the episode available only a few hours after it aired in the UK, the ABC was able to capitalise on the interest of the show’s core fan users who in turn created buzz and attracted additional, mainstream users to the broadcast event – even several days later.

3. Focus on discovery and personalisation.

With an increasing supply of available content from multiple sources, users now need more help than ever to find the sorts of stuff they like. The ideal content discovery process includes a form of personalised search, recommendations from a user’s social graph along with an overview of what the broader community is doing and thinking. Recent entrants in the Aussie market like Zeebox (a social program guide app) are great steps in this direction, however there are greater opportunities for these types of experiences – like the ability to change the channel via the app itself and discover more than what’s creating the most conversation (such as community sentiment).

4. Design for a continuous experience between preferred devices

Pretty soon content will become ubiquitous across connected devices. With that, users are going to start caring more about a continuity of experience between their devices rather than sheer availability. SBS on Demand’s playlist is a good, early example of such continuity in the Aussie market. Users can add shows to their playlist, sync the playlist between their devices and receive alerts when new episodes are added – all of which keeps them in the SBS experience and drives additional viewings. Exploring further possibilities for these types of features (e.g. like pausing an episode on one device and picking it up where you left off on another) are going to become critical in retaining users.

Big changes to the Australian TV broadcast industry have been happening for a while, but now more than ever it’s time to seriously start organising for the shift by putting users first. Content may still be king, but focusing on the context in which users discover, view and review it has become the key to understanding how it can best be produced, distributed and monetised.

  • Rodd Messent is vice president of strategic consulting and user experience at Kit Digital, a video technology company.


  1. Double Page Fred
    3 Dec 12
    2:17 pm

  2. Did Rodd pay for this sales pitch for his company?

  3. Ashley
    3 Dec 12
    2:32 pm

  4. How about they simply start and finish programs on time. And that’s just for starters!

  5. Bem
    3 Dec 12
    3:45 pm

  6. When the networks can’t even get the basics right, then I don’t think any of these suggestions are really going to make a difference. Have consistent programming, be honest with the viewers, air things quickly to curb piracy, use multichannels effectively and yes, start things on time. Until they get these basics right there’s no chance they can possibly be effective at any of these suggestions

  7. Shamma
    3 Dec 12
    5:37 pm

  8. With all due respect, digital experts aren’t really in a position to tell TV networks how to monetise their audience.

  9. Jim
    3 Dec 12
    11:35 pm

  10. Maybe with regard to drama a start might be to move away from the shockingly outdated model of Producer as Showrunner. Why Australia does this I have no idea. America has experienced a golden age of TV mainly due to the quality of the writing and writers having more of a say in the finished product. I have never met one Producer in this country who has impressed me with their ability to write effective drama..don’t even go there with comedy. And maybe producers will start surfing the net to find a generation of local content creators making quality productions that could easily morph into TV content. Australian TV is a joke and has been for sometime, mainly because of the solidified fossils running the stations haven’t a friggin clue as to how bad their programming has become, too many people in positions of power who are utterly out of touch.

  11. JM
    4 Dec 12
    3:15 pm

  12. @Shamma – and that type of mentality has got the TV networks into the position they are in today. #upshitcreek

  13. Kate Richardson
    4 Dec 12
    4:31 pm

  14. 95% of video viewing is still done on a traditional TV. Just saying.

  15. JM
    5 Dec 12
    12:45 pm

  16. Would be great to see a FTA think outside the box and create an on-demand video library – they must have a huge back catalogue of films/documentaries/specials that just sit around gathering dust.
    I’d definately have no hesitation in paying to rent these services – plus any associated bandwidth costs.

  17. Rodd
    5 Dec 12
    2:03 pm

  18. @Kate Richardson: It’s true that around 95% of TV is still broadcast over traditional broadcast technologies. However, I would argue that when we bandy this stat around in our industry it misleads us to what is actually going on….

    In addition to being used for viewing TV on the go, connected devices are also present in most homes when users are consuming said “traditional TV” (so called second or “cross” screening). This has changed the behaviors and expectation users have of BOTH their linear TV and connected device TV experiences. Behaviorally I would therefore argue this makes us all “users” of TV, regardless of the network used to deliver the content.

    – Rodd Messent.

  19. Kate Richardson
    5 Dec 12
    2:18 pm

  20. Hi Rodd, you’re right of course, the concept of the second screen has become more prevalent, however most research I’ve seen suggests TV watchers are interacting with a second screen, without actually specifying what they’re doing i.e. facebooking their friends vs ‘engaging with second screen content’.

  21. Rodd
    5 Dec 12
    2:37 pm

  22. Hi Kate – it’s true that the breakdown of what people are *actually* doing (i.e. TV content engagement or other things like FB, email etc on the second screen) is mostly proprietary application data held by the broadcasters (lets see if Zeebox releases anything in time about their numbers :)). During the TV viewing experience I do believe though it varies by content type (i.e. live tv, sports, etc high second screen TV content engagement vs premium drama low engagement), but along with predictable peaks and troughs at given times for most content types (e.g. ad breaks) and whether the experience is physically shared or not with others in the living room.