Could regional audiences be the missing target market in the era of media convergence?

Kate Edwards

In this guest post, Kate Edwards asks whether the current arguments around media fragmentation and ownership are an opportunity to create regional-only unique content. 

To say today’s media landscape is a challenging environment is possibly the understatement of this generation of marketing and advertising professionals. It’s not since the launch of colour TV in 1956 that industry has been on such a high speed high risk and high reward ride.

Share prices are falling, boards seats are changing, sales teams are merging and above all digital is rising. Like a scene out Jaws the digital innovation and streaming revolution is democratising content distribution, which is breaking down long-held revenue silos. Netflix is cool, stealing content isn’t. Making content is again considered craft and brands now have the right to their own distribution via social media, and the world seems to have gone just a little potty!

The rollercoaster has passed the first turn and is climbing ever closer to its peak, and that is innovation, ideation and, above all, chutzpah (or as we like to say, frankly, the balls) of but a few that will pave the way of new generation of consumption.

Boring, tired and long-winded, drawn-out-ness just doesn’t cut it; right now, my way, snack-sized and fresh does.

So why should I, Kate Edwards, the owner of an independent content strategy and production company, care less about what happens in broadcast media.

Well, broadcast media has an opportunity – a real opportunity – to become a portal for innovation and experimentation which will help future-proof my craft, the craft of content and storytelling, and above all help shape culture, artistic endeavour and community.

Headlines and quotes such as:

“News Corps Chief Executive has played down Fox Sports’ loss of the English Premier League rights to Optus.”

“We can’t think of our competitors in a traditional sense anymore; anyone who is able to amass an audience and distribute content is a potential competitor in the future.” – Rebekah Horne (Chief Digital Officer, Ten: Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 7th November 15) on the Optus EPL rights buy out.

If you’re simply expecting to get a return on investment by distributing your content in the way that you always used to, including broadcasting, and then you’re not going to survive for much longer.” – Clive Dickens (Chief Digital Officer 7West Media)

“People do want to enjoy that [content] on multiple screens and therefore bringing people back to peak time on a broadcast screen is definitely the most effective business model now, but it’s not the only one,” he added.

That makes me excited to welcome – no, strike that – embrace this revolution. I am, at my heart a maker of content. Disruption allows us more room to make more great content to satisfy a starved population.

Tv televisionIn five years our televisions will no longer have aerials and our content selection will be dictated by our ISP, not the broadcast networks. This highlights but one small section of the industry’s convergence in but one portion of the media landscape: TV.

The volatility of the traditional broadcasters is on the increase as we near the 2020 NBN completion date. The ISP’s are starting to make their first assertive moves toward their Nirvana of finally owning the path to distribution of content, cutting out what has long been the middle-man: TV.

Recently it was Optus and the EPL, next week will it be Telstra and the NRL? Anti-siphoning laws whilst robustly created to protect the traditional networks from Foxtel in the late 90’s have yet to be updated to include ‘other’ possible distributors such as ISP’s, and the length of time it takes to change such laws it is simple to conclude that it’s unlikely to be an issue resolved before the final NBN roll-out.

In parallel to this challenge is the fight for regional content distribution. The often forgotten heartland of Australia is finally getting its day in the limelight, driven by the current outrage and high-profile campaigning by the regional TV networks in their attempt to lobby Government about Australian content benchmarks and against the major metro networks and their content streaming services.

It’s a subtlety, but one worth exploring in conjunction with the topic of ‘convergence’ as pipeline deals with the major metros begin to look on shaky ground.

Bruce Gordon's regional media interests

Bruce Gordon’s regional media interests

Only recently Bruce Gordon and the WIN Network triggered a Supreme Court hearing against the Nine Network, citing 9Now as broadcasting in WIN’s regional territories and therefore in breach of its sizeable network distribution deal. If found in breach, what will be the remedy? Does Nine give back the money it charges to WIN because it’s showing the very same content straight to viewers’ smartphones and tablets?

If it does have to give the money back, could companies like mine start making regional only programming? And if companies like mine could start making bespoke regional content, could we attract brand partners to this content ­? Could it be a brand new way of doing media business? Now this is getting interesting!

Now add to the mix the ISPs. Could we test this new model and conclude that operators like WIN could soon be in a much more profitable long-term position – able to provide regional audiences (which amass huge numbers -­ often bigger than metro markets in viewership) with top-rating content across all genres for a fraction of the cost by doing strategic deals with the ISP’s, or even the content creators and production houses direct, cutting out the traditional metro broadcasters altogether?

Or perhaps it could be the tail wagging the dog? For the first time in history made-for-regional TV programming may be sold in revenue-generating output deals back to Seven, Ten and Nine networks. Wouldn’t that be an embarrassing state of affairs?

Whilst the future is uncertain, and to this end sounds a little bleak, here-in lies the golden opportunity. An opportunity for creators, networks and brands alike ­to make content people want to watch and have it made available via multiple distributors.

The TV networks have to take their digital offerings seriously; streaming is but the beginning of this innovation rollercoaster and one I can’t wait to get onboard with, as a creator of content.

The networks will need to innovate or they will die. Not today, tomorrow or next year, but slowly and painfully while the distribution land-grab whirring around them systemically erodes audience numbers and, over time, revenue.

Kate Edwards is the founder and managing director of content and strategy agency, Kontented.


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