Opinion

Customer experience will make or break free to air TV

As paid TV streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to grow, Liz Ross, CEO of Freeview considers what it will take for free to air to remain on top.

The battle for hearts, minds and eyeballs playing out in the booming TV streaming industry has resulted in more players serving up more and more content to an increasingly overwhelmed viewing audience.

You need only look at the volume of programs now available on Netflix, as deep-pocketed rivals like Amazon Prime look to match it in an attempt to be everything to everyone.

In this highly-disruptive age it has quickly become conventional wisdom that the value of digital platforms lies in the numbers of users they can attract. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram are all good examples of other comparable digital businesses that are judged in this way.

But what’s become increasingly apparent is that online consumers – be they watching streaming TV or buying goods and services – want to feel their service providers and brands know exactly who they are and treat them with a personal touch.

It’s this ability to target customers with personalised services and offerings that is the key determinant of success today. Of course, content is hugely important, but the experience a platform delivers for its customers is becoming the glue that drives more loyalty and engagement.

This is borne out by the resilience of Australia’s five free-to-air TV networks, which together capture the attention of 83 percent of the national population every week. It’s a figure that would surprise many.

The types of content that distinguishes FTA from some streaming products offers some important clues. Clearly viewers continue to value and seek content this is specific and localised. Local audiences continue to flock to content that reflects their culture and values.

The recent ‘festival of the boot’ AFL and NRL grand finals are a great case in point. For most Australians, their attention would be completely focused on these events at the expense of streaming from other services. The same can be seen almost every evening during timeslots carrying popular news, current affairs and other major entertainment programs.

And while the dominant streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Australia’s own Stan employ clever algorithms to discern an individual viewer’s likely preferences, they are unlikely to deliver any content powerful enough to ‘stop the nation’.

Of course, it would be naive to deny these streaming services have had an impact. They have had a hugely disruptive effect, changing forever how most people consume TV content, while forcing FTA broadcasters to rethink and change their entire business model after 60 years of uninterrupted success.

In this new digital age, everything is data-led, which is also a strategic focus for FTA broadcasters. It’s a challenge they are ready and able to tackle, especially having now all developed world-class digital services providing more content, through more channels, on more devices to more viewers.

And as the volumes of streaming TV content continue to grow exponentially, these sorts of capabilities will be increasingly important to retain audience numbers and to build genuine loyalty.

Liz Ross

Liz Ross is CEO of Freeview Australia.

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