The road to OTT: Be adaptable and willing to change

How do news organizations find their footing when the ground starts shifting? We’re providing a hands-on view into the process that’s unfolding as newsrooms at the Missouri School of Journalism begin exploring and launching over-the-top (OTT) products and projects.

Your cheese will keep moving faster and faster is the best summation of our 50 minute discussion with Seth Geiger, President and co-founder of SmithGeiger. The media research and consulting company counts more than 100 broadcasters and 100+ other companies as clients. It’s been more than 20 years since business-change consultants went crazy over the 96-page book, Who Moved My Cheese — its lessons on adaptability and change are particularly valuable now for local reporters, producers and editors.

We began our Road to OTT journey early this summer hearing from content creators and researchers pressing local news organizations to quickly engage with video streaming audiences. SmithGeiger summarizes its own research in what Geiger calls a seismic trend. “Content is now data,” says Geiger and he argues that local news organizations need to quickly understand basic data science and how to effectively use meta-data to engage today’s audiences.

Three key audience metrics

SmithGeiger has been preaching the Information-Ecosystem model for years. “OTT is the engine,” says Geiger, driving changes in how audiences engage with television. Presenting at a recent National Association of Broadcasters conference, SmithGeiger urged TV executives to look beyond eroding ratings. “Traditional linear television will continue as the primary source for live events,” says Geiger — emphasizing live. Screen-time is up three hours per person over the past four years and live television still makes up about half according to SmithGeiger research. The issue according to Geiger: Look at 18–24 year-olds where live television is eclipsed by streaming on both mobile devices and non-linear TV screen-time. And, he points out that virtually all the growth in screen time comes from non-linear viewing, not only on OTT, but across all digital platforms. “The challenge and the opportunity: no one has effectively cracked OTT for news — local or national,” says Geiger.

Total screen time by age groups

Geiger says the Information-Ecosystem model combined with quickly improving streaming technology create new pressures on newsrooms. “Newsrooms are doing a better job of managing the news cycle using news apps, social media and alerting strategies,” says Geiger. And, he gives many newsrooms credit for improving the personal relevancy of news stories — better telling stories giving audiences a sense of place relevant to their lives and families.

What is missing? Geiger says services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu create expectations for personalized content recommendations. Geiger calls it “for-me” content. Much of that content is easily consumed on-demand and that is where Geiger sees the big opportunity. Recommendation engines that identify “news for-me” content is must-have technology for app developers,” says Geiger. For newsrooms, that opens the door to new kinds of content going beyond weather, spot news and other content that becomes irrelevant after a single news cycle.

Local content consumers are looking for ways to maximize their free time and their money according to SmithGeiger research. There will always be an appetite for quality investigative reporting and well told stories that give context to important issues — stories that take time and resources to develop. Geiger says that is where the “content-as-data” creates real opportunities. Geiger believes these stories along with broad topics covering things to do and how to save money are still absent from many local news offerings. These stories can be customized for different platforms and generally have longer shelf life, so he says they are perfectly suited for the on-demand world.

Pew Research confirms SmithGeiger findings that local newsrooms still do the best job when it comes to addressing local problems and ensuring safety, but the opportunity is to create more and better content. Geiger adds that the profile of the traditional TV Household is dramatically different from just a few years ago. Over-the-air viewers (OTA) used to be cost-conscious consumers who watched less television. SmithGeiger research now shows OTA viewers making up as much as a third of audiences and these homes driven by control and convenience that are supplementing over-the-air signals with SVOD (subscription video on demand) services.

Total screen time

In the streaming world, OTA viewers consume more video than ever before according to the SmithGeiger studies. “Cord-cutters didn’t have alternatives until now,” says Geiger who adds that the OTA group now make up almost a third of the audience in some markets and an even larger share when you add “skinny bundles” (e.g. SlingTV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, etc.). While national cable channels are more affected immediately, Geiger says successful local newsrooms need to acknowledge these trends.

The upcoming explosion of streaming content from big names like Apple and Disney combined with expanded offerings from providers like HBO create a new urgency for local providers to up their game, improve their offerings and take advantage of both content and technology opportunities.


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