Collecting and using viewer data is a delicate dance for broadcasters who want to understand their viewers without alienating them, said speakers on TVNewsCheck’s panel “How Data Will Redefine the TV/Audience Relationship,” at its TV2025 event in New York last week.
Moreover, while viewers seem to appreciate some personalization and curation, they also like the process of discovery, so it’s important to not over-target them, either with content or with advertising, the panel said.
One advantage that broadcasters are gaining in a world that’s rapidly transitioning to digital (versus linear) is that “the momentum is on the AVOD side. SVOD has kind of maxed out on its momentum. That doesn’t mean Netflix isn’t going to get more subscribers, but … the key is in the AVOD FAST world,” said Bill Hague, EVP, media strategy group, Magid. “Local news … is the one element that’s holding on to the old MVPD or virtual MVPD model — local news, information and sports.”
AVOD (advertising-supported video on demand) and FAST (free advertising-supported television) are rapidly taking hold with many linear broadcasters offering these channels over-the-top, on websites and on apps.
“We have Pluto, which is a big FAST service. I won’t give the exact numbers but a ton of our traffic to our local OTT sites — CBS News Minnesota in Minneapolis, CBS News New York, etc. — comes through those FAST channels, and they have proven to be an accelerant to local news growing,” said Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer, CBS.
“We believe, of course, in local and in news, and then investing in all of those. And FAST has become a way to engage new generations of consumers to watch where they are. We are working to enhance their experience and enhance our investments in news.”
The method by which content providers collect information about their users is also important, whether the provider is a commercial or public broadcaster, or an SVOD or AVOD service.
To solve the problem of how best to gather viewer data, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC), built a “hybrid membership model” for its streaming service, Gem, said Roma Kojima, senior director, data operations and customer success. “Because we are a public broadcaster, you can show up and hit play and you can consume the content that we need to deliver to you. If you tell us a little bit about who you are and make an account, then you get access to the full catalog. And then there are some features that come at a very nominal cost. What’s beneficial to us is that the vast majority of people have built that free account membership with us. What we’ve tried to do is say, ‘listen, you have options every step of the way, you have content that you can consume at every level of commitment that you’re willing to make.’”
With that information, the CBC has been able to reach new audiences and continue to grow while driving engagement and revenue, Kojima said, which was the end goal.
In the U.S., smaller broadcasters, like Graham Media with its six stations, are trying similar tactics. Getting people to give their information isn’t as difficult as one might think, said Dustin Block, Graham audience development lead.
“People love their TV stations, they love their talent, they love their connection, they have a really, really deep connection to their local stations,” Block said. “People really love us. It hasn’t been hard to get people in at pretty sizable numbers.”
Block also said that getting people in the pipeline doesn’t require news-producing TV stations to do anything other than what they already know how to do.
“Does anybody know what the No. 1 driver to mid-funnel for these organizations is? Any guesses? Journalism, journalism, just great journalism,” he said. If you provide great journalism, people will come back over and over again.”
Still, when you have the ability to gather that much information, the question becomes how best to use it. Personalization is tempting, but it’s something that requires a careful hand.
“There’s a slippery slope element to personalization,” said Magid’s Hague. “I think curation needs to be balanced between being able to surprise and delight, both on the advertising side and the content side. We need to do a good job of both giving the consumer and the advertiser what they want, while also surprising and delighting.”
“It’s going to be a mix. The fact that the EPG didn’t die proves people want discovery; they just don’t want to be told what to watch,” said Shawn Makhijani, SVP, business development and strategy and streaming and SVP, NBC Spot On, NBCUniversal Television. “I think people are expecting AI to go to the next level. And what I mean by that is just because I watched a French film on Friday doesn’t mean I want to watch a French film on Saturday and Sunday. The AI needs to see the type of programming that draws me in and suggest things that are similar but yet different enough that they intrigue me.”
“We’re all in that mode where we’re trying to figure out the balance of the massive firehose of data and segmentation, and how much to customize something,” said CBS’ Subramanyam. “It’s kind of anybody’s game, because it all hinges upon a set of behaviors that are evolving. That’s what makes it fun.”