On Thursday the 10th of November, thanks to the RTS Wales, I will be taking part in a conversation with Bethan Jenkins AM, esteemed journalist Martin Shipton and the respected media academic Dr Ruth McElroy, amongst the topics under discussion will be the future of broadcast in Wales. The futures of S4C and the BBC have been sources for much discussion in recent times and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
But when we discuss broadcast what do we mean today? Being a sprightly 47-year-old I grew up in era of three channels where viewing was an exclusively “live” experience, the schedule was fixed, everyone knew when their favourite shows were on and organised their lives accordingly. it wasn’t until my early teens in the early 80’s that two new channels in S4C and Channel 4 appeared, and it was during this period that VCR’s became fixtures in many households enabling the magic of “recording television” to happen, to be played back at the viewers’ leisure and to bring the cinema in to the living room courtesy of your local video shop. Most homes had access to only one screen, we were fortunate in having a second screen, a black and white portable.
Fast forward to 2016 and the “broadcast” landscape has changed beyond recognition, content is everywhere, available on demand on a myriad of devices via an astonishing number of platforms. Whilst the screen in the living room has continued in its popularity as a focal point, and has grown physically in size, there has been an explosion in second screen availability.
Two big disrupters have emerged as threats to the traditional broadcast model, firstly, the screens of the tablets and smartphones we all now seemingly carry around in our pockets (over 66% in Wales according to Ofcoms most recent estimate) and secondly the social media networks that dominate our every waking hour.
Understanding the changing landscape is a challenge, for us whose job it is to interpret and devise new strategies to adapt to these changes the rising influence of Facebook as a video delivery platform is particularly remarkable. Audiences are now consuming more and more video content via the social network that continues to grow, despite the numerous false dawns as to its demise, as a platform for video consumption it is accelerating and becoming “the place” to view content.
This growth is regularly referred to as a “challenge” to traditional broadcast, but is it a challenge? Isn’t it simply a fact that audiences are changing the way they consume content?
The other big difference between traditional broadcast and social media is the availability of user data. Facebook can tell you who is interacting with your content and offers a space for people to comment and give their seals of approval or disproval. Compare that with traditional broadcast whose currencies of viewing figures, which is calculated by “averaging the audience of all minutes covered by the programme transmission, from the start-time to the end-time of the programme” and reach, the number of individuals who tuned in to a programme for at least 3 minutes, all of this is based on a sample of 5,000 households who have a monitoring box installed.
So why isn’t viewing of content on Facebook given equal weight to overnights? OK the content may differ, be it short form or extracts from TV programming, but it is still audience engaging with content, yes? There’s no one simple answer, but to me a shift is occurring. People are now viewing a variety of video content, on various platforms and devices at times that suit them. Traditional broadcast is part of this mix, but when audiences start using social media platforms like Facebook to view long form content, and they will, the future of broadcast will look very different.