Audio is audio. Text is text. Video is video.
A couple of months ago we spoke to podcast historian Vanessa Quirk for our own foray into the world of audio. While there was lots of interesting stuff in there (did you know that the Serial effect is overrated?) the most important takeaway for us was that audio content is becoming homogenised.
Radio, podcasts, audiobooks… The barriers between those categories are becoming less rigid every year, eroded by technology. After all, most of us already carry a device capable of listening to music, books, podcasts and live radio around with us at all times.
As soon as one player decides to own the audio space entirely – we’re looking at you, Facebook – even how people buy and sell audio content is likely to become homogenised as well.
That’s a phenomenon that’s been happening for years, of course. Technology has always taken a specific means of distributing one type of content and made it available elsewhere. Think about the terms ‘films’ and ‘movies’, for instance. They’re vestiges of a time when actual film stock, literal moving pictures, was the sole means of distributing feature-length content of that type. But with VHS and DVD and Blu-Ray and ultimately digital distribution, suddenly cinemas no longer have the monopoly on ‘movies’.
Or for another example, look at video games. Once the preserve of dedicated arcade boards or home consoles, with fierce fights over exclusivity of games between various manufacturers, the most common means of playing games now is the phone. The same device that lets you play any type of audio can now let you play games from the Magnavox Odyssey through to the PlayStation 2 and beyond. Games are becoming homogenised, too.
So it’s no surprise that every other player in the media industry has seen the insane amounts of money that TV ads command and decided it’s time that they became a TV channel too, means of distribution be damned. With the ongoing dismantling of the cable bundle and the rise of longform and live video content on digital platforms, it’s high time the whole ecosystem accepted that ‘television’ as a term has broadened its meaning. Video content has become homogenised, and everyone wants a piece of it.
The Pioneering Physics TV Show, The Mechanical Universe, Is Now on YouTube: 52 Complete Episodes from Caltech https://t.co/BMLy9Ouip8
— Jennifer Ouellette (@JenLucPiquant) May 8, 2017
Take, for instance, YouTube’s latest announcement. Once the sole preserve of the user-generated video (which remains by far the vast majority of its output), Google has announced a raft of new high-quality shows featuring huge names that would previously been reserved for television and film:
“When excited fans, brands, and creators tell us something, we listen. We’re thrilled to announce that beginning later this year, some of the biggest YouTube creators and Hollywood names will be featured in seven new series on YouTube—bringing more can’t-get-enough-of and can’t-find-anywhere-else shows to everyone, everywhere. With these new shows, brands can be a part of content that’s generating buzz around the world.”
The list of partners announced so far include the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin Hart, Demi Lovato and TheMediaBriefing favourite Katy Perry. Those are names that advertisers will pay huge amounts of money to be associated with, regardless of where that video content appears. Just in case we were in any doubt that the new service is all about bringing in sweet sweet ad money, the official release also states:
“And we’re excited that Johnson & Johnson Consumer Brands will be our first advertising partner of this new content. In addition to a major investment in our creators through Google Preferred, they’ve signed on as the exclusive sponsor of Best.Cover.Ever., helping to make the talent competition accessible to YouTube viewers.”
That’s in addition to YouTube’s pre-existing YouTube Red subscription service in which, despite some teething troubles, it is continuing to invest. So just as television services begun launching VOD services a couple of years ago partly to ape YouTube’s huge online growth, so now is Google transitioning parts of YouTube into true, high-quality digital television.
And the lines between digital video and its traditional means of distribution are blurring in other ways, too. Facebook recently announced it is looking to hire a film producer to create ‘high quality motion pictures’ in service of its goal of becoming a ‘video first’ company (and also that it’s going to hire 3000 people to monitor its Facebook Live UGC content for murders or other crimes, because humanity will always find a way to ruin nice things if not kept in check).
Twitter, too, is making a play to be the place for live video – and we wish it the best of luck.
Horror of horrors, disruptor of disruptors Netflix is also looking at releasing some of its original content in theatres. That’s also in service of chasing the ad money that still gets spent there in huge amounts – which is also why VICE has got into the TV game by barely adapting its pre-existing digital video content for distribution on cable.
So no matter where it lives, video is video is video. Television (still as good a term as any) has become homogenised, and everybody wants a piece of it. What does that mean for publishers?
— Chris Sutcliffe (@chrismsutcliffe) April 26, 2017
Well, for one thing, it means that advertisers are becoming habituated to the idea that high-quality ‘digital video’ is just as valuable as inventory as that on linear television. Oh, there’s a lot of dreck out there, and the sheer amount of video being produced will always provoke fears of a bubble. But advertisers are savvy (and hopefully publishers are too, now) and want the high-quality inventory most of all, hence endeavours like YouTube’s latest star fronted shows, and ongoing attempts to reinvent scarcity on digital platforms.
First and foremost, what the homogenisation of television means is that publishers have an opportunity to grow their revenue in that area, and the prevailing winds suggest that most will try and succeed to some degree. That will require them to move beyond distinctions like the Upfronts/Newfronts debate at some point, which will require them to think more carefully about how they sell access to their audience to advertisers.
After all, as video increasingly becomes a catch-all term for motion picture content available equally easily across a huge range of platforms, so too will the number of companies looking to own that space. The opportunity of digital video is great – but the number of competitors is about to become even greater.