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21 July 2016

US broadcasters chase live content over the top

By Charles Hall

Broadcasters in the US are unwilling to cede any more eyeballs to the rising tide of internet-delivered video, as two of the four large national networks in the US recently expanded distribution of their content across internet-connected devices.

Broadcasters have been hesitant to offer their content online for two reasons: first, they don’t want to cannibalize any of their slowly eroding linear TV audiences, upon which their ratings and TV advertising revenue rely; and second, networks have to stitch together rights agreements with affiliate stations across the country, which has proven to be a challenging task. Consequently, broadcasters have offered on-demand access to most of their content online – though through TV Everywhere apps that are only available to pay TV subscribers; while offering only some live content online, in some of the larger markets.

Fox said it will now make its evening prime time line-ups available to stream live across its TV Everywhere apps. Fox is the last major broadcaster to offer live streams of content online, but it’s doing so across an impressive 210 markets, making it the first broadcaster to stream content across virtually all of the US. Fox will live stream prime time line-ups seven nights a week from 8 pm to 10 pm, with local market advertising and local station branding. The live streams will exclude live sports programming, which is still the biggest audience draw for linear TV.

CBS, NBC and ABC already offer live streams of their linear TV channels online, though none of them reach 210 markets. CBS has to date been the most eager to embrace internet distribution. In 2014, it launched its own, direct-to-consumer internet TV service, called CBS All Access. All Access offers live streams of some 190 markets across the US. NBC’s TVE apps began offering live streams of linear channels back in 2015, though only in the 28 markets where NBC owns and operates the station. NBC is also planning to offer extensive live coverage of the upcoming 2016 Rio Summer Olympics online. NBC will be live streaming every Olympic event this year online, marking the first time all events will become available to viewers.

ABC offered live streams of its broadcast stations across a handful of markets through its WatchABC app. This week, the company re-launched the app with the new name ABCd. The app offers full libraries of old TV shows and live streams of local station channels in 20 markets. It’s also rolling out a slate of short-form content exclusive to its app and that is free to anyone to watch without needing a pay TV log in. At launch, the ABCd app is only available on iOS devices.

The national broadcasters have had a hard few years in terms of ratings, as viewing behavior continues to evolve away from linear TV schedules towards personalized, on-demand and internet-delivered models. What’s more, audiences for over-the-air networks are continuing to age, while younger viewers are gravitating towards OTT services and internet-connected devices to consume media.

Here’s an indication of how bad it’s gotten for these networks: for the 2015-2016 TV season, the “winner” is a network whose audience growth is flat over the previous season. In other words, the winner is the network who lost the least, in this case, CBS.

The 2015 to 2016 TV season results for the 18 to 49-year-old demographic were: CBS 0%, NBC -12%, Fox 0%, and ABC -18%.

This first ran in Rider Research’s Online Reporter.