What’s a Channel?

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Jun 25, 2014 - By Imagine Communications
Subject Matter Expert

I remember a time, before cable and IR remotes, when you’d feel that comfortable “click” of the analog TV channel changer as it carried you through the five local channels in town.  Back then, it was so easy.  Five channels — predictable and convenient.  You knew what content was coming up next, knew your channels, knew the local call letters, and had a strong sense of loyalty to the station and network.

As TV has evolved, so has my concept of a “channel.”  Netflix started it perhaps, as I first began substituting linear TV with popping a DVD in the player.  Then along came the Roku box, the DVD took a back seat, and Netflix Instant was there – just a few clicks away on the remote.  A few years later, I had a smart TV with a direct connection to the Internet, and more recently Amazon Prime.  At the same time, of course, I subscribed to cable – and still do.

Channels within Channels

Within each of these new video sources are many, many things I would call “channels.”  After all, a channel is just a way you get to some place, and I can get virtually to any place today — at least any video place. There are channels within channels within channels, and so on.  For example, the TED channel is on the smart TV, but can also be accessed through Roku/Netflix or the TV’s Internet browser.  With Amazon Prime, I get channeled to many places – like HBO content that channels further to subcategories of content, which channel even deeper.  MLB via Roku.  YouTube and the Discovery Network from multiple places.  Indeed, my family has become very adept at finding our channels, our own niche content, through the jungled maze of the multiple sources for video.

Viewer Loyalty

Speaking of “TED,” I was watching how marketing is very much about removing friction to buy.  In the world of five channels, the primary friction was getting up and clicking that analog channel changer.   Five choices seemed like a lot back then – but this is nothing in light of today, where YouTube claims a million producers making money and thousands of “channels” making six figures.  You would think that the limitless lineup of channels from all sources would have increased the friction, but it hasn’t.  Sure, the lack of an integrated interface or Electronic Program Guide to get to these many sources and many channels is a slight pain, but one quickly learns how to navigate the maze.  This lack of friction is what makes it all so mass-appealing.  Internet connection.  Multiple avenues of low-cost content.  Wow.  Given the low levels of friction on many fronts, our future may see many viewers moving to the 80/20 rule of video: 80% nontraditional, 20% traditional channels.

In this new world of many choices, viewer loyalty certainly is coupled with content – although that can be as fleeting as concluding on the series end of a binge-watched show. The selection is so immense that there is no possible way to ever see all the content, as it is created far faster than anyone could ever watch it.  So what happens to hard-fought, longstanding brands in this environment, and what does this mean for the traditional channels of network broadcasters and affiliates?  Is a disintermediated path of endless channels the destiny for all great brands?  Is now the time to close the gates and brace for the worst?

Of course not.  Remaining static in an ever-expanding world of content and choices makes no sense today.  Instead, embracing expansion seems much more plausible.  Expanding the number and types of channels.   Offering them in every flavor – linear, over-the-top, TV Everywhere. Mixing your Live and Linear content with Video on Demand.  Expanding the brands by creating new ones or even ones that compete with your own.  Expanding the quantity and quality of content.  Increasingly going niche.  Offering content wherever and however people want to view it.  Look at some of the world’s great entertainment brands today, and you will see this in high gear.

Advanced Advertising

Growing the number and types of channels, however, is only one method of expanding your business and gaining viewers.  How else do you get people to stay on your channels and consume your ad-sponsored content in their increasingly ad-less TV Everywhere and VoD world?  You make the ad content more meaningful to the viewer.  You use the latest advances in media software to make the ads recognizable, actionable.  You start to think of ads differently – not so much as ads any more, but as viewer-addressable and maybe even viewer-selectable, meaningful content that extends your brand value.

Indeed, Imagine a world in which technology understands you.  A world where the content that you select or that selects you – whether traditional or addressable advertising content – serves to enrich your life by freeing up your time or allowing you to make better purchase or life decisions.

Ours is a new and different world where viewers are much more fragmented – a trend unlikely to diminish.  Keeping viewers engaged – in your content, in your ads, in your brands – does take more work, more investment, more trial and error.  It takes a change in how you think about “what’s a channel,” and how you make that channel more relevant to that increasingly diverse audience of one. And now for our own addressable ad: From Advanced Advertising and End-to-End Media Management to Integrated Channel Playout and TV Everywhere solutions, Imagine Communications is here to help you expand the value of and bring to life those many new channels that can grow your media business and enhance your brand.