Why are TV companies often the worst offenders when it comes to producing original and creative multiplatform offerings? Why are most just serving up brochure websites, the occassional ‘send in your video via YouTube’ or ‘tweet in what you think, we really want to know’? Where are all the great integrated-with-show online, game and mobile offerings, all the innovative 2nd/3rd screen stuff and really resonant social audience contribution? TV Broadcasters are fighting dwindling audiences overall (apart from great golden age US drama & singing talent shows of course) and struggling to come up with great multiplatform strategies to help reach and re-connect audiences to TV shows? Why is this?
Note: this refers generically to the TV industry not any one particular broadcaster…
1. Succeeding Backwards
Did that once, didn’t work, won’t do it again. Rather than failing forward or more importantly trying something and organically improving it over time, many broadcasters fall into the trap of nervously dipping their toes into new formats, only carry on doing it if it succeeds immediately, if not, do nothing to improve it and then wonder why nothing bites. There is a spiral of diminishing returns if iterative success is what you live and die on. Risk averse - Jobs on the line. Make a mistake and the kids are mortgage are in jeopardy. Best to just keep things stable, solid, not rock the boat, deliver the barest minimum. Surround everything we do in layers of ‘process’ so it looks like we are busy. Sadly many broadcasters are busy making nothing, of real value for their audience.
2. The Silo Wars
TV broadcasters and TV studio organisations are highly political and have set up division and departments that make joined up, original multiplatform projects particularly, nigh on impossible. This is often a symptom of the people structures combined with being judged on your last project not future potential. Also it is important to have a strong group of allies (or reports) who justify and keep you in your position/role, but these roles are part of a tight pre-defined structure. They are like bricks in the wall of the internal divisions set up by senior management to make it easy to, er manage the company. But this sets up many nasty habits. Competition and protection of the mini empires, fighting for budgets, duplication (we can do that too and better) and most importantly from a creative multiplatform perspective – really hard to do projects that cross these ‘locked down’ silos. If it looks good everyone fights for it, if it looks bad no one wants to touch it. Companies who have vertical products (radio,tv,film,books etc) need to build lots of internal bridges or watch all of their products fail.
3. Poor Copycat Implementation
Many smaller broadcasters flit between copying types of formats from other larger broadcasters who had real commitment (OK and resources) and wonder why their lame implementation didn’t happen as well. The smaller broadcaster advantage is being able to try things on much smaller, more forgiving audiences.
4. Lack of Passion
As I mentioned in my Social TV post recently a lot of the creative folk in broadcaster multiplatform departments are really aspirational TV producers, indy filmmakers or general ‘not sure in life’, their heart is often in the linear ‘medium’ and they fell into this ‘web’ stuff because they were a bit ‘teccy’ orientated. In my experience I have only come across a few folk who are absolutely passionate about the interactive ‘format’ in itself, and giving agency to audiences OR enjoy using it (the same type of stuff they make) themselves – these people tend to be leaders in the space and inspire others. The rest sadly are just paint-by-numbers, production liners. There are a lot of young creative producers in broadcaster interactive departments who just cannot express themselves due to jaded managers who are more about gantt charts or being seen to be ‘on-the-newmedia-ball’ to their superiors than actually creating good user experience. I know this is true of organisations generally, but in creative industries, accountant style managers are the most uncreative and de-motivating.
“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.”
5. No Time To Listen to the Users
Stretched multiplatform teams don’t have any time to research, properly. Sure they can set up artificial test groups, buy a few research white papers and devise an audience centric strategy – but this is not a user centric strategy or more importantly have any real grounding in reality. The marketing department in TV companies are king, they dictate the messaging that goes out to audiences, they push and wait. Push and wait. Watch the raw numbers, ignore sentiment on social media, ignore the crazies who write in. Numbers are down – onto the next project, kill that one. It’s a linear story production line. If 99% of the audience are all playing ‘with something’ on their iPads while watching the new expensive drama, who cares, Nielsen/Arbitron said yes, said 30% of the country were glued to the show. Developing persona’s (made up people), creating reports with lots of up and to the right graphs or just guessing the types of services users want are all done behind closed doors, and more significantly very quickly. Any industry that doesn’t effectively monitor it users, beyond seeing them as a page hit or set of eyeballs has no future.
6. Career over Audience
Too many people stay in their multiplatform job too long, they hang around in the same role for 4-10 years and do not have an eye on what is current, often bored of the same-old and rely on poor audience metrics or occasional overseas conference trips to decide what works, what’s coming up and what doesn’t work. Some more fleet of foot departments tick the ‘we are on top of the new stuff’ by bringing in and downloading from a) those young people for a few months internship or b) thought leaders for longer, this rocks the boat a little and more importantly gives the impression the team are innovating – albeit temporarily. But they remain in the long term, blinkered and out of touch. At the corporate game/party is important if you cannot ‘ask someone to leave’ to move people around between roles – especially if they have been in the job for more than a couple of years and the ‘product line’ has not changed.
7. Technology over Editorial
Yes it is hard. Can’t do anything without checking in with the busy tech lead folk first. Technology is advancing so fast that it is actually a lot easier to make stuff now! Sadly most broadcasters are a whirlpool of 1) an old school IT dept who are about propping up a microsoft office paint-by-numbers and 2) vastly expensive creative broadcast tech/edit/studios etc:. In the middle are the poor struggling web/mobile teams living off mac laptops and struggling to get help from 1 or 2 – who frankly do not like fast moving tech at all. This means most multiplatform teams are just hand-to-mouth, rats-nest roll-your-own tech or at best reliant on a external service provider who fulfils 30-40% of their real needs. All this means creative aspiration gets kicked back. “Sorry can’t do that, too hard, not enough time or people, have you considered something like that thing we did 3 years ago?”
8. It Is Just Not $$ Worth It
Will it make money? Can we prove that it grew the broadcast TV audience on the night? No? Then what’s the point? Sadly one of the biggest reason interactive or multiplatform is so mediocre is simply that…no one can hand on heart say what it’s real benefit to the ‘broadcast’ (read: one way push) organisation. There are lots of platitudes in orgs about ‘oh the audience are all on social media’ or ‘hey those tablet and TV behaviours look interesting’ but in reality it is a difficult ROI (return on investment) for the company. Tiny amounts of leftover cash are showered on over-stretched teams to work miracles. Lucky if 1-2% of a major production budget is given to the multiplatform component. Dramas costing millions have to be convinced that a few $10ks might be worth it – ‘but that could pay for a couple of extra costumes in the show?! The business just doesn’t get it.
9. Process over Vision or Adaptation
OK, let’s say it again. Multiplatform is complex and difficult and resource intensive and…and…So let’s throw a zillion steps that ‘creative producers’ (no lets strike that) ‘producers’ must jump through. My post on the TV, game, film process hints at the implicit complexity. Naturally when things get complex the process must do too? Project managers, business analyst and assistants, external consultants, exec producers and a cast of hundreds develop – Processes. Procedures. You must do this before you do that. A mind bending list of steps that linear creatives blank out and leave to the ones who understand it – well, who grudgingly adhere to it? Ironically it is this process that rather than encourage innovation stifles it. Limitations are fine, good things come from that but locked-down processes strangles originality. Over monitoring is another symptom of process saturated departments. Judging the success of something a few weeks in is fine but not changing anything in response to good or bad outcomes is poor process. Most process in broadcasters is all about getting it out of the door, what happens after that if often left off the 30 step pre & production process, we are a broadcaster culture after all.
10. Templating versus One-Offs
Sure there are a lot of benefits of making a nice online or mobile template then constantly re-skinning it with the latest show. “The audience will never notice”. But they do. It might not be explicit as in ‘hey this site has exactly the same functionality as the last one’ but they notice, a certain sameness, a sense of something un-original. But who cares, if it means we can make 40 apps/sites with the same resources as one, great. Looks good on the end of year report and cuts down on creative ‘tension’. The audience might loose but in the end it is the broadcaster whose strategy to have stuff on the shelf will quickly loose as that product line starts to resemble something from a mid cold war Eastern European supermarket while the audience are online ordering all those cool Western goods. Refresh regularly.
There are many more reasons why TV broadcasters are producing poor multiplatform offerings for audiences. From a purely commercial FTA perspective, broadcasters that need audiences to take to their advertisers will go for the low hanging fruit – free to use (almost) services like Twitter and Facebook for communication and the occasional ad full mobile app or inventive website. But very few broadcasters are truly experimenting with the amazing tools available to them.
Any other reasons I may have missed?