Saturday, 5 June 2010

Is Google about to pull a Kansas City Shuffle on Murdoch?

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Do we purchase from a brand because they have the products we want or do we buy the products because we frequent the brand?

When surveyed, the number one reason for using many brands centres around rational reasons such as convenience - typically location in the case of a retailer and price.  However, if all brands are in the same location and stock the same kinds of product at the same prices, then what drives loyalty between one brand or another?

Well this is probably a question many TV broadcasters have asked themselves.

With television, the viewer essentially has one location in which to consume many different brands - whether thats ITV, BBC, E4, etc.  Each brand fighting for consumer loyalty by providing relevant content for their target audience.

There is really no reason to be loyal to a given TV channel when you can simply change over at the click of a button - but with an increasing number of channels, many viewers will have a small number that they "scan" when looking for content, knowing that these channels typically have something of interest to offer.

Writing in American Demographics back in 1998, Catherine McGrath pointed out that:-

Fifty years ago, households devoted nearly 12 hours a week to each channel viewed. Today, households spend a mere 4 hours a week per channel.

Time has moved on however and now it's not just more TV channels competing for attention, but also other media via the internet.  Recent Nielsen research showed that an increasing number of people are using the internet at the same time as watching TV, reporting:-

Simultaneous use of the Internet while watching TV reached three and a half hours a month, up 35% from the previous year. Nearly 60% of TV viewers now use the Internet once a month while also watching TV

But ultimately, what is the purpose of a modern TV channel?

Outside of any regulatory requirements in terms of programming, is it simply a way of aggregating content that has some link - whether this is specific like Travel, Shopping or Comedy channels or a wider lifestyle segment like Entertainment or Family channels?

If in essence a TV channel is simply a way to monetise content and you provide the right content that attracts viewers then this will be more likely to attract advertisers and with it revenue.

So the better you can make that content fit a target audience, the more likely you are to get long term loyalty or brand preference and more stable viewing figures.  This rationale results in more channels catering to an increasingly targeted and niche audience - all chasing after a share of that ad revenue.

At an estimated $70bn dollars of advertising revenue within the US alone and over 4bn TV viewers worldwide, that's a number worth chasing.

However, if this is the case and a channel is more focused on content aggregation than content creation, then their days may be numbered - there could be a new sheriff in town who's looking to re-write the rules.

With Google's recent announcement of Google TV, the need for a channel to aggregate content, to sign-post it for viewers may disappear.  Google aims to make it as easy to find a programme to watch on TV as it is to find something on the web - using search.

In fact, it will be as easy to find and consume the TV show you want as it currently is to find and consume the news content you want - something which has already been making the headlines, with Rupert Murdoch being very vocal about what he sees as the damage that Google is doing to the printed media industry, saying:-

We are going to stop people like Google from taking stories for nothing.  They take [news content] for nothing. They have got this very clever business model.

That however may be the least of his worries if Google pulls this off - while he's focusing on saving the printed media - and looking left - Google is about to move right and launch an attack on that best loved media channel - and Murdoch stronghold - the TV.

This isn't just a technical innovation like streaming content or the BBC iPlayer - it  could also fundamentally change the relationship between content creators, broadcaster and the viewers.

As Murdoch says, Google has a very clever business model and you can imagine they also have a very clever one behind this innovation.  Famous for being free at the point of consumption, whether its search, mapping or email, they make their money on personalised, targeted advertising - and they'll have their eye on a large slice of that $70bn in ad revenue.

For TV broadcasters to survive they are going to have to do more than just aggregate and sign-post content.  They'll need to start building relationships with consumers.

There are great examples of this already - whether its Film4 who have a strong brand spanning from film production to distribution or Hallmark who have a "loyalty lounge" which provides viewers with access to content, forums and competitions - creating a social channel around a TV channel.

The printed media have only just realised that they need to build stronger relationships with their consumers and brands such as the Telegraph are already experimenting with programmes to do this.  The jury is still out on whether these will work and whether this style of programme is ultimately the right approach.

However, if TV broadcasters don't build relationships now you can bet Google will and while broadcasters are still looking left (or worse simply navel gazing), Google will pull a Kansas City Shuffle and swoop in from the right - swiping a large share of the loot at the same time.