The Explosive Evolution of Online Media

October 15, 2012 - 0 Comments

If any doubts remained about the soaring demand for online media, the London Olympics probably dispelled them.

With 217 million viewers in the United States alone, it was the most-watched television event in history. But it also illuminated the evolving habits of online consumers. For starters, two events—the women’s soccer final and women’s gymnastics final—accounted for more online viewership than all events combined during the 2008 Olympics. Tablet computers, particularly the iPad, are driving this trend.

These kinds of striking transitions in online media consumption were top of mind during two gatherings that I attended last week. The first was a roundtable discussion of media executives in Hollywood, which I moderated; the other was a World Economic Forum Industry Partnership Strategy Meeting in New York, focused on media entertainment and mobility.

It was a privilege to be around such industry brain trusts and to share research from Cisco IBSG. Here are four core topics of conversation that emerged:

1. Yes, online video is continuing to grow at a dizzying pace. But the expected conflict between prime-time television audiences and online streaming may not materialize just yet. NBC now argues that online streaming of the Olympics failed to cannibalize its television audience. To the contrary, it drove increased interest in TV, especially considering that sports unavailable on television could be viewed online and on any device.

2. The strong potential for monetizing premium online content was of prime concern, and Cisco IBSG’s research drove some of the discussion:

  • A majority (70 percent) of consumers watch professionally produced   Internet video, with 18 percent watching more than three hours each week.
  • Both streaming and downloaded video grew the fastest over the last two years; they are expected to gain at an even faster pace over the next two years.
  • Consumers are seeking—and are willing to pay for—an Internet video service with quality, N-screen, and a strong library.

3. As exciting as the upsurge in online Olympic viewing is, the thought of tens or hundreds of millions of mobile consumers streaming one event—say, Gabby Douglas winning the gold in gymnastics—is sobering. It could literally break the network. Our research on usage caps for fixed and mobile services stimulated further discussion. Among our findings:

  • Regarding fixed broadband, Cisco IBSG’s research indicates that in the United States, 71 percent of consumers believe that usage caps would be unfair. But in the United Kingdom, where usage caps are already in place, only 52 percent view them negatively.
  • In the United States, 46 percent of consumers indicate they will reduce online video consumption after usage caps; in Canada, which has had usage caps for more than five years, 56 percent already do.
  • On the mobile front, video represents more than 70 percent of traffic; however, on the iPad, WiFi traffic surpasses 90 percent. Furthermore, 80 percent of mobile Internet access is accessed in and around fixed locations, and 84 percent of mobile video occurs in and around fixed locations.
  • There is a growing view that technology must evolve to better optimize bandwidth; concurrently, this need will drive greater levels of collaboration between ISPs and media/content players.

4. Data and analytics—and the ways in which precise information on consumer behavior can drive future viewing experiences—were an important topic of discussion. Much of this was centered on how these insights can greatly enhance online viewing by creating a more individualized, personalized experience (just as Amazon’s data-driven recommendations are welcomed by many consumers). However, at both events, concerns lingered about the ever-present issue of data privacy and how best to manage it. WEF has a working group dedicated to this issue, but it was of equal concern to media executives.

The myriad changes impacting the industry promise great challenges and terrific opportunities. But all of these key topics loop back to the need for new business models. Collaboration is key, as these models will need to be cross-industry and cross-player. And they must embrace multiple sources of value, including direct payment and advertising.

Regardless, it is a brave new world, and one can only imagine how online consumers will experience future events.

So, sports fans, look out for Rio in 2016!

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