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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Broadcasters and Streaming: We Get it. Or Do We?

Many broadcasters have gotten religion about ways of streaming their product.  They understand that there are two additional groups of users out there – those who want to watch or listen to programming as it’s broadcast but can’t access a receiver, and those who would prefer to watch or listen to that same content at a later time.

They have that understanding.  Cool.  But it’s how they address it that’s really missing the mark.

Jay Ward Productions
Sherman, set the WABAC Machine for 1930.  Let’s go visit the Galvin Brothers1 as they place a radio in a car.  I selected that point because the auto radio presented a special problem…selecting a station while driving.  Tuning up and down the band – such that it was under the Federal Radio Commission – was done with peril.  Dodging ruts and rocks while spinning a dial to find a station wasn’t easy.

So we made it easier.  By then Major Armstrong2 had invented the superheterodyne process so listeners didn’t have to tune multiple stages.  That, alone, made radio ready for home.  But for the car:  presets.  Push a button and get to a preset frequency.  One could listen while on the road.  So what’s the big deal?  We made it easier for someone to listen to our product.

Sherman!  Get in the machine.  We’re going back to 2016.  We have AM and FM in cars.  We have Wi-Fi, WiMAX, even Bluetooth to get from our phones to the dash.  And we have buttons…myriad buttons.  We have them at home, too.  I’m convinced that many of them don’t even do anything…they’re just there.

Well with all of that, you’d think the idea would be the same as a paragraph ago…make it easier to listen/watch. Yet broadcasters are missing the boat.  A combination of poor use of technology and overzealous marketing is killing streaming.

Weblands Archive
Do you spend a lot of time listening to broadcast streams online?  I mean, do you spend a lot of time listening – after you join their club, give them a significant amount of information, including your location, then reload the page because after you clicked “Submit” the page hung or you were sent back to the site’s home page.  Or maybe you hit “Back” and got the old “For [browser} to reload this page, it needs to resend information.  Do you want to do that?”  You click “Yes” and you get the page but your info is gone.

More often, you’re faced with a wall trying to keep you out.  Like opening a restaurant and putting an oil drum in front of the door.  Seriously.  You’re asking visitors to come in; use your product.  Sure, if you’re a car dealer and you want them to take your latest SUV for a test drive, demand a driver’s license, thumbprint, picture and saliva sample (I cleaned that one up).  But we want people to come in, like what they see or hear and stick around.  Why the heck put a bar on the door.

On other sites, you get the impression that a wunderkind told management, “If we put the stream behind 5 clicks, think of all the extra impressions we get along the way.”  Really?  That’s good business?  It is if you check your analytics and see that almost all the folks heading for a stream actually make it through all the clicks.  If not, you might as well make your stream the last frame in a Taboola list of 25 celebrities who never learned how to tie their shoes.

Aha!  I got in.  Now we’re cruising.  Well, maybe.  If you limit your streams and people can’t get in, they probably won’t come back, especially if you’re offering syndicated programming.  You have to have a high enough number of concurrent slots available.  I’ve seen it.  You log out and can’t get back in.  I’ve been there – on the wrong end – as prospects called saying they couldn’t get the stream.  Not good PR.

OK.  You got in.  Suddenly there’s the dreaded preroll.  This has gone from :05 to :10 to “I don’t care how long it is, I sold the preroll to 10 advertisers so you run ‘em all.”  A few enlightened streamers offer visitors the ability to skip ads they’re not interested in.  Many broadcasters don’t.  Heck, they’re still scratching their heads of DVR zapping.

Let me reiterate:  you have to make it easy to get to your stream.  Do 2 :05s or a :10 and see how it works.  Look at the numbers.  How many stick around, how many leave.  You can A/B this with two links.  Alternate them so that half the visitors get, say, a :10 a :30 and another :10 preroll.  Then give the other half just a :10.  Then just look at the stats.  The revenue will probably fit along a bell curve – no preroll, no money, little bit of preroll, little bit of money, etc. all the way to lots of preroll, no money. 

Also, think about overlays.  Viewers will tolerate them if they don’t get in the way of important information.  I mean, on broadcast, we’ve already given up the lower third of the screen to promotion.  Sadly, people are used to it…used to a bright animated lower-third wiping its way across the screen during a dark stakeout.

Then, consider the real estate of the entire page.  But do so within the context of all the possible devices you’re serving.  If you’re distributing to multiple platforms, you can deal with each differently.  If you’re not, you may want to consider adding additional formats.

We’re done, right?  Oh, no, no, no, no. How about the stream itself.  Why do broadcasters, of all stream providers, seem to gravitate to lousy standards.  Part of it is cost.  Maybe we/they don’t want to continually upgrade.  Or they don’t want to pay for bandwidth.  Maybe it’s a training issue.  That shouldn’t be the case.

Remember the Adobe Flash wars with Apple and Android?  I will tell you that it made streamers miserable.  It also pushed us toward .mp3, .mp4, even .wmv and .wma.  During the evolution, a lot of prospective viewers and listeners came, saw, and, unfortunately, left.  We’re starting to get them back.  But now we have to keep them.  How?  Quality streams and minimal glitches that are playable on the maximum number of devices possible.  Nirvana.  Utopia.  Impossible.  But that has to be the goal.  We still have to make it work before we can sell it correctly.

Beyond live streaming, what about podcasts.  Well, I’m going to save some of that for the future.  But on a basic level, what are you offering and how do viewers/listeners get there?  Putting up those oil drums again?  Really!  If you promote them on the home page, link right to them.  Yes, have an aggregate page too, where you offer them all.  And you can insert commercials judiciously.

But how do I figure out who’s coming?  There’s an old survey adage – never ask a question in a survey that you can get the answer to elsewhere.  If someone is masking their IP address and you can’t see where they’re coming from, do you think they’re going to tell you on your club page?  You do?  Well, don’t.  There are many ways of finding out where someone is coming from.  Your visitors might not think so but there are. 

So, bottom line, let’s clean up our act.  Get a good compression scheme, pay for enough slots, and get your prospective visitor to the content as quickly as possible, consistent with making a buck, knowing that if in increase the advertising, you may only make half a buck.

1 If you don’t recognize the name do a little digging.  Won’t take more than a click or two for your eyebrows to go up.  Hint:  Their products are still alive and well.  Uh, sorta well.

2 That’s right.  Major Edwin Armstrong, inventor of FM has plenty more creations to his credit.