The trends changing broadcasting and the future of television

By The Weather Company

Contributing author: Rodney Thompson

With the rapid audience shift from television to digital, staying relevant in broadcast media is challenging but necessary for long-term viability. Broadcast television is not dead—but it is evolving rapidly and there is a need to transform to avoid becoming irrelevant. Transforming means shifting from serving a TV audience to serving audiences no matter where they are—essentially, going from a TV broadcaster to an overall broadcaster.

According to eMarketer, TV viewing time in 2019 was declining faster than anticipated, with the average TV viewing time per day at around 4 hours, 10 minutes. It was also estimated to continue its drop in 2020. This estimate shifted significantly in early 2020, due to unprecedented conditions brought on by COVID-19. According to eMarketer, in 2020, the number of traditional TV viewers grew by 8.3 million to 287.3 million, which is the first time viewership has seen positive growth since 2011. Similarly, according to Statista, between the weeks of February 3 and March 9, 2020, the share of total gross quarter hours viewed across major broadcast television channels increased from 25.7 to 30.4 percent when it came to local news broadcasts.

While 2020 was a great year for broadcast, there were also many “cord-cutter” households (households without pay-TV), making the shift toward mobile more important than ever. In 2020 alone, it was estimated that over 6 million U.S. households cut the cord with pay-TV. eMarketer has also estimated that by 2024, the number of these households will grow even further, reaching 46.6 million resulting in more than a third of all U.S. households no longer having pay-TV.

Broadcasters must adapt to these changes to stay relevant. Identifying the key changes and emerging trends in broadcasting will help those in the industry determine how to adjust their media strategies, what tactics will most likely lead to success and how to better prepare for the future.

A look at influencers’ perspectives on future broadcast trends

With all of this in mind, The Weather Company, an IBM Business asked top broadcasters for their thoughts on what trends will change the industry. Here’s what they said.

"Expansion into OTT delivery systems" - Tim Heller, HellerWeather

“Many TV stations are expanding their news coverage on OTT [over the top] delivery systems like Apple TV and Roku. This creates a big opportunity for local TV stations and broadcast meteorologists. Just as weather is the reason people still watch local news, it can be one of the reasons people consistently check a TV station’s streaming app.

However, OTT news content must include something more than the standard webcast. Live storm coverage along with a library of relevant pre-produced videos can keep viewers engaged, even when the weather is quiet.

I am a big advocate for Max Reality. I believe it is the best story-telling tool available to broadcast meteorologists today. But it needs to be more than eye candy. Long-form explainer scenes might not fit within the time-constrained news broadcast, but they can be customized to play forever online."

"Quality and timeliness of information" - Terry Eliasen, WBZ/CBS Boston

“The broadcast media industry is changing at a rapid pace. With so much weather and news available to everyone at their fingertips, the focus will likely shift to the quality and timeliness of the information.

The most successful media outlets will be those that can deliver accurate, local and up-to-the-minute updates. For instance, weather forecasts that are as much as a few hours old and for areas too broad will likely no longer be relevant.

New innovative ways to disseminate information, like CBSN, a 24-hour streaming news service, will become much more valuable. Improvements in weather technology and modeling will be vital in the pursuit of delivering the accurate, local information that people are now craving and expect.”

"Making connections for and with users" - Justin Gehrts, KCRG

“A trend that will separate relevant broadcasters from fading ones as the business continues to quickly evolve—making connections for their users and making connections with their users. Broadcasters are pumping out more content in both volume and variety, but some have more success than others at having it catch on. It’s not that what the winners are producing is necessarily better than the others.

There are a dizzying number of dots to connect in this era of information overload. Broadcasters tend to be concerned with delivering the facts perfectly, but stop short of connecting the dots, leaving users wondering ‘so what?’

A growing number of broadcasters are distilling weather information into answering questions such as ‘How much will I have to run my air conditioner the next few days?’ or ‘Will the mosquitoes be bad this weekend?’ or ‘How hard will it be to shovel my driveway in the morning?’

That shows an understanding of users’ practical needs, which is where broadcasters must go to stay relevant in users’ daily lives. Technology that facilitates that relationship between users and broadcasters/talent so that it can scale will be necessary for the coming months and years.”

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"Education and transparency" - Lelan Statom, News Channel 5

“I’ll focus on two things having an impact now on broadcasting even if it flies under the radar for some.

My station in the Music City will be impacted by FCC repack that will affect millions of Americans. Over the air, TV usage is up in our market as cord-cutting continues. We’re getting ready to educate viewers when we change our channel this fall. We hope that short-term pain may open up a few areas where our current signal isn’t as strong.

The other change happening now involves more broadcast networks getting into SVOD [subscription video on demand]. Disney just joined CBS All-Access. NBC jumps in next year.

We’ve already seen the impact of DVRs and other platforms on local news ratings. It may be a few years before the full impact is known, but it opens new platforms for the viewer to personalize content. Viewers can watch my station live on All-Access, but those viewers aren’t currently counted in the daily ratings reports.”

"Major convergence in technologies" - Rodney Thompson, The Weather Company, Senior Strategic Offering Manager

“Luckily, there is a convergence in new technologies that will help broadcasters transform:

1. AI (Augmented intelligence)

Digital consumers want human-curated content, not automated content. TV stations aren’t going to hire more people to span both television and digital, so how do you serve both well with limited resources?    The answer has to be automation, which conflicts with what users want. This means automated content can’t look automated. How will that be achieved? By using AI. IBM Watson is already being used on-air to perform closed captioning. We will take that to the next level with silent videos using Watson. The key difference is that we are training Watson to pull out the key concepts (not word for word, like closed captioning) and layer the text back over the videos, making for a better digital viewing experience. The weather staff can focus on the important weather stories and AI-layered automation can fill the rest of the gaps.

2. New delivery technology

The second major technology change that is coming is around delivery technologies. I see two major opportunities on this front. The first is ATSC 3.0, which will make for a more interactive television experience. The other technology is 5G wireless networks, which will allow for a much richer experience due to higher capacity data delivery. 

3. Big data, even bigger compute cycles

When IBM bought The Weather Company, they laid down a sizable investment in big data for weather modeling. Not only are we building a new weather model called IBM Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System (IBM GRAF), we are layering in weather radar data with additional IoT data to help boost accuracy. More data will slow down the weather modeling but luckily we are adding IBM Power 9 computers with GPU compute cycles, which wouldn’t be possible if IBM had not acquired The Weather Company. Getting your information out there doesn’t matter if it’s not the most accurate information possible. 

4. More powerful consumer smartphones

Lastly, is a big shift that few are talking about, but it will have a meaningful difference for us in broadcast and specifically for rich weather content. The mobile devices themselves are getting better by leaps and bounds. The GPU compute cycle of a modern smartphone is close to the GPU power required to do real-time rendering. Our first real-time rendering systems (Max) hit the market about 12 years ago and today’s smartphone has almost the same amount of GPU compute. 

5. Remote is here to stay

Remote workflows are not only going to continue post-Covid, but they will also expand. At the beginning of the pandemic, I had a customer tell me they were getting viewer complaints. Viewers were saying “You are telling people to stay home but your weather team is still going to the station.” The station started putting text on the weather graphics to inform viewers that the weather staff was remote. Remote is the new baseline. The remote workflows will continue to get better. I can’t tip our hand yet, but we are working on all new remote workflows that will be a game-changer. 

6. OTT explosion

Needing to serve the many OTT channels is a trend that is here to stay and will continue to expand. Netflix isn’t successful because they stream content (that’s a commodity). Their success is due to their recommendation engine and great original content. What does the Netflix model look like in our weather world? We need to intuitively give the users the weather data they need and tie in the local meteorologist helping to break the weather situation down. We need to get much more sophisticated to be successful in these channels. It’s more than just putting weather data everywhere.

Any one of the technology shifts I talked about represents big changes for us in broadcast, but what’s even more powerful is the fact that these things are all converging at the same time. Big technology shifts in television used to come in increments of every 5 - 7 years. We are at the tipping point where these big changes will be layering in every 6 - 9 months.

As broadcast media trends evolve

While the industry is constantly changing, the core value and responsibility of broadcasting remains the same—to educate and inform viewers.

I want to give a big thanks to Tim Heller, Terry Eliasen, Justin Gehrts, Rodney Thompson and Lelan Statom—who provided their unique perspectives on the broadcast industry, as well as key trends that will change broadcasting in the future and beyond.

With these sentiments in mind, broadcast marketers should remember that getting users the information they need is important but providing engaging and high-quality content is what allows your broadcast to resonate in the minds of viewers.

What trends do you think are most important to keep an eye on? We would love to hear your perspective on the changing environment of the broadcast industry. If you would like to learn more about keeping up with the broadcast media industry, contact us today.

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