The Sudden Death of Cable?

Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps I am not the only one who may feel, based on certain events this past week in the media business, that cable TV has been “stuffed into a dark corner and quietly killed” (to use a phrase penned by Mark Twain).

The New York Times on October 17 alluded to the suddenness of change in media-orientation by saying that things had evolved “faster than many…had expected.”

Indeed. In the space of a week, both HBO and CBS have announced content-streaming services that do not require a subscription to a cable television package. If this sounds like a “duh” moment, that only speaks to the market-irrationality of the former paradigm, in which, despite the ease with which one might stream entertainment via the Internet sans a subscription to the technology that brought you CNN, the hopeful streamer was forced by what seemed a back-room cabal to order cable so they could bypass it and watch whatever they wanted, when they wanted, via the clickstream.

What has this got to do with analytics?

In all likelihood, quite a bit.

That’s because we are now looking at an environment where clickstream measurement meets video in a big way. We already know how much of a lock Nielsen has on the audience measurement of broadcast and cable. And while there is merit in the media-biz claim that they (HBO, CBS, and others) are simply moving their content to a place where the audience is already hanging out, there is also an element of data-collection such as provided by digital media well in excess of anything available via analog.

Remember when “industry bigs” used to worry about what would happen when there’d be “500 channels”? Yes, and those who dealt in horses in 1905 were likely as concerned that one day there might be an automobile in each and every town! By the 1950s, the horse and carriage was already not more than a tourist attraction, while today there are as many “channels” as IP addresses – well, almost.

With near-total fragmentation of the market, this would be an era of utter darkness for “television” folks if not for the measurability of digital. The audience is digital now; and so their viewing habits have become trackable. With the capability to measure video-viewing built into nearly every video “player,” video content producers can know behavior patterns in more detail than could have been imagined in an analog environment. Exactly how many streams were opened, and for how long? This can now be measured. What about pausing, replaying, jumping ahead, skipping, sharing, embedding, and any other activity that can be observed or construed from the clickstream? All of it can be collected and with the right tools and expertise, much of it can even be known; and with further expertise and analysis, perhaps even insights gathered about content effectiveness. Perhaps most importantly, audience size and audience loyalty can be measured and that audience can be sold to advertisers in slices thinner (and perhaps more delectable) than analog would have facilitated. Advertisers would call that “targeting” – driving conversion via getting the right message to the right person at the right time. And unlike with Web-advertising, viewers actually might sit through a “TV commercial” without running from the ad as if chased by the very hounds of hell.

This targeting capability must be a tantalizing prospect for the video content producer; and makes for a multitude of new advertising sales angles. Data collection, reporting, and analysis will be the drivers of this new paradigm.

We’ve been looking at “Web measurement” for a while now, and these events therefore may seem less momentous to those of us already familiar with measurement and targeting. But what we have thought of as “Web analytics” or even “multi-channel analytics” may pale in comparison to the eventual size of the market for, and the importance of, “video measurement.” In fact, with the advent of direct, digital (measurable) content distribution by the creators of some of the most compelling entertainment in the world, we suddenly may have crossed a portal into a golden age of analytics.

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