Has TV Reached Peak Content? And What Does It Mean For You?

Creating and associating with content has been an important way for brands to engage with TV audiences since the early 1950s. But how do you do it in the age of HBO, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other forms of on-demand programming?

Has TV Reached Peak Content? And What Does It Mean For You?

by Jon Bains

Posted on 08-08-2017

I was on holiday for most of August, and wanted to use it for a bit of me-time. Thanks to Amazon and Netflix conveniently allowing me to download directly onto my iPad, I had this crazy idea that I could take with me a whole bunch of stuff to binge-watch to catch up with what seems to be the never-ending awesomeness that is modern telly.

That didn’t happen. There was simply too much, and, in some cases, having 40-plus episodes to watch was simply too daunting. Is it just me, or, perhaps, we’ve hit peak content?

Content, Not Opiods, The Drug Of The Nation

We are suffering from too much content. It’s not like it’s all rubbish either. This isn’t about the X billion amateur hours uploaded to YouTube every second. This is the expensive, professionally produced, “quality”-narrative “high-concept” content produced by some of the top media and entertainment brands in the world. The good stuff.

You would have thought it would be a golden age for brands as well. The advertising world, especially, is defined by a brands’ relationship with content. Put this message to the right kind of people in the right kind of mood, and you are well on your way to building a bit of brand trust.

Right? Well, not really. A brand’s relationship with content is dependent on its consumers’ relationship with the content as currency—and that’s what has changed.

How We Live Today

In an overly abundant world of choice, we have all had to become curators, editors, and influencers. Do we try something new, rewatch an old favourite, or try what somebody recommended? Do we go with the zeitgeist and watch as soon as it appears or save for that rainy day by which time there is a deluge of new stuff to watch? We only have so much time, so we must heavily prioritise what we do with it.

That goes for brands, too.

Supporting, creating, and associating with content, in this case specifically narrative content, is an important part of the marketing mix. As the likes of HBO, Netflix, and Amazon Prime have taken over, there are simply fewer places to advertise, so you need to be a bit more open to how you engage.

There are a number of questions worth considering when thinking about your brand’s association with “mainstream” content—beyond advertising.

We All Love Long Tails

When thinking about a bit of media—how long is its long tail? The long tail is a term that describes the useful life of a product. Is it the kind of show that will be on rotation until the sun stops rotating?

It’s especially relevant when thinking about product placement. When shows “Chuck” and “Community” did their deals with sandwich chain Subway, there were no worries that their initiative would date—it’s just plugging a restaurant. But Neo’s Nokia phone in “The Matrix” now just looks silly.

Will your product still be relevant by the time they watch it, or will it end up being a quaint throwback to a simpler time? You may want to consider a simple brand reference if that wonder gadget you have placed in the hero’s hand is going to date badly.

Learn To Contribute, Not Interrupt

Obviously, “ads” are interruptive, but these days there are so many more ways to build an association around the property. How you promote your involvement should be something that complements the spirit of the piece and doesn’t just scream “I’m cool! My mom said so!”

Is it worth skipping the show entirely and just going for the online community behind it? There is so much more colour behind the scenes, so many neat ways communities can be encouraged, engaged, and supported.

Going Big Or Doing Your Own?

Do you bet on a major show or film, or go for a broader, more holistic approach? Is one expensive deal more suitable than a whole portfolio of smaller ones? The problem with some of the bigger shows, cost aside, is that they are more likely to suffer from burnout long before their sell-by date.

“Lost,” “Heroes,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Entourage,” “Prison Break,” and “Dexter” all started well and then fizzled out. They may have seemed like obvious choices at the time, but, in the (overly) long run, positive vibes were replaced by boredom, frustration, and “it was much better at the beginning.” This is something you don’t necessarily want your brand to be rolled up with.

Furthermore, who else wants the same relationship? Are you playing me-too? The increasingly nauseating influencer world is demonstrating the dangers of overexposure. Do you want to be just another brand fighting for the Iron Throne?

What about your own brand content? The reality is that whatever you make yourself is going to be competing with everything else. Are we that creative and talented? This is a big and potentially very expensive question. Given the sheer mountain of quality content out there, what makes you think you make something unique?

Are Films And TV Even Relevant To Your Brand Anymore?

Whilst you may find these kinds of deals cool, your customers may be too busy juicing green stuff, growing beards, and cutting shorts to be bothered. Beyond simple advertising on legacy television, it’s a major challenge for brands who want any kind of results in the short term if consumers are planning to binge-watch the entire series further down the line. There are many other fragments of media that move far quicker in terms of consumption.

Will you still even be around when any impact from the activity is made? CMOs are a gregarious bunch. They tend not to hang around for more than a year or two, and, yet, they have to make these decisions about where they are going to place their media.

And that’s the rub, this multimillion-dollar question. You need to ask yourself whether you wouldn’t be better off spending the money elsewhere. Maybe it is time to let the Netflixes, Yahoos, Amazons, Hulus, CBSs, HBOs, Xboxes, PlayStations, AT&Ts, and other brands that are investing in owned content as a means of building platforms fight among themselves until there is a clear way forward?

Regardless, “spending the budget on telly” has got a lot harder recently—and it’s only going to get worse. In this instance, perhaps, less really is more.

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