December 1, 2017

Television and publishing data trends for 2018

After a year of change and scandal in 2017, content providers will look to rebound with stability and transparency in 2018. Data should show the way forward. Here are the top 5 media data trends to look for next year.

1. Tracking the streamers. For years, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu were black boxes almost totally isolated from 3rd-party data sources. Streaming networks could spend willy-nilly on content while largely escaping scrutiny as to how each program was performing.

This is beginning to change. In October 2017, Nielsen released its new product able to extrapolate viewing audiences from streaming networks just like it has for decades on network television. The first interesting revelation detailed that 15 million people watched the first show of Stranger Things 2, around the same audience size as a Thursday Night NFL game.

This technology will mature and spread in 2018, as deeper dives into demographic and interest-based segments reveal themselves from under the hood of streaming services. Media companies will need to know who is watching what streaming show, and how to pinpoint messaging and product placement to those viewers. These needs expand beyond finding signals in 3rd-party data sources like Twitter; publishers will need to slice and dice their own voice-of-customer feedback to drive improved outcomes.

Trends for media and data 2018

2. Streamers vs Networks. Of course streaming audience sizes will only be half the story. The momentum is obvious: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have already fundamentally altered the way traditional networks do business. The question is when will it stop? And how do we measure successes along the way?

In 2018, traditional networks will need specific insights and strategies around how to protect – and steal back – market share from the streamers. This means micro-analyses at the show, demographic and interest-group level, rather than merely preparing for the existential threats of cord-cutting and subscription revenue drops.  

3. What will be the collateral damage from the low NFL ratings? According to the New York Post, through 10 weeks, NFL television ratings are down 5.7% from the 2016 season, which itself was a down year from 2015.

There are two main schools of thought around attribution for the drop. One is that the decline in ratings has been caused by the national anthem protests and the resulting fallout from President Trump’s reactions to them. Adherents to this school usually believe that football’s struggles are temporary and that once the political climate cools, America’s game (and the size of its viewing audience) will be in fine shape.

The other line of thinking looks beyond the protests and points to the personal safety dangers in the game. Concussions are cutting careers short, and making life extremely difficult for former players. The health fears have trickled down to youth football, with fewer parents willing to let their kids play. According to this argument, instead of just facing the short-term threat of anthem protests, football must reconcile with the threat of dwindling participant numbers and public interest across the board for the long haul.

Or maybe there's a third outcome for football's ratings that no one has foreseen. Whatever the outcome, it will reverberate across the TV landscape, especially ESPN. Under its current contract, the network will pay 1.9 billion dollars a year to broadcast the NFL through 2021. That number could be significantly lower next contract, or ESPN could simply walk away, a potentially seismic move for the network which already laid off more than 400 people this year.

4. Fake Accounts -- who is real and who is not? By now we’ve all heard of fake news but what about the accounts publishing that noise? Are all fake news stories from fake accounts? Does a fake account, by its very nature, spit out fake news? On which social platform is the fake account problem the most challenging?

Finding clean data is a daily challenge in almost every industry, media especially. Networks and publishers need to know who is engaging with their content, and why. Noise across online channels only obfuscates programming decision-making processes.

In 2018, media companies will need to account for the presence of fake accounts in their data streams. Executives no longer want to hear about the noise in the data seeping out from fake accounts; they will expect the data to be cleaned prior to reporting.

5. Quantifying the fallout. From Bill O’Reilly to Harvey Weinstein to Al Franken to Matt Lauer – 2017 was not our best year.

These scandals aren’t going away. It might sound cynical but media companies will need to know the damage to the bottom line each time it happens. Quantifind recently found that each Travis Kalanick public relations scandal costs Uber around $8 million in revenue, and that, surprisingly, the resultant protests from his missteps came not from women’s groups but rather labor leaders who stepped into the vacuum to push their driver- and worker-friendly agendas.

Companies will need to know -- above and beyond losing advertisers – exactly which segments of their audiences were irked or enraged by the scandals, why, and where. This will help networks quantify fallout and sharpen budget planning in 2018.