News, or quality news, will always be expensive. But that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of players wanting to enter the market. Julian Clover speaks to Colin Lawrence, Distribution Director for BBC Global News Ltd, about the challenges facing the TV news distribution market.
The established international brands are now competing with the deep pockets of private investors and state-backed channels whose output is often partial to say the least.
Euronews is now completely in private hands and competitors such as Vice News don’t even use linear television to reach their younger audience.
Colin Lawrence, Distribution Director for BBC Global News Ltd, says the distribution market for pay-TV is relatively mature and as such is going into a period of consolidation.
“There’s probably too many operators and from our point of view we want a healthy business to be engaged with. The core proposition, which is about world class content, maintaining audiences and how live still is for news is something we’re most focused on and why we’re investing in content.”
Cable operators, now largely in the pipe business, are working on the upgrade of their infrastructure. In the case of Virgin Media this even includes digging up the streets again, but also on building of apps to deliver content over increasingly sophisticated broadband networks.
“If the outcome means robust 21st century infrastructure bringing video to audiences I think that’s an opportunity outcome,” says Lawrence. “It does mean that content business means that your business is becoming commoditised and huge part of what we do as an entity is to do our upmost that doesn’t happen, that the brand and the quality of content kind of cuts through all of that.”
The news channels have been slow to convert to HD or more precisely operators have been slow to pick up on what’s available. In the case of BBC World News, it’s currently available in HD in the Middle East, Asia-Pacific, and North America, Canada and the United States. Europe, says Lawrence will not be too far away. Some operators have an expectation that on renewal the service will be presented in HD, while others say they have capacity issues and don’t have immediate plans to add further HD.
These days OTT services such as Chromecast, Roku and now it seems Apple TV provide an additional means of delivery for international channels, but the catch is that this is not the case if the channel also wants to pick up a carriage fee. “We are of course committed to a high number of aggregators in our important markets, MSOs and cable operators, they’re loyal customers and paying customers. Are they the best way of amplifying and maximising our reach in a given market? In most cases they are, but there is no rainmaker change that suddenly says it’s going to give you more in terms of reach.”
Lawrence points to the ability of scripted channels to start windowing their output, the opposite of news, which by its very nature needs to get its content out in a very short space of time. The approach of BBC World News is to enhance what is already there in linear, by building the relationship with the view, encouraging correspondents to Tweet and bringing in new interactive shows such as Outside Source.
“The kind of traction now that we’re getting with social media suggests it’s getting out of the demograph we originally intended for it. We surveyed 1,500 people in our core markets recently and television and TV news remains important for them, says Lawrence.
The surprise is how different international news audiences are to domestic. Forget the picture of the international businessman wearing pin stripes. Lawrence says that not only is the international news audience younger, but in Asia it is even starting to skew under 40.
“We know that a breaking news story may well come via mobile, but we also know from stories, and the phenomenal traffic we got around the Scottish referendum for breaking news stories. TV is still the place that people go for them”.