Rerun Rewinds: 2015

We take a look back at some of the top TV industry trends in 2015 and look ahead to what 2016 has in store.

Every week at Axonista we publish Rerun, a roundup of the news and commentary you can’t afford to miss in the areas of TV, video and digital storytelling. Recently we’ve been looking back through the archives and wow, so much happened in 2015!

It was a year of the broadcast industry getting their content onto as many screens and platforms as possible. This year, we predict the focus will be on making the best possible TV experience for the device and platform on which the viewer is watching. TV isn’t dying, but it’s mutating into something new, exciting, personal and interactive.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in this industry, it’s undergoing massive change from top to bottom. There’s a perfect storm of new technology, changing user behaviours and experimentation. That said, sometimes it’s enough to make your head spin!

So why not get yours straight with our roundup of the biggest trends in TV and video in 2015, and impress your colleagues with your knowledge of what 2016 will hold in store!


Play it fast and tall

As the likes of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat focused hard on video, there were some clear trends that emerged and quickly became the new normal.

The first of these was autoplay video. Many apps and online publications have switched to a new method of video & ad embedding which is to silently autoplay the video as soon as possible. The viewer can tap or click on it to un-mute or pause, but by default it plays.

Since more and more users have fast connections, this has become an almost seamless drop-in replacement for video thumbnails and static images. New video formats have popped up that take full advantage of the fact that they’re silently playing on your screen, with large text and graphics to encourage a tap or a click. See NowThis on Facebook for a great example of how it’s done.

“The Internet started as a newspaper, but now it’s turning into TV.” — Peer Schneider, IGN

The other big trend was portrait video on mobile. Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat have helped push the format forward, while YouTube have finally added proper fullscreen support for it. According to Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2015, 29% of all mobile video views are in portrait. In 2016 we predict it to push 40%.

There has always been a vocal minority who cry that “it isn’t right”, but the fact is that the majority of people love it. In Snapchat for example, portrait video ads have up to 9x more completed views than landscape video ads. It just makes for a much smoother viewing experience; our phones are already portrait, so why make people constantly rotate?

The key thing for 2016 will be to become more flexible with your video formats and publishing. Become familiar with the different formats and visual languages on each platform. Expect new and better tools and workflows around the production of video content for multiple platforms.

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We’ll do it live

Early in the year a live streaming app called Meerkat became the darling of SXSW and showed all the signs of becoming the next big thing. Soon after, Twitter finished their acquisition of another live streaming app called Periscope. Periscope went on to become the more popular platform and also earn the title of Apple’s Best App of 2015.

But why did live streaming suddenly take off like a rocket? It’s already been around for a long long time (remember Justin.tv?). What happened was a perfect storm of better mobile carrier data plans, advances in mobile phone camera technology, advances in mobile video processing and mature social channels to broadcast to. All these things combined to made it possible for anyone to become a broadcaster.

What followed was a lot of experimentation and fast learning by both platforms and their users. Things got a bit messy with broadcasters over copyright when people live streamed their TV during the $90 pay-per-view Pacquaio vs Mayweather fight. People got genuinely shocked what they saw on live streams of events like the bombing in Bangkok; suddenly there was no broadcast veil or filter over the horrifying realities of real disasters.

Periscope became a powerful tool for current affairs and citizen journalism. Forward-thinking journalists embraced it as a way to give added layers of context and depth to complex issues; a great example was The Guardian journalist Paul Lewis’ on-the-street coverage of the Baltimore riots back in April.

In 2016 we’d like to see more from Periscope to improve discoverability and to encourage creators to create more content. Right now, Periscope feels very much like a tool for live news coverage and behind-the-curtain footage. We go to Periscope after we hear stories elsewhere or see them trending on Twitter. We don’t go to Periscope first to see what’s happening in the world.

We’re also very excited to see how live streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat get used as campaigning heats up for the 2016 U.S Presidential Elections.

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Virtual insanity

Virtual Reality is here. In 2015 it went from geeky, exclusive tech to something in the hands of every New York Times subscriber. But we don’t think anyone could have predicted just how rapidly the appetite for VR would grow throughout the year.

Google’s surprise Cardboard announcement meant that suddenly anyone with a smartphone and $20 (or some free time) could have their own VR device. It instantly took off among developers, advertisers, marketers and schools, propelling VR into the public sphere.

As we pointed out in our review, the Cardboard isn’t a great VR experience. But what it lacks in quality it more than makes up for in accessibility. It drastically lowers the entry barrier to VR for both creators and viewers.

Early 2016 will see the first wave of high-end devices hit the markets (Oculus runs at $599 and ships in late March), but we don’t expect them to take the world by storm just yet. It’s more likely that we’ll see enthusiasts and gamers reap the benefits of devices like the Oculus and Morpheus, while media companies and marketers continue to enjoy the accessibility of smartphones and Cardboard.

“It’ll ramp up slowly,” he says. “The first smartphones … I don’t know if they sold a million units in the first year. But it kind of doubles and triples each year, and you end up with something that tens of millions of people have. And now it’s a real thing.” — Mark Zuckerberg

What we really want to see next are super accessible tools for content creators. 2015 saw an explosion of tools for design, photography and video. While VR is still very new, cutting edge and technical, we expect to see some attempts at lowering the barrier to entry for content creators. For example A-FRAME by Mozilla which makes VR possible on the web. Expect a wave of such apps in mid-late 2016.

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TV is now apps

In September last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook walked out on stage at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and confidently stated that “the future of TV is apps”. This event was certainly one of the most exciting of the year for us at Axonista, not just because Apple (finally!) announced an SDK and an App Store for the Apple TV, but also because of those six words.

Axonista’s founding vision back in 2010 was to transform the very medium of TV from the linear one-way experience that it has been since birth and make it truly interactive — tappable, swipeable, shoppable, playable, social, personal, two-way. All of the interactions that are familiar features of apps. While we’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to work with some great visionary broadcasters, the wider industry is still catching up to this vision.

As TV viewing goes ever more mobile — and with Tim Cook adding Apple’s powerful voice and focus to the discussion — we feel that 2016 will be a transformative year for the uptake of interactive TV. With one of our apps selected among Apple’s “Best Apple TV Apps of 2015” list, we’re off to a great start and have some really exciting follow-up releases on our roadmap for 2016.

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Video killed the ad banner

If it wasn’t obvious already, in 2015 it became painfully clear to marketers that banner ads suck. When iOS 9 allowed ad-blocking apps into the App Store the writing on the wall was finally clear; move on, adapt or die.

So what’s the new thing? How are brands going to get their message across? Turns out the answer was staring us in the face all along.

Video is returning to the top as the preferred delivery method for advertising. Marketers are remembering that customers respond best to emotional storytelling and content marketing, and the best way of doing this is through video. It always has been.

Plus, the infrastructure around the devices we use has evolved to the point where video can now seamlessly autoplay as soon as it appears on our screen. This is key, and all the major social networks have been quick to jump on it. The big fish know it too, and Verizon’s $4.4bn acquisition of video and ad-tech powerhouse Aol earlier this year is proof.

At the risk of being labelled Luddite, they suggested that although the internet has changed how the game is played, it has not changed its fundamental rules: mass marketing works; fame works; emotion works — and “legacy media”, especially TV, still do all of this better than the new. — Ian Leslie, Financial Times

In 2016 expect some publishers to start really feeling the pinch of ad-blockers, while others pull ahead with smartly done video content strategies. Programmatic video ad buying will continue its rapid growth, and consumers will start seeing more video ads across the various platforms and devices they use.

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The platform wars

For a long time YouTube went unchallenged as the top dog of video streaming, but in 2015 the competition really heated up. Facebook is breathing down their neck, Snapchat is growing rapidly and Twitter added Periscope to a portfolio that already includes Vine.

Facebook’s meteoric rise in video streaming wasn’t without controversy though, as doubts emerged over how exactly they measure video views and YouTube creators pointed out that most of the views were made off the back of ‘stolen’ content. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Facebook are serious about video and we expect them to keep growing at pace in 2016, possibly with a more dedicated video offering.

With more platforms and channels than ever before, creators have the ability to directly reach new audiences, and the various platforms now face a battle to keep hold of their star creators.

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Press start

Video game broadcasting is the sleeping giant of media. Several of YouTube’s top channels are dedicated to video games, while Amazon-acquired live-streaming platform Twitch.tv is equal to many cable networks in terms of viewership (just a few months ago they hit 2 million concurrent viewers). YouTube even launched a standalone version of the site, YouTube Gaming, to satisfy its huge gaming audience.

As an example of broadcast gaming’s popularity, one eSports tournament final, the League of Legends Championship Final, drew in over 36m viewers online (in addition to 60,000 live attendees in Berlin); that’s more than the TV viewership for the final round of the Masters, the NBA Finals or the World Series.

This rapidly growing audience of global, engaged, mobile and digitally-native fans has not gone unnoticed by mainstream media. Early interest and content deals have come from Discovery, Turner Sports, ESPN and even the Bob Ross Foundation. In October, publisher powerhouse Activision set up a new division dedicated solely to eSports, which will be headed by Steve Bornstein, former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network.

In 2016 we expect many more content deals to follow, with the development of professional leagues and high-quality production values to rival that of traditional sports coverage.

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Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Kids watch a lot of TV, although they don’t think of it as ‘TV’ anymore. Reports showed that more and more children are watching on iPads and other mobile devices, with YouTube the most popular choice. In fact, YouTube has proven so popular with children it released an app specially for them, unsurprisingly called “YouTube Kids”.

The 20 top [YouTube] children’s channels had more than 5.2bn views in October alone. [Source]

Four of the top five YouTube channels are for kids (the fifth is Taylor Swift), that’s just an indicator of the popularity we’re talking about here. So it comes as no suprise to see broadcast networks panicking.

What we’ve noticed over the year is a surge in revivals of old children’s TV shows. Nickelodeon in particular are rebooting a lot of their 90s programming in an effort to match the demand for content. Netflix have announced that a third of their original programming next year will be for kids.

In 2016, expect to see more revivals of old IPs, and more child-friendly platform launches. Also expect important discussions about the ethics of digital advertising and tracking in children’s content; YouTube are already on the radar of rights groups. Expect more online mini-series that are essentially thinly veiled toy advertisements. After all, it’s easier to produce 5 minute clips than a whole season of 20 minute episodes.

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We found something you might like

It’s a golden age for video and TV; but content discovery needs to quickly catch up. One of the issues of having all this content at our fingertips at any time, is discovery. It’s so difficult to decide, what do I want to watch now? What do I want to watch next?

“To the next generation, they no longer watch television when they are supposed to any more than they would allow the bookcase to tell them when they can read.” — Steven Moffat

In the absence of a TV schedule, how do people get from watching one video to another? Algorithmic recommendations are certainly one way to do it, and it’s the strategy that YouTube and Netflix currently employ. The problem though is that algorithms aren’t smart enough yet and they don’t care how we feel.

This shouldn’t be the case, and in 2016 we expect to see video recommendation get a lot smarter. We also expect the video industry to look closer at how recommendation engines have evolved in the music industry. Both Spotify and Apple have, to varying degrees, added an element of human curation. Apple in particular employ a huge team of people to hand-craft playlists, which their algorithms then programatically recommend to listeners.

If 2015 was the year of TV everywhere, then 2016 could well be the year of the curator.

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And Finally

If you’d like to stay informed throughout 2016, we publish Rerun, a weekly roundup of the news and commentary you can’t afford to miss in the areas of TV, video and digital storytelling.

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