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The Full-Service Revolution
Over the past few years the broadcast industry has been so concerned with audience migration to VOD and DTO services that you’d be forgiven for thinking the death of linear TV was imminent. Viewing figures across these newer platforms are at least partly responsible, given that even a cursory glance at them is enough to make it clear the migration is big, and it’s not stopping any time soon. 

Netflix released some particularly incredible statistics last year, tracking over 93 million worldwide users on a monthly basis, and viewing figures of up to 14 million for its high-end, in-house productions like Stranger Things and Making a Murderer. The BBC recorded 9.9 million daily viewing requests for iPlayer this February, an all-time record for the UK catch-up service. All in all, content streaming rose 23% in the UK across 2016, generating combined revenue of £1.3bn.

These are just a handful of examples; huge numbers that are indicative of a marketplace in a state of dramatic fluctuation.

But predicting the viewing habits of next week, let alone next year, is tricky. The proliferation of new platforms and services has made accessing content easier than ever before, but it has also made it far more complicated for consumers to feel confident that they are making the right decisions for their needs. It’s become crucial that end users trust their chosen platforms to not only to deliver the entertainment they love, but to deliver it in a form that best suits their individual requirements. 

Content is king, as the saying goes. These days, however, accessibility and consistency are next in line to the throne.

In the face of such incredibly versatile competition, linear TV has not just survived, but in many cases thrived. In the UK, the four major terrestrial TV stations all boast monthly viewing figures well above the 100 million mark, with BBC One pulling in 178,000,000 views in February of this year alone.

Linear outlets also remain the go-to places for “watercooler TV”; live sporting events, weekend dramas and family entertainment, soap operas, and one-off documentaries consistently record substantial numbers. Recently, BBC One’s documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad generated overnights of 5.2 million. ITV’s Coronation Street has been riding comfortably at about 6 million viewers per episode for most of 2017 to date.

So what, if anything, does this all mean? 

In the short to mid-term, it means that linear isn’t going anywhere. At EBS we provide metadata and EPG services to clients around the globe, and in the past few years we’ve seen the format go from strength to strength. So much so, in fact, that our total services portfolio has expanded to include 500 individual linear channels broken up under numerous top-tier clients like BBC Worldwide, Discovery, and MultiChoice. We’ve also started working with several exciting new channel providers like Kwesé in Africa, and Viceland across Europe.

What this experience has taught us is that “linear vs. VOD” is not – for the time being at least – a zero sum game. The idea that linear holds little to no relevance in the modern marketplace is at odds with the way the viewing public continue to make use of it. In fact for many people both domestically and internationally, it’s still the most reliable and consistent platform that’s widely available.

A more accurate reading of the situation would place all of the ways in which audiences now find content on a relatively equal plane of importance. Again, accessibility is what counts. The novelty of a platform holds little value next to its ease of use and the relevance of its content. A fan of soap operas is unlikely to go looking for their favourite shows on a TVOD service. Neither will a serious movie buff be likely to wait for the latest blockbuster to appear on a terrestrial network.

For industry services companies like ours, this is hugely important to the way business is done. It’s incredibly rare that a major new client will come to us with requirements that are based in either linear or VOD alone. What we are asked for and what we provide in these situations, time and again, are “full-service” solutions that offer consistent metadata and EPGs across multiple delivery formats. The increasing demand for these broad-base services means we’re looking into new distribution capabilities all the time. 

Ultimately, the lessons to be learned from this marketplace aren’t new ones, but they’re ones that bear repeating. Change is happening and change is healthy, but it must continue to be dictated by the needs of end users. The change we are experiencing now almost certainly won’t take us exactly where we expect to go. The company that’s ready to adapt to and provide for this reality will be the company that thrives.

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