Recent improvements to UK public TV broadcaster Channel 4’s ability to target ads and personalise the audience experience mean that it now makes as much money from an impact on its All 4 portal as it does from one on its linear channels.
Sarah Milton, All 4’s Head of Product for Channel 4, told delegates at last week’s IBC2017 conference in Amsterdam, that “The result of all the innovation and the data that we now are able to use means that the targeted proposition, in terms of ad sales that we are able to offer, means that we’re essentially revenue-neutral between a view that takes place on All 4 and a view that takes place on any of our linear [broadcast] channels. So, in theory, we don’t mind where that view takes place, from a commercial perspective.”
The revelation came during a panel session which demonstrated that both Milton, and her opposite number at ad-supported ITV, Faz Aftab, Commercial Director, Online, were in close agreement that the optimal way to ‘surface’ programming through their online portals and apps required a mix of data and human know-how.
Milton said that All 4 – which she implied now had 16m registered users across around 30 different platforms – was contributing “over 10%” of Channel 4’s total corporate revenues. She added that the broadcaster had just enjoyed its biggest audience for over five years from the first episode of the hit reality show Great British Bake Off, which it has just wrested from the BBC. “It’s also contributed to our biggest day, our biggest week and our biggest month in video-on-demand,” she said.
According to trade magazine Campaign, the debut drew 12m viewers across all platforms – live, time-shifted and on-demand – including 1.1m on All 4 and another 70,000 who streamed it via All 4’s Watch Live option.
The improvements to Channel 4’s ability to personalise the audience experience arise from a recent data analytics exercise which suggested the All 4 audience could be divided by ‘taste’ into nine different segments, rather than simply through demographics, age and gender. “For the last few months they have been served content, and indeed, communications formulated to their own tastes,” said Milton. “All these approaches are contributing to a repositioning of All 4 and a change in viewing behaviours – in fact, catch-up viewing accounts for no more than half of all the views on All 4 these days, which is pretty spectacular.”
Milton explained that All 4 content recommendations use a hybrid approach in which data insights are combined with human curation: “The segments are dictating what content is being promoted to a user when they come to All 4,” she said. But behind that process lies an editorial team which is “selecting shows for each of those taste segments,” supported by algorithms which “surface shows that might work.”
Aftab described a similar hybrid process at work for ITV’s online portal ITV Hub, which she said had “quadrupled” consumption in the last four years, and now has 20m registered users across around 30 platforms. But whereas the ‘human’ element for All 4 is curation, for ITV Hub it’s scheduling.
“The history of broadcasters has been to hone the art of scheduling,” reasoned Aftab. “We should look at TV as the paradigm that we’re trying to recreate with these VOD services or catch-up services, not SVOD services that have come from […] a very different paradigm. The art of scheduling is trying to get content you may like surfaced, that you may have not watched before.”
However, she agreed with Milton that, “The ultimate combination is a human and machine combination. […] Part of it is taking data, picking out the data and thinking, ‘OK, this person may want to watch these.’ But also taking the knowledge to people who know the art of scheduling […] and bringing those things together.”
Aftab illustrated the recent performance of the ITV Hub by citing viewing to another hit reality show, Love Island. “40% of the total viewing of Love Island happened on ITV Hub,” she noted. “[…] We had one and a half million app downloads of that show” with “an average of 500,000 people watching our simulcast – that went up to 1.3m in the final.”