“Viewing up across all categories and age groups.”
“Amazon is buying MGM Studios.”
Today, the world’s best content is being organized around and produced for an over-the-top (OTT) distribution. There’s no question that, in an increasingly fragmented and omnichannel landscape, streaming has rapidly emerged as a critical part of it. But it would be a huge mistake to simply write off linear TV as a relic of the past. Linear TV is still very much here, it’s still hugely valuable to marketers, and it’s not going anywhere for a long time.
By all accounts, this past year was unprecedented in terms of new streaming services launched by major broadcasters, from Peacock and HBOMax to Paramount+ and Disney+, collectively representing the lion’s share of content that once lived exclusively on linear TV. And, thanks to the closure of theaters, even premier Hollywood releases now launch directly to the small screen.
As we consider the 2021 TV Upfronts, it’s a good moment to pause and put things in perspective. The shift toward streaming is real; it is a macro, secular shift, and it is accelerating. But, rather than view streaming as replacing linear, we should be focusing on how the two can work together and in concert with digital, social, and everything else.
Why TV Still Matters
Strong Viewership: Overall, viewership is declining on linear TV. Those impressions are moving to mobile and streaming. But we make too much of the trend, and forget to see how full the proverbial glass still is.
Linear TV still commands massive audiences, and it remains one of the few – if not the only – ways to obtain this kind of reach. For any growing brand, TV represents a full-funnel opportunity to find new audiences while supporting the brand.
Contextual and Targetable: Spurred by intensifying privacy regulation, more and more of the internet is moving to probabilistic (ie. cohort-based) and contextual targeting. Both are viewed as strong alternatives to PII-based targeting or cookies.
The reprioritization of probabilistic and contextual holds great promise for digital. It also happens to be what linear TV already offers today. Smart TV data can target to a household level (read: probabilistic), and when compared with programming and daypart, provides a strong signal against which to deliver more relevant ads.
Clean, Brand Safe and Premium: In digital, billions are spent each year ensuring brand safety and protecting against fraud. While real progress has been made in recent years, most marketers now accept that a certain amount of fraud is routine, and those advertising on social networks against user-generated content accept that there will always be a degree of risk for suitability.
Against that backdrop, consider that linear TV has had a mature infrastructure, complete with its own government agency, for regulating the quality of content. Those who produce it are identifiable and accountable. Routine purchase agreements contain protections and indemnities that would count as among the most stringent in digital.
In recent months, we’ve seen a number of troubling disclosures that show the threat of fraud in CTV is very real. The intricacies of Server-Side Ad Insertion (SSAI) provide cover for nefarious actors to pose as legitimate publishers and reap the benefits. Linear, which doesn’t rely on SSAI, is by contrast virtually impossible for fraudsters to penetrate. If linear TV were a new platform with this many viewers and this kind of mature, sophisticated standard for accountability and protections, how would it compare to the hottest emergent OTT offering?
Upfronts Still Make Sense
Advertisers get this – and their dollars speak for them. Demand for linear TV continues to outstrip supply, particularly so today as entire sectors come back online. Linear inventory is scarce, and that scarcity will always be unique and appealing. Compare that to streaming, where each session generates its own inventory. Even as streaming becomes a bigger part of the sales pitch at the Upfronts, the convention is ultimately always based on the fact that premium linear inventory is scarce and worth securing in advance.
Connecting The Dots
Streaming has no doubt become a larger part of the Upfronts this year and will for every year to come. And that does portend new challenges for advertisers, forcing them to become more omnichannel in their approach than they are today. Streaming is big, yes. But linear isn’t going away. The future is where they intersect, and in the tools that allow advertisers to plan, buy, and measure these disparate channels in a single view, with standardized measurement and centralized data.
So much of the attention has been paid to streaming, and for good reason. It’s exciting and new. But with every new channel that emerges, linear TV redefines its relationship with the omnichannel equation.
TV viewers’ behaviour is changing and the advertising market has to do so as well, points out Petr Hatlapatka from Media Club.
The pressure on TV inventory and the outlook of TV GRP development in the following years require broadcast operators to search for ad placement options, says Petr Hatlapatka, Head of Online Sales in the Media Club agency.
Available research studies show that the time spent watching TV and the internet traffic have grown in the pandemic. In principal, the development follows the pandemic waves seen over the recent year. What are the impacts on online video and video advertising?
As people in the pandemic spend more time watching videos and TV, the time spent on our video portal has been increasing. The capacity for video advertising has been growing accordingly. For example, this April the time watched increased by about 15% compared to the first months of this year. The time watched is our priority as it is used to calculate a market share.
It is assumed that the current internet increase mostly relates to the news and information search as well as to leisure time, which is mostly spent at home in the pandemic. What is the increase attributable to?
Primarily to the size of archives. This is the driver of the time spent by users on a given video portal. In general, I would say that it is an advantage for TV video portals if they post as much video content as possible to their websites. Thanks to this, they report the longest time spent watching videos, which we can clearly illustrate on our example.
Which of your websites is key for video ad sales?
Definitely iPrima.cz, where we have the largest offer of long videos. The price for ad space on long videos is much higher than on short ones. Specifically, we have experience from Like House, a reality show watched mostly by young people aged 15-24 that has increased iPrima’s performance. The viewership of the reality show on the website is above average, we had hard times keeping the servers going. By number of started replays, Like House has even overtaken the TV series Slunečná. It is our most successful video format at present, which works well especially with young audiences. Clients mostly seek to address young viewers on social networks, which, however, lack formats adequate to TV ads. Our video spots are non-skippable for fifteen seconds and in our opinion, they are closest to TV ads.
You have mentioned the increase in online video time watched and the relating capacity increase for placing video ads. Is there any interest in them?
The interest in video advertising has increased but ad inventory went up even more. Between 2019 and 2020, we have grown 25% in income from video ads. Although last year was impacted by the pandemic, we managed to increase our income from video advertising.
Is this year’s development favourable again?
This year started with lockdown but the first four months were stronger compared to the same period last year. However, the growth has no longer been twenty percent. But on the other hand, the yield in not small in aggregate. And it is true that inventory has grown more. This helps us as the pressure on TV space is large and thanks to the growing digital inventory, we can offer space to clients for the same content. That is why we started talking about the need to connect TV and digital last autumn. We perceive that the market has not been prepared for this but in our opinion, this trend is inevitable. TV viewers’ behaviour is changing and the advertising market must do the same. The question is not whether it will change but when it will change.
Is it changing because people watch content more with a time shift and use paid video portal offerings?
Yes, it is because people increasingly watch paid video services (SVOD) such as Netflix or HBO Go. We expect that over years, the space for TV GRPs will decrease. Although TV will keep a high reach, the time spent may be expected to gradually decline, especially in younger target groups. We estimate that within five years, up to 25% of TV GRPs will disappear from the market. Moreover, there will be no ads on SVOD and if so, just very limited. The space for creating TV GRPs will be reduced, which will mean that the price for TV GRPs will go up. We cannot expect that viewers’ behaviour will return two years before the pandemic and that people will start cancelling their subscriptions to Netflix or HBO. This is an outlook with which we have to work – that is why we seek to create an adequate space for online ad communication and that is why we work with GRPs in digital as well.
What can they offer to clients?
We can see that video advertising shortens the time when a viewer starts searching products or services based on an advertisement watched. Thanks to this, video advertising can direct users to the web nearly immediately. I consider this the key benefit. Another benefit is that there is a younger audience group on the internet. Compared to the TV screen, these are younger target groups that improve the total reach by target groups in the general connection with TV advertising. Video ads thus definitely make sense for advertisers who want to address younger audiences. They can run part of their campaigns on the internet using eGRPs, which is what several clients have already been doing. Now at spring, we can see a growing interest. An important novelty is that we made video content available on the iPrima.cz portal just based on registration. Thanks to this we are able to better target advertising messages and better recommend adequate content to viewers.
Is there any evidence of how an advertising message exactly works if it is broken down into TV and a video portal?
We are working on it. We want to show clients and media agencies what the impacts are when a portion of campaign is implemented using eGRPs and how this impacts reaches in target groups. We can see that greater concerns and barriers in using eGRPs are experienced by media agencies than by clients. The crucial thing is that the content created in Prima is just one and is placed on TV and online. Distribution makes no changes to the content. The difference may be that online content is consumed more with a time-shift and is based more on users’ needs.
In your outlook for this year, do you take into consideration that usability of digital GRPs will increase?
We expect it namely in the months when the demand for TV ads is high. For us, iPrima is in fact another channel within which campaigns can be delivered. Colleagues who organise TV campaigns can see the number of GRPs on individual thematic channels and on iPrima.cz in our internal system. If there is no crucial change in the pandemic development in autumn, we estimate that video advertising will grow by 10-15%.
Are you planning any news for advertisers in the nearest future?
The largest piece of news is that we are going to launch dynamic ads for HbbTV. This will be suitable for clients who want to communicate in real time during their current offer, such as e-shops or betting companies. Dynamic advertising should be ready before the start of the autumn season.
Marketing today is more closely tied to business growth than ever before. Businesses demand a direct link between campaigns and new customers, increased orders and, of course, revenue growth. This accountable approach to marketing is buoyed by digital advertising’s ability to track vast amounts of data. How often is a display ad clicked? Which paid search keywords are driving the most traffic to your website? Answering these questions creates a sense of certainty around our efforts. We know what’s working. The proof is in the numbers.
But such data-based proof is also regularly found in favor of TV campaigns. The idea that traditional channels can’t drive accountable results is an unfortunate misconception. Performance marketers often find success on TV. And before you imagine a 1980s late-night infomercial, know that a well-designed campaign can benefit both your brand and business. However, developing such a campaign involves asking three important questions:
1. What does your commercial ask viewers to do?
Does your commercial ask viewers to act on the information you’ve given them? If an immediate response is a priority, your ad’s creative should include a call to action. Sure, a Coca-Cola ad may feature nothing but a polar bear and a jingle, but not every brand has Coca-Cola’s long-standing reputation or ability to wait months, even years, to reap the rewards of their campaign.
To see an immediate return on your ad spend in the short term, be specific about what you’re asking consumers to do. Perhaps that means listing your website’s URL at the end of the ad or asking viewers to text a number to learn more. Think about your audience and offering. Does it make sense for viewers to call a 1-800 number or head straight to your website? Would a promo code help entice potential buyers? I recommend testing a few options to discover what works best. Something as small as the wording of an offer can dramatically affect campaign success.
2. How are you measuring response?
Begin measuring performance by tracking the most deterministic indicators of change. Are you seeing a higher number of calls or texts post-launch? Has your web traffic increased? TV attribution can get as granular as looking at web lift within the minutes immediately following a specific airing. And as technology advances, measuring TV is becoming even more like measuring digital, enabling brands to see responses from individual households. Automated Content Recognition (ACR) data can identify the type of viewing platform, location, viewer profiles and even viewing behavior, including ad consumption.
After a few weeks, you should also begin to see secondary effects. Your web traffic composition may shift to account for TV’s impact on paid search, direct and organic traffic. Because TV contributes to these sources (compared to sources like social media), they should account for a greater percentage of your total traffic. Your overall number of new customers should also increase, even as conversion rates improve. After all, a customer who visits your website after seeing a commercial on TV has already shown enough interest in your brand to intentionally respond. This means they are more likely to make a purchase.
3. How can you optimize your campaign for greater success?
An accountable campaign requires awareness both of what’s working and what’s not. Being able to directly track success means you also recognize and address failure. If a specific keyword isn’t driving responses, try something else.
The same should be true for TV. As your campaign airs, evaluate performance across different networks. Maybe you notice airings on one network experienced a strong response, but airings on another had little to no impact. Or perhaps airings during the evening perform better than those during the day. Adjust your campaign to account for these new insights. Lean into flexibility and continue to optimize performance throughout the duration of your campaign. If you’re taking time to invest in TV in the first place, it’s worth doing right.
Too often I’ve seen brands rule out TV advertising because they’re not sure how they’ll link it to clear business results. Answering the questions above can help reassess the viability of TV for your brand by rethinking the channel with accountability in mind. Over the years, I’ve seen TV campaigns drive accountable results for businesses of all types, including those that had previously focused on digital or had tried TV unsuccessfully using traditional strategies. With the right strategy, there’s so much opportunity to be found.
Tech-savvy consumers demand 24/7 entertainment at the touch of a button—anytime, anywhere
The current TV landscape has transformed as viewing habits have changed, streaming giants battle it out for subscriptions and new players and emerging direct-to-consumer offerings enter the fray, shaking up the status quo.
In an always-connected era, consumers are tech-savvy and demand round-the-clock entertainment at the touch of a button—anytime, anywhere. And they want it at the best value for money possible. Since the turn of the century, we have seen the dramatic rise of on-demand content services and major changes in the way consumers want to access content across multiple devices—place and time shifting.
Moreover, the way in which audiences are willing to pay for this content is also evolving.
Although the various forecasts differ by a few percentage points, a likely picture is that OTT subscription and ad revenue will eventually eclipse all other sources of income—with some estimates suggesting $221 billion by 2025.
THE RISE OF DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER
On the production side, content costs are increasing as new media players enter the bidding for key producers, brands and sports rights. In response, traditional media is consolidating to secure intellectual property, reduce overhead cost and pool technology investments.
However, further back in the content supply chain, rights owners and content creators are bypassing incumbent distributors and creating direct-to-consumer OTT offerings. Sports TV is a key battleground with players like Formula One, MLB and NHL all creating domestic and global offerings that remove a layer of distribution and capture a greater share of revenue directly from consumers.
These early pioneers are not alone. Individual and small-scale content creators are growing, enabled by low-entry barriers for semi-professional production and low-cost distribution models that utilize platforms including YouTube, Twitch and Patreon.
It is a complex and fast-evolving landscape—difficult to navigate for traditional broadcasters that have to fend off rivals from the world of telecommunication that see “content” as an opportunity to create stickier broadband and 4G/5G bundles. At the same time, broadcasters are up against internet rivals who are jostling for the number one spot with different goals such as supporting retail sales via “Prime-Style” subscriptions or tying users into walled garden ecosystems like Apple or Google.
Broadcasters, caught between a rock and a hard place, are trying to attract and retain eyeballs to support advertising revenue and ultimately create innovative, unique content that not only consolidates traditional viewership but engages new audiences. In short, the market is in a state of flux. Over the course of the next few years, we will see who comes out on top—and those who struggle to adapt to this changing landscape.
NEWS VIEWERSHIP HOLDS STEADY
However, several interesting trends are worth further investigation. One of the areas where traditional broadcasters have retained a consistent viewership is within the news.
The three main news networks in the U.S. have experienced only a mild decline in viewership over the past three years, primarily due to the rise of alternative news sources such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. What is more interesting is at the local level. The Pew Research Centre for Journalism and Media showed that local TV news is still more popular than national news networks, and the hours-per-day of local TV news consumption has grown by 62% between 2013 and 2018.
Although traditional local TV advertising revenues have declined over the last few years, digital advertising around news content has seen strong double-digit growth leading to only a marginal overall shortfall.
These data points suggest an overall positive growth trend for local TV news and point to an optimistic future. Local news can harness opportunities in new technology and innovative Electronic News Gathering (ENG) methods to power more news quantity, quality and diversity, while internet networks can provide a greater reach for localized news and enhance cost-efficiencies.
The localization trend also plays into the other big success story for traditional TV—live sports. Although the world’s two most popular sports leagues, the NFL and English Premier League, have seen a multi-year decline within their home nations, audiences have increasingly tuned in from around the globe.
Sports that may have been too niche for traditional TV in the past—such as formula E, MMA, darts, rowing and competitive cycling—have found audiences on DTT, cable and increasingly OTT services where they can support an FTA (free-to-air) model that is backed up by digital advertising. Local sports—as grassroots as a town’s football, cricket or rugby club—may well tie into the desire for local news delivered via OTT, as long as production costs can be kept low and the production quality can remain acceptable to viewers.
GETTING AHEAD OF THE CURVE
The current TV landscape is exciting—success is up for grabs for those who are willing to innovate. Increased localization opportunities and future-proofed distribution models present just some of the promising avenues for growth. The digital revolution has ushered in a consumer shift that is forcing many to reevaluate their business structure, and media players now face more competition than ever before.
For more than a year, our industry has witnessed the economic impact of the global pandemic, and in that time, data points and longer-term trajectories may have been skewed. The status quo between content producers, distributors and consumers has irreversibly changed, while innovation in future-ready production and distribution models has accelerated. Right now, media players need to be bold to stay ahead of the curve—and to shape a successful roadmap for the future.
The world is slowly showing signs of normalcy, and as we move toward summer, we may also watch less content on the big screen in our homes. During the height of the pandemic, we gobbled up mountains of content across streamers, on-demand, on CTV, and what not. But it’s likely this trend will be affected going forward by all of us going outside, maskless and fearless, empowered by being vaccinated and knowing one in two adults (roughly) are, too.
The smallest of screens, our phones, are probably least affected as a result. Always on and always there, the phone will continue to serve as the go-to drug to fill any short void in our daily lives with a video snack.
The biggest of screens, cinemas, might see a form of revival because of the pent-up demand to enjoy movies with all the impact of big-screen sound and vision, fueled by a number of potential blockbusters held back for when the world would arrive to the point where we now (almost) are.
But that big screen in your living room and/or bedroom, coupled with all the streaming options you signed up for? Well, that may see some downtime.
Ratings have already plunged, and not just for former ratings champions like the Oscars. Sports is down, as are most regularly screened TV shows. Streaming and CTV have massively grown in share and attention, as well as share of spend on all these services.
Meanwhile, we are entering the upfronts, where the ratings are down and the prices are up. Whaaaaat? That’s right, TV remains the one medium where you get less for more every year, guaranteed. First that was defended by changing the program ratings to a rating+3, adding the additional viewers from the first three days after the original broadcast. Then that became a rating+7.
And now nobody knows exactly how to defend the ratings decline and price increase anymore. So the argument is rightly shifting to where it should have been all along, which is dissecting TV’s effectiveness versus all those other screen options.
It’s here that TV continues to outshine most everything else. Per a new summary document prepared by The Global TV Group, TV clearly demonstrates its superior effectiveness. From study after study across the world, from Australia to the U.K. to Germany to the U.S., TV is found to be more effective, driving better ROI, higher short-term and long-term sales, brand effectiveness and more.
This is exactly what advertisers should care about, and what should influence their budget allocation. It is exactly what agencies should spend time analyzing so they can help guide a marketer’s investment across screens.
Alas, TV is not sexy. Instead, marketers and their agencies want to discuss how to participate in the podfronts (yes, that is now a thing!). They debate how much money to allocate to Clubhouse vs Twitter Spaces, and how much should be spent on YouTube Shorts, the TikTok competitor.
My plea is this: Invest where your audience is and where you know you can generate meaningful impact, instead of making assumptions about where you think, hope or dream they are going to be.
As life outside our homes shut down, the small screen became our treasured path to safe escape
Back in March, while my son and his friends were enjoying a chilly morning of socially distanced outdoor fun at a campground, all the dads lingered near the fire our kids had built. We spent a few minutes catching up on how we’d all been dealing with one year and counting of pandemic life. Then, the conversation turned to where it inevitably has since the lockdown began: television.
The other dads all seemed like genial suburbanites. Their face masks, though, hid not just droplets, but the desperate fiending of TV junkies who had gone too long since their last binge. They needed recommendations, and they needed them with greater speed and specificity than I could provide. “What about Ted Lasso?” I’d say, and they would twitch and sputter, “Seen it! What else you got?” Eventually, their eyes began to look so bloodshot and haunted, I worried that the day would turn into my own personal “Pine Barrens” from which I would not emerge — and not just because several of these men had, like so much of the world, used the pandemic as an excuse to finally watch The Sopranos.
Think back to those early days of quarantine. Every form of entertainment, escape, and distraction vanished one by one. First, live sports shut down. Then, concerts and theater. Going to the movies, assuming your state allowed it, was a game of Russian roulette. Whether you were a club-hopper or a museumgoer, options for getting out into the world, seeing and doing things, all ceased to exist.
But then there was television. Sweet, nourishing, unstoppable television. While all other sources of fun hit an extended pause, TV kept right on going, providing a lifeline to the outside world as we began months of sheltering in place. Our relationship with the medium has surely been fundamentally altered by our time locked away from everything and everyone else. Even if we all respond to a post-vaccination world by becoming ferocious extroverts and reckless outdoorspeople, we’ll always have memories of our prolonged stay in front of the small screen during this nightmare, sometimes as the only comfort we could find.
The first quarantine sensation was Tiger King, a docuseries that dropped on Netflix about a week after the quarantine began. A lurid true-crime story involving exotic animals (some of them managed by a guy who called himself Joe Exotic), fluid sexuality, country music, and a murder-for-hire plot, it provided an early outlet for people who wanted a surreal, cracked-mirror reflection of our world rather than the terrifying version they could glimpse outside their windows. It was also an ethical and journalistic quagmire, even more so than the next big lockdown hit, The Last Dance. A 10-part hagiography of Michael Jordan, the ESPN miniseries offered deep archival footage and salty, self-aggrandizing quotes from the man himself that overwhelmed any qualms about the filmmakers letting their subject (who also had an executive role via his production company) steer the story. Both series became instantly meme-worthy, with screenshots of Jordan saying “And I took that personally” dominating social media for much of the spring and summer.
Soon enough, our hunger for outsize figures having the kinds of adventures we couldn’t expanded to scripted television. Disney+ made the idea of weekly episode releases cool again with the second season of The Mandalorian and, a few months later, the debut of WandaVision. While both are part of insanely popular movie franchises (Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, respectively), the series took clever advantage of the TV format — WandaVision in particular, since its episodes often played as fantasy versions of classic sitcoms. The steady stream of episodes kept people talking as if they were the ones getting to travel to a galaxy far, far away with Mando and Baby Yoda (Grogu to his friends), or to magically become Wanda’s new wacky neighbor. That hunt for a weekly, larger-than-life fix could sometimes backfire — millions howled in indignation at the stultifying end of HBO’s Nicole Kidman/Hugh Grant thriller miniseries The Undoing (“Why is she in a helicopter now?!”) — but there was still something rewarding about putting in the effort to stick with a story the old-school way.
Of course shows whose episodes arrived all at once still captured our fancy if the characters were colorful enough. If they were English, all the better. The fourth season of The Crown finally reached the modern era of the monarchy, diving into the tabloid-friendly story of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s tumultuous marriage. Meanwhile Bridgerton, an energetic Regency romance and the first Netflix series from superproducer Shonda Rhimes, was a frothy bodice-ripper come to life. Audiences ate them both up like a Sunday trifle. (Even British actors playing American could prove addictive, as chess sales boomed in the aftermath of Londoner Anya Taylor-Joy’s mesmerizing star turn as a teen prodigy in The Queen’s Gambit.) And from just across the Irish Sea came Normal People, the Hulu adaptation of author Sally Rooney’s tale of messy, hot-and-heavy love between two young millennials in Dublin, which suddenly had audiences appreciating sensuous sound design.
Shows that mined the darker side of life pulled us in, too. As the pain and fear of quarantine began to overlap with the world exploding in social-justice protests, several dramas arrived feeling as if they had been created for this precise moment of rage. HBO’s Lovecraft Country (a genre mash-up about a Fifties black family battling monsters both real and supernatural) and Showtime’s The Good Lord Bird (with a fire-breathing, improbably hilarious Ethan Hawke as abolitionist John Brown) delved into historical racist horrors, while I May Destroy You (also HBO) presented a riveting exploration of sexual assault, consent, and healing.
As it became obvious that we would be indoors for the long haul, many sought refuge from the depressing state of the world by turning to shows about nice people. AppleTV+ had its first word-of-mouth hit with Ted Lasso, starring Jason Sudeikis as an unqualified English Premier League coach surprising everyone with an almost superhuman level of kindness. The final season of the heartwarming Pop TV sitcom Schitt’s Creek prompted a new wave of viewers to binge the entire series, about a spoiled, rich family forced to grow up after losing everything but one another. And the remake of All Creatures Great and Small — a gentle drama about a polite veterinarian in the English countryside of the Thirties — arrived on PBS only days after the Capitol insurrection in January, providing blessed relief in its world full of good people and cute animals.
Niceness also fueled one of the quarantine’s first viral hits: Some Good News, a web series hosted by John Krasinski that attempted to live up to its title while bringing in his many celebrity friends. (The show became almost too popular, as vocal fans seemed betrayed when the seemingly DIY project was sold to CBS.) In one episode, Krasinski presided over a virtual wedding for a pair of Office superfans, then surprised them with a video montage of all his old castmates performing the dance from Jim and Pam’s ceremony. It was far from the only cast reunion meant to raise spirits and charitable donations, whether the actors were performing new material set in Covid times (as both Monk and Parks and Recreation did), or simply jumping on Zoom together to reminisce about the good old days.
The pandemic postponed perhaps the most-anticipated reunion of all, as HBO Max was set to launch with the six Friends stars gathered around the old Central Perk couch. Instead, the streamer had to premiere Phoebe-less (and later did West Wing and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunions), entering an increasingly crowded field that also saw Peacock, Paramount+, and Discovery+ debut in lockdown. (Pour one out for Quibi, a streamer meant to provide short videos for people on the go, only to arrive in a world where no one was going anywhere.) In the before times, the sheer tonnage of new shows and new places to see them could feel oppressive. Now, it felt miraculous: absurd abundance in what was otherwise a time of great entertainment famine. As high-profile movies like Wonder Woman 1984, Zack Snyder’s four-hour new version of Justice League, or Steve McQueen’s collection of Small Axe films were released directly to streaming, it began to feel like everything was becoming television.
The streaming explosion also made it easier than ever for people to finally cross off classic shows on their bucket lists. Nostalgia — whether for shows we’d already watched in better days, or older ones we’d been hearing about forever without having the time to get around to them — transformed streamers’ library titles from afterthought to essential. The Sopranos in particular had another cultural moment, as millennials and Gen Z found themselves drawn to the parent series of modern television, finding something painfully recognizable in a show whose protagonist was convinced the best in life was over and all that lay ahead was ruin.
Relatively speaking, there have been better overall stretches of Peak TV than the one that carried us through Covid. And with the prepandemic backlog long since exhausted, the relentless pace and volume of new content has dropped precipitously in recent months. (You’ll have to wait a good while longer for that Game of Thrones spinoff or new seasons of Atlanta, among many others.) That’s OK, though. After two decades of The Wire, Breaking Bad, Fleabag, and more, nobody needs to be told that TV can be as great as movies, theater, or any other form of art. But where the medium was once derided for playing never-hard-to-get — always on, available at any hour of the day — that ubiquity became the thing we all latched onto to stay safe and sane when the rest of the world turned off.
It has been a year since the new CNN Prima News brand was presented in the Czech TV market. “We must always be prepared for everything,” says Pavel Štrunc, Editor-in-Chief of CNN Prima News.
The recent days have brought the Vrbětice case to the public sphere. The case is likely to resonate across (not only Czech) media for a long time. What did it mean for CNN Prima News?
Primarily the opportunity to show that we are able to immediately respond to exceptional situations. Provide the latest information and responses of those involved in the case – politicians, institutions, experts and citizens – to viewers in a fast, understandable and attractive manner. The development of the case is certainly dynamic and will be the key topic for us for a long time. However, this weekend was rich in exceptional events; on Saturday, we dedicated a five-hour special broadcast to the funeral of Prince Philip. I am glad that we can produce such demanding broadcasts well. After all, it is confirmed by hard data, the broadcast reached 575 thousand viewers in the 15+ target group, the all day share was 2.74 percent on Saturday.
How many people are preparing the news?
According to our headcount data, I am in charge of nearly four hundred people, including reporters, editors and many other professionals. It is a big TV. We no longer broadcast for an hour, it is 15 hours and more now. But if we have a look at the daily operation, there are twelve to thirteen people in the newsroom today who are prepared to fill both continuous broadcasting and the prime time news with content.
For our website, the number is similar, but there are people who are ‘on shift’ preparing texts for presenters of continuous news and in addition, there are other editors who come with topics to our meetings and then set off to shoot the reports. So the number is higher. A news service is a living organism.
In February, you added late-night news from 11 pm, what was the reason?
It shows that viewers are interested in late-night news, from 9, 10, 11 pm. We know that people watch the screens at these times and the ratings are quite interesting. When we have 0.5 to 0.7% of audience share, it is attractive for us. As news TV we should broadcast all day, both in the morning and in the evening.
You have mentioned an audience share. The professional server Médiář provided information that CNN Prima News saw 0.44% in January and that you have to double the share by May if you want to meet the plan.
In March, we had 0.75 percent. In general, TV is less dynamic than digital. The audience share is understandably important to us, we are seeking to achieve the planned share and I believe that we will even exceed it. I cannot refrain from being optimistic, but it will not happen as fast as we expected. I think that we are on the right track. The March result of our average audience share is not bad in my opinion, there were days and shows when our daily audience share was 1.5%. Specifically, it was when we broadcast Partie, our discussion show that hosted the Chairman of the Senate, Miloš Vystrčil, the Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, and President Miloš Zeman. We can put our shoulder to the wheel. But the journey will be longer, I admit.
Have you already put your team together or are you still building it? Some people from Prima have appeared in Seznam Zprávy recently…
They were first in Seznam Zprávy, then they were working with us for some time and now, they are back again. As I have said, a news service is a living organism. I think that the team is stable at the moment but of course, I would like to complete it with additional names. They should include experienced journalists who are famous in the news community and with whom I make interviews as well as promising fresh reporters. We have several of them, they are learning on shifts, they want to work hard and come up with new topics and I will not prevent them, on the contrary, I want to support them. We should not headhunt famous names on the TV market. I would rather hire people who come to us on their own to be part of CNN Prima News and we will train them, we will work with them from the beginning until they become more stable staff members.
When you mentioned training, long ago Prima damaged its reputation among journalists due to a record of a meeting with the then head of news, Jitka Obzinová, informing her editors that Prima would apply a single specific approach to the migration issue and those who did not like it were not welcome on TV. Is this not happening anymore?
No, this is not happening anymore. Definitely not. It is contrary to my and Prima management’s conviction.
We continue working in compliance with the independent news policy connected with an objective, balanced and professional way of providing information, showing various opinions, including the critical ones.
When I was talking about the need to train young editors and reporters I meant teaching them what a good topic is, how to process it with high quality and how to approach it critically. Not giving them strict orders what to do.
How beneficial the CNN brand in the name of your station is to you and how has Prima changed by introducing the brand?
I think that the entry of CNN is a big step for Prima. A big step was also its move to new large premises. I believe that CNN will not only strengthen Prima’s news but will also be beneficial to the entire company. I am often asked what the benefit of CNN is. Apart from the option to contact their reporters wherever they are in the world and be the first to bring verified information from the spot in cooperation with them – we had a live broadcast of the Congress attack while having other guests in our studio providing their comments, which was an ideal combination in my opinion – the largest benefit of our cooperation with CNN is something that you cannot see from the outside but what is seen in the backstage: CNN is perfect in working with content it has, it is able to exploit it, it is able to provide it to viewers repeatedly in various forms, it can complete it and these are the skills to learn. CNN has many years of experience, it is a great brand and that may be useful for Prima.
Do you feel any effort on the part of CNN to shape Prima, for example politically?
No, I don’t. Let’s make this clear because it is important for me. If I understand your question correctly you are referring to the fact that in the US context, Fox News is perceived as a station that is more on the right while CNN is more on the left. And in the US context that is based on the competition of the two strong parties it makes perfect sense. But we are not influenced at all in this respect, our editors are independent of CNN. We have accepted the standards and policies of CNN International as part of licence conditions but at the same time, we meet the Code of Ethics for news and journalism prepared by ATO and as I have already mentioned our coverage continues to be balanced, objective and politically independent.
I have heard a comment that CNN Prima News is more of a Czech Fox News.
A Czech Fox News? Why?
Because of the content and focus of the news. It related to Prima’s news in the previous period when it for example emphasised the alleged influence of George Sörös on elections in European countries, but all information related to Sörös and there were no reports on other effects. It was connected with the fact that Czech Prima’s view was similar to Fox News.
But you are talking about news broadcast by Prima about five years ago.
Yes, it is true but for example on social networks, these reports are still shared and reminded again and again.
I understand. But I would try and answer as follows: If you have a wedding and invite your family and guests from a wide area, some people may take it as your fresh start but you will never satisfy everyone. Someone will think that the meal is too cold, someone will find the ceremony too long, etc. That may be what is going on on Prima. It is important to say that we have been broadcasting for less than a year. I am convinced that our content is excellent, that we make good interviews, goods reports and that Prima has become a strong player. Our website is successful, it ranks among the strongest websites in the Czech market and some may dislike it. And this may be the reason why old cases are recycled. But I am here to make the company going on in future.
I think that the main thing is not that someone wants to recycle your old cases, the matter is that the view of certain topics Prima used to apply was appreciated by a portion of the internet community and it keeps sharing it.
You are right. But it is the same as if at the wedding, someone finds the potato salad too sour, you just cannot please everyone. I believe that our colleagues from CNN would let us know immediately if anything worked bad in terms of our cooperation, they keep monitoring our work on a regular basis and we are in contact with them continuously.
However, one piece of news that was spreading over the social networks in its misinterpreted form is from the last year. It was about testing a single person several times with different results, which was shared as distorted information – for example that the testing took place within a single day in 10 different locations, which was not true. As a result, people in the discussion took the information as confirmation that tests were useless although the report related to a single doubtful testing in a single place.
But you said it yourself, it was misinterpretation. We provided a fair and correct report, which was later living its own life. Unfortunately, this is part of our life these days although I am not too happy about it.
Can you do anything against it?
If I were to respond to all assumptions or speculations or insults I would not do anything else. Most likely, I would have to keep posting something on social networks but it is not my job, I am responsible for the company to work well, be attractive to its viewers, have high ratings, make really independent news and not to be scared to invite guests having conflicting views and being able to participate in a debate hosted by our TV in which all parties have an opportunity. That is all.
What news are you planning for the near future?
We are in an election year, so the news will focus on this issue. People talk about a silly season but since I have been working with the media I have not experienced any. One day there is a case concerning the appointment of the minister of culture, which was the case of Mr. Šmarda, another time there are riots in the United States, so we always have to be prepared for anything that may occur. After all, the current situation relating to the Vrbětice case is proof of that. But we will definitely concentrate on elections, we are preparing new formats that I believe will be attractive for viewers and we will do our best to engage viewers as much as we can and take them as close as possible.
We have done anything to spice up the launch of CNN Prima NEWS with adrenaline, says Marek Singer, the Prima group’s CEO, in an interview, remembering the launch of the news channel that celebrates its first birthday on 3 May. “We established the brand as a multiplatform. Thanks to TV and online channels our reach is up to 7.7 million people now,” he says.
In an interview for the CNN Prima NEWS Year 1 magazine, Marek Singer talks about his feeling that the social importance of TV has increased, about his assessment of the previous year and about his future plans for the project. “We are building the platform on the mainstream, on an average Czech viewer, but we have the ambition to address more demanding viewers. And we seek to do an important thing: let the opposing opinions be heard,” he says.
What was the first year of CNN Prima NEWS (CPN)?
By all means interesting. Full of lessons learnt. Even if you think that you have experience in establishing several TV channels and know exactly how it will turn out… The results will be exactly the opposite! Something is slightly below your expectations, other things highly exceed them. That is exactly what happened.
Prima, historically mainly a family TV station, welcomed a continuous news channel. Was it a meeting of two very different worlds?
On one hand, Prima is a family TV station, that is true. But on the other, we have always sought to build a broad portfolio of channels. Of course, we had no hands-on experience with a news station but for example thanks to Prima ZOOM we knew what audience groups we were targeting. However, a news service is naturally a completely different discipline. We need a huge background, in principle you have live broadcasts all the time, it is a very complex and demanding matter. Not to get bored when introducing a new news multiplatform, we moved from Palmovka to Strašnice and started broadcasting from a new studio equipped with the latest technology. We did anything we could to spice up the launch with adrenaline.
Plus you started the CNNPrima.cz website that has quickly become one of the most read in the Czech Republic. In combination with Prima’s traditionally strong social networks, a giant online multiplatform emerged, relying on viewers and readers from everywhere – TV, web, social networks. Was the bet on a multichannel information attack worth doing?
It was the key principle from the very beginning. The news as such is increasingly consumed online. Formerly, news TV was a dominant platform, which applies to CNN too. But even their proportion is 50:50 at the moment. Our CNN Prima NEWS has more online readers than TV viewers. We have been building the brand to work well for both media types since the beginning. In the long run, we should not care whether it is more TV or digital. The aggregate reach is what counts. And from this point of view, it is a very successful project.
And what is the reach?
The CNNPrima.cz website is visited by up to a million real users per day now, which is an excellent result, we are among the top 3 news websites in the Czech Republic. And TV, on which the web content is based, is watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers. If we count viewership of shows in combination with Prima’s main channel, the main news programmes are watched by nearly a million of viewers. I cannot wait when the ratings are presented for those two entities together – we will achieve figures comparable with the largest news platforms in the Czech Republic. I even think that we could be number one.
The sum of TV and online multiplatform measurement has been unofficial so far, media houses are doing it on their own. What is thus the resulting CPN’s reach on all TV and online platforms?
At present we reach up to 7.7 million people. If it is confirmed by official measurement, it may be more than Seznam Zprávy.
How does this multiplatform work in terms of business? We know well the costs of TV and digital advertising. The difference is enormous.
You definitely have to have the background of a big company that is willing to make long-term investments. These costs are not recovered within a year. And of course, it is a big advantage if you have a successful media house with eight TV stations. We managed to get the online news running thanks to the amazing work of Tomáš Večeřa’s team and our online platform highly exceeds our expectations. The TV station has the appropriate growing trend and I believe that the target will be achieved. We are still extremely successful compared to other news TV projects. After eleven months, we have a triple audience share compared to their results for the same period when the competition was lower, or there were much fewer TV stations.
Let’s talk about content. All Czech Republic quoted CNN Prima NEWS for example at the moment when it brought the information that Jan Blatný would end up in his office in the Ministry of Health well ahead of other news services and the information confirmed to be true. And there was a large number of other news taken from CPN. Do you feel that the social importance of Prima has increased?
I definitely perceive that the social importance of the Prima group has increased. Significantly. We build the news platform on the latest news and updates that are interesting for most Czech viewers, we bring opinions from multiple sources. Minority of news media is doing the same these days.
Journalism has become a more active profession for many people, it is influenced by emotions, some journalists become fans…
That is exactly what is happening all around the globe. By the way, we became the most-quoted news medium in the Czech Republic last year. I think that the CNN image is helpful. All the time we have been successful in inviting political or economic leaders and elite and engaging them in the broadcast. Their participation may seem to be a matter of course but it is not. And I am all the more pleased that they want to appear in our programme.
What is the cause of your website success in your opinion? Why has it become so popular so quickly?
I have a déjà vu moment. Six weeks before the launch we were working on the nearly final web design. As I was watching it I said to myself, Is this a strategy that will in fact not copy the most successful visual style on the market? Have we really bet on the fact that the trend of videos and pictures is highly developed, that the mainstream viewers will accept it, that we will not have 24 text links making an impression that you will learn everything in a single place? We have really relied on visual attractiveness. We are combining very interesting headlines and attractive pictures. And that was the winning strategy. Most competitors seek to copy the well-established style of Seznam Zprávy. We have taken the opposite direction with CNN Prima NEWS, which works excellently.
And what about TV? Ratings are growing, there are new shows, for example the news from the regions (Zprávy z regionů) has immediately become one of the most watched programmes of CNN Prima NEWS…
New programmes are not the only things that matter. Our team of editors has become accustomed to a certain scheme and learnt to fill it with content. I think that it is not possible to succeed with what everybody else is doing. It is necessary to take a topic that affects society and develop it in all possible forms. That is what our editors have already learnt. And now they start to reap the harvest. Specifically Zprávy z regionů is a very popular form of content for Czech viewers. It is a logical step, it was a piece of the puzzle that was missing. This format will continue to grow.
What people like about CNN Prima NEWS is also the crime news (Krimi zprávy) that you moved back to the main news block on the main channel. Are you satisfied with that programme?
Yes, I am. Krimi zprávy is a classic format. It is a type of journalism occurring all around the world. For example, crime news is what made Sky News famous. The return of Krimi zprávy to the prime time is highly promising. How did the covid pandemic affect the TV business? In the crisis, firms cut off advertising at first – but it is advertising what makes TV going. The pandemic has impacted our business as well. It was the worst at moments when something got closed all of a sudden. The second quarter of the last year was the worst, we experienced it the most. In the rest of the year, we managed to rebalance the situation and achieve the desired levels. The first quarter of this year was not too bad, there is no increase but the decline is not too sharp. I think that the development will depend on whether the easing will be permanent or whether we will be up and down again. Clients show fatigue rather than panic. This insecurity and a certain resignation is fortunately not reflected in ad spends. But if another lockdown occurs for example in the autumn, there will apparently be some reflection.
And what do you think, how will it turn out?
It is a million-dollar question! (He is laughing.) If I have a look at it from the historic point of view, after the frequently discussed Spanish flu, which spread between 1918 and 1920, the global economy recovered very quickly. After that, people were surprisingly very motivated to start something new although it was said that in combination with World War I, the world was snookered. But the opposite happened… It was an unbelievable start for the 1920s. This is an optimistic scenario for me.
And what about the pessimistic one?
It is simple. Governments have printed an unbelievable amount of money to cover the costs incurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. And when the money is spent, there will be a great crisis. But as usual, the truth is likely to be somewhere in between.
What is the future of CNN Prima NEWS?
In the long run, it does not make a difference how I imagine the future. What is important is what viewers expect from the news. There are two rather vigorous trends across all society. The younger the generation, the more vigorous the trends are. The first trend is rather a superficial way of processing information, the other one is the visuality. They go hand in hand. I personally think that it is not the right path. But it is my personal problem. As the classic says: I can disagree, I can protest but it is all I can do about it. And as we are a commercial medium we will logically seek to have the highest attractiveness for the future and current viewers and readers. Infotainment is just part of the mainstream news.
And what about journalistic formats?
I find it very important that journalists seek to apply a modern form of journalism. When journalism does not work, there will be no information tool making people think about an issue, sit down and realize what the issue means to them. But if we think that young people will sit down in front of their TV or a computer and switch on a static debate of three old men on a certain topic, we are naive. Young people accept what they read on social networks…
Yes, that is happening. The question is whether the substance of traditional media disappears with the retreat of traditional political parties. What do you think?
People will be interested in current affairs all the time. This interest has been in people’s DNA since prehistoric times and we will keep it forever. That will not change. But information sources are what may change. Traditional media and their news must develop, otherwise they will end up as the traditional parties.
When CNN Prima NEWS was launched you said that you were targeting mainly those who keept switching the programmes. There are 28% of them according to your estimates. Is there any typical CPN viewer or did you just capture those who were switching over the first year?
Viewers and readers are being profiled. We are really at the beginning. We have learnt to walk but we still cannot run. For the time being, our viewers are younger, a bit more educated and there are more women among them compared to our competitors. But that is what we want as a commercial medium. We are going in the right direction. What I definitely want to emphasize is the fact that 20% of our followers are socio economic classes A or B, for our website it is even 27% and a quarter of our readers are people up to 34 years. If we continue doing our job well, our form will be more accessible than the form of more traditional news media. We do not want to close our viewers in their social bubbles, we want to provoke them a bit. To let them hear an opinion that does not resonate with their views. I think that it is extremely important for people to be exposed to opinions of the other party as part of a factual debate.
The Czech society (and it is not the only one) is simply polarized in a strict, emotional and conflicting manner. Will this change? No, unfortunately I do not think so. I think that a huge number of conflicts arise from the fact that we no longer want to listen to each other. The business model of social networks is to blame. They are providing us with content that we want to hear so that we spend as much time as possible with them… It would be a path to hell if the fight for an objective discussion was given up by the news media because it is more comfortable to select a target group and keep telling it what it wants to hear.
What would you tell to those who doubt CNN Prima NEWS?
(Smiling) I would like to let them know: 7.7 million viewers.