Millennials. They’re the constant, bubbling theme of this year’s MIPTV, as the traditional television industry wonders whether they’ve all migrated online, and a host of YouTubers, digital startups and multi-channel networks suggest that they could migrate them back again, with the right distribution deals.
At MIPTV this afternoon, a panel on “Reinventing Content” talked about what some Nordic companies are doing to engage younger people. The panel comprised Risto Kuulasmaa, head of TV and online at YLE in Finland; Mikko Pöllä, group creative director at Angry Birds maker Rovio Entertainment; and Anette Romer, head of acquisitions and formats at TV2 Danmark. It was moderated by Lars Beckung, CEO of Mexiko Media.
“It’s fair to say that most of us realise we’ll have to change the way we do business,” said Beckung as an introduction. “There is a completely new market emerging: there are no content bottlenecks any more, and local content has to compete with global content,” he added. “The early adopters, the millennials, are now moving into the mainstream… they will soon become mainstream and cross all demographics.”
Pöllä spoke first, about the Nordics. “We have a history of creating content that is interesting beyond our own territories,” he said, noting Swedish and Danish TV and books, and now games from Finland. “We are in a good place when it comes to the new world of global content… It’s probably something about the combination of doing familiar things – I grew up watching American TV so that’s somehow in my backbone – but there’s something in our state of mind, in our tone of voice, that brings an original twist to what we’re doing… and that combination seems to be something global audiences enjoy.”
How do you get a global hit? In TV and drama it’s still a great strategy to create something great and unique for your home market, suggested Pöllä, who has a traditional TV background. Two months in to his role at Rovio, he’s noticed some differences – and some similarities. “I think it’s still about characters, it’s still about story content,” he said.
“The biggest difference that I learned was while in drama you have a 45-minute episode to get people interested, or at least the first act before they turn on to another channel, in the app world, in the world where there’s thousands and thousands of different options for the consumers, you basically have a 1cm by 1cm icon and two seconds to get them interested and engaged. That is a huge challenge for us all in the future. That is the biggest difference: it’s so intensive, it’s so fast-paced, and you want to make an impression in two seconds.”
He suggested that the only option is to create something that hasn’t been done before: something unique that stands out. “Of course big players are having a bit of an advantage because people are more likely to consume something that is familiar to them already,” he admitted. Rovio launched its ToonsTV animation channel two years ago in its apps to capitalise on that “and we have five billion views by now: that is huge, and of course starting from scratch, it is hard.”
“The key still is no matter what the technology is, people want to share things that make them seem cool and interesting. So if I find something new and interesting that I haven’t seen before, I get a part of that cool if I’m the first one to share that,” he continued. “Creating something people want to attach themselves to is the key to the discovery part.”
Over to Romer from TV 2 Danmark, who talked about drama’s ability to drive online viewing. “Drama has become the new novel,” she said. “The type of series that are often online or on OTT, they really lend themselves to reading one chapter after another. Bingeing as we know it… I also think that spills over into linear TV, because the appetite for drama has grown tremendously. It’s a huge surge… I recently heard Morgan Spurlock talk about this surge and parallel it to a rising tide: when the tide comes in, all boats are lifted, and the rise in quality we’ve seen in drama will spill over to other genres. Even reality will have to rise to the challenge.”
Is it fair to say linear viewing is “quite laid back” asked Beckung, while drama is a bit more lean-forward, as is on-demand viewing? “I don’t think it’s an either/or, people have a lot of choice. In the weekdays, working for a large broadcaster with its very large audience still, we are still able to retain the audience with our linear offering. But it’s all a question of time, and technology has given the audience so much choice,” she said, before using a geographical metaphor. “Free TV is like Switzerland where YouTube is like India. Free TV is more structured: sometimes you need more structure in your life. YouTube is more messy: maybe even dirty, gritty… we all need a bit of structure to the chaos!”
Kuulasmaa talked about Yle’s current vision: “We’ll launch a new youth platform in Autumn which will be an app, it will play our online catalogue, and it will be a mix of online and broadcast. We’ll curate content: we’ll have original content so we’ll make deals with existing big YouTube stars… then the vision is to create a crowdsourced models where we give grants to the kids as curators. We give monthly grants where everyone can apply, and a board that has YouTube members, audience members and a couple of Yle people… and we step back and enjoy the show. And the third step will be our own in-house youth content.”
A merger of the TV and online worlds, then? “This is the time where you need to merge, and thats the only way to survive. We’ve had this declining reach in 15-30 demo for the past 10 years, and we need to become relevant among youth, otherwise we are creating a museum,” he continued. “These kids, in 10 years they will be our MPs. They will decide my salary, so I better get relevant!”
Pöllä chimed in: “That chaos is not going to go away. That chaos is everyday life in the games industry because of the amount of opportunities in the app stores… you just need to find your own niche and learn to be comfortable with that chaos.”
Kuulasmaa talked about a new movement: “It’s all about MCNs, all about this do-it-yourself culture, all about running your own video blog, about doing your own thing. We are entering this totally new era that will affect traditional broadcast in terms of production value, what kind of content there is, even where you place your camera… Now we laugh at selfie sticks, but we will likely see our news reporters using them and doing reports in a gonzo style. All that we now see on the streets will take place on the public broadcasters. At least I hope so.”
“The young people are learning the rules of creating interesting content… because they have to,” said Pöllä. But Romer rejoined the conversation by noting that in 2014 TV 2 Danmark had its best year ever, with the number of young people watching growing, not shrinking. How? “By having a unique tone,” she said, pointing to comedy as a key genre in attracting those younger viewers. It has also introduced “shuffle-scheduling”, airing a show on Monday in one time slot, then another time slot on Tuesday, and so on. “It’s a way of helping them navigate in chaos, and never to lose sight of that we are serving them.”