VidCon 2018: You heard it here first — TV is not dead

It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to complete my VidCon speaker quote bingo card. ‘Brands don’t understand creators’ — tick. ‘You need to speak fast on YouTube’ — tick. ‘What about Vine? Jk! lol.’ — somehow yes, two years on, still tick. But the whole ‘nobody watches TV anymore’, ‘I don’t even own a TV’ and ‘TV is dead’ thing is notably absent. The more cynical amongst you may speculate that this u-turn from that most common of VidCon hyperbole of years gone by has something to do with the fact that the whole thing is now owned by Viacom, but alas I think it’s just another signal of an industry that’s matured a lot in the last few years and no longer feels the need to be so combative with the traditional media world.

There are a lot of big TV companies here from all over the world and not just those within the Viacom stable. That’s not an entirely new thing, digital teams from the big guns have always attended, but there seems to be a consensus amongst attendees that I’ve spoken to that there are more ‘traditional’ TV people here than ever before — you can spot them as they’re usually the first ones to the free bar. Perhaps spurred on to attend by GroupM’s State of Digital report, published earlier this year, in which they asserted that “time spent with online media will overtake time spent with linear TV for the first time, globally, in 2018.”

Personally, the most surprising thing about that prediction for me was that I was flat-out convinced that I’d read that exact same thing from countless other sources in 2017, 2016, 2015 and so on and so forth. But anyway, it seems that we are finally at the consensus that linear TV can’t be complacent and expect that just because everyones’ furniture is pointed at it, it will be fine. Interestingly though, the feeling towards the TV industry here at VidCon, on the Industry and Creator tracks at least, has been decidedly welcoming. And, from what I hear, more so than previously. It doesn’t feel like us vs them anymore. The hatchet seems to have been buried between digital and linear.

Now, the numerous TV folk here will have liked a lot of what they’ve heard over the past couple of days. Mike Vorhaus, of Magid Insights, in his annual whirlwind State of Online Video keynote was keen to clarify that “TV is NOT dead”. And seriously, if Mike Vorhaus is saying it, then you can bet your house on it. Indeed, the Magid Media Futures survey found that the TV set is still the most popular primary medium for entertainment. Note, that we’re talking about the physical set here, not the content.

CREDIT: Magid Media Futures 2017

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that ceases to be the case amongst millennials where laptops or PCs take the top spot, but the fact that 24% still do favour TV as their primary platform is pretty significant. The complete abandonment of the television as a device for consuming media isn’t happening, it’s just there are more opportunities to consume media, often at the same time.

We are, of course seeing the consistent growth of OTT and VOD. I would be insulting your intelligence by jumping into a whole ‘you know, Netflix is a big deal’ thing, but I do think this stat from a Nielsen talk yesterday warrants particular attention. Jan 2018 saw 7.9 million consumer hours spent on OTT content on TV sets via connected devices, spread fairly evenly across Games Consoles, Smart TVs and Digital Streaming Devices. So what? Well linear TV consumption accounted for four-times that. Ultimately, the TV is still primarily used for watching what we would traditionally call “TV” — i.e. linear broadcast.

Interestingly, at their big keynote yesterday, YouTube announced Premieres, which allow creators the chance to prerecord content, set it to go live at a specific time and notify their subscribers of said time. Thus providing a collective viewing experience for their audiences. It is essentially appointment-to-view TV. They also talked up how the UEFA Champions League final and the Royal Wedding were both broadcast live on YouTube to enormous audiences. What stood out to me about that is that they were both TV feeds — the former from BT Sport, the latter from BBC One. So appointment-to-view and live were two of the main fanfare points for the YouTube keynote. ATV and live — which is essentially what linear TV is.

So with digital platforms now hosting ATV and live, TV sets accommodating OTT and VOD, aren’t we all just doing the same thing but in slightly different ways to slightly different audiences? Is a 60 minute Netflix original drama really any different to it’s BBC One equivalent? Is a YouTube Premiere from a creator really any different to the big Saturday 8pm ATV slot? Is a YouTube Live Stream of the UEFA Champions League final any different to the BT Sport broadcast of the same match? And are hours of live-streaming of classic Doctor Who on Twitch any different to the same thing on a cable channel?

Ultimately, no, not really. I guess my point in all this is that sometimes we can get so lost in acronyms, OTT, VOD, AVOD, SVOD, TV, ATV and so on and so forth, that we forget what this is all about. It’s just storytelling with cameras.

So far, so obvious. Right? So why I am I writing about this? Well I fully expected to come here and hear the exaggerated statements asserting the death of TV, but what I’ve been met with is a digital video industry that wants to embrace and go on a journey with the TV industry, rather than leaving it behind.

Fraudulent influencers, Fake News, safeguarding issues, monetisation crashes and the pivot from pivot-to-video, the last 12 months have been an annus horribilis for digital video, particularly YouTube. So perhaps its no surprise that VidCon 2018 feels more welcoming to the TV world — digital video can’t afford to be complacent either.

This year, the digital creator and influencer marketing industry is more mature, more serious, more business-minded, more conscious of it’s responsibilities to it’s audiences and creators than ever before. But happily, it is still fast-paced, creative, meritocratic and diverse. Maybe it’s the Los Angeles air, softening my inherent London cynicism, but I for one feel very enthusiastic about it. And on that note, I’m going to race a load of TV folk to the industry bar.