How to Compete With Billions of New Broadcasters

LONDON—The news desk phone rings: a downtown building is on fire. But, as a 21st century news gatherer, you already knew that… you’re watching a live stream from the scene, found on your twitter feed.

This is daily reality for professional journalists.

Gavin Mann

Eyewitnesses are now the first to break stories. Broadcasters’ 24-hour news channels once ruled the roost. They had armies of news gatherers, squadrons of helicopters and fleets of SNG trucks.
Now, billions of people are walking around with an HD video camera and a live-point sitting snugly in their pocket.

Smartphone users, streaming video from the centre of the action, are now key to many major news stories. From terror attacks to big sporting events, footage is shared through apps made by firms like Facebook and Twitter.

Crucially, those consumers can reach their audience directly – cutting out the journalists in the middle. According to Pew Research, 62 per cent of Americans now get their news on social media.

Traditional broadcasters cannot hope to compete with the camera angles, perspectives and speed of on-location content. Nor can they compete on cost: consumers are prepared to ‘work’ for free – they even pick up the cost of cameras and data!

But broadcasters do need to keep pace – if they’re to stay relevant.


Don’t try to compete with the whole internet. The key to success is embracing the new opportunities – blending the video into a coherent narrative – then working with the right players in the ecosystem to get it watched.

Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter and Apple are webscale businesses with huge platforms and audiences to match. These “superplatforms” are setting the pace. They own the customer, they can aggregate behaviour and make inferences. For content providers seeking eyeballs, the superplatforms can turn on – and off – the tap arbitrarily. At the moment, perhaps fortunately, they are driven by something greater than simply competing with Broadcasters.

It is still trusted broadcasters – such as the BBC or CNN – that consumers trust to cover, validate, contextualise and develop stories.

Broadcasters must give customers a reason to keep coming back. Achieving that is still an exercise in trust, loyalty and brand – supported by new technology and new outlets.


Digital consumers now expect their favourite brands to “know” them; this is now as true for broadcasters as it is for internet bookshops.

The superplatforms have a head start – their businesses are built on an intimate understanding of their audience. Broadcasters have sometimes been slow to respond, but gaining individual insight into customers is now key. This means tailoring services, content and marketing for each user.

Equally crucial is the integration of analytics. The editorial product can be constantly refined based on insight from real customers.

Live on-location content offers valuable insight into people’s viewing preferences. Broadcasters can use analytics to find out what people are viewing, where they are finding it and what topics or angles interest them the most. TV networks must use this insight to optimise their viewer engagement.


The superplatforms draw strength from the scale of their user base, the range of content they support and the sheer capability of their underlying “webscale” platforms and operating model. A powerful combination that allows them to iterate quickly, and fail fast; providing open spaces where good ideas can flourish. The most successful work with their partners to mutual benefit – by balancing their stakeholders’ talents and sharing user insights. They demonstrate that a rising tide lifts all boats.

But the media landscape is also fast evolving. The rules of today’s game will change – and not always in your favour. “Do you want to be the landowner or the tenant farmer?” – As one senior TV exec eloquently put it.

That means while it’s important to collaborate, it’s essential to retain leverage and hence avoid being completely dependent on others for future success.

Big broadcasters have the most to lose – and for them, operating their own “webscale” platform – plus having the operating model and scale to operate it effectively – are essential to continued success.

This story originally appeared on TVT's sister publication TVB Europe.