I seem to constantly have the discussion with friends and colleagues as to the relevancy of networks as we see the decline of viewership on television and the rise of viewership through online and mobile. However, I haven’t changed my view. I think they do matter. They still help consumers find content. Networks and brands validate the content – whether it be on quality or type – they help give it a place.
If content creators want people to watch their content, consumers have to discover it and access it. The emergence of online video has changed the way consumers do both of these things. Discovery is the most critical aspect of this – and networks can help consumers do this. Online channels function the same way as television networks in that they aggregate content and have a brand associated with them. Some of these brands are very defined with a narrow target and others are more general.
Let’s take PewDiePie, the most popular YouTube channel. He focuses on indie games. So, if you want to know about indie games, that channel is the one to watch. This is exactly the same idea of ESPN – if you want to watch sports, ESPN is where you tune in to watch – whether it’s on their television network or through Watch ESPN. Networks like these have created brands and definition, which focuses their viewers.
Networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX have a greater challenge than cable channels in that they have a much broader spectrum of content. However, I would argue that this is similar to Netflix and Amazon, who both have a range of content that they are both licensing and producing. All of these “networks” have really smart people developing content, creating programming, licensing content from others, and, most importantly, big marketing budgets to tell consumers how to find their content. Consumers trust the content will be good (which I realize is subjective) because it comes from a brand they know and trust.
I have often heard the argument that in the future people will find content primarily through their social networks. That may be true to some extent. But someone has to find the content to begin with. Even if I know a television critic, actor, producer, college buddy, or colleague has the exact same taste as I do they have to discover themselves. Networks, with their marketing dollars and innovative campaigns, help people to find content. Yes, some content will be found through an influencer on FB or Twitter or some other social media channel, but networks have a place. They do matter. And we keep watching what they give us.