Where is the Growth of On-Demand Content Leading Us?

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on demand content

Looking back at it, the on-demand entertainment revolution has been going on for a full generation now.

It’s been more than 20 years since PVRs and DVDs made it possible to watch digital copies of your favourite movies and TV shows on your schedule. And it’s 20+ years since Napster, then the iPod, delivered on command just about any song ever recorded.

DVDs, Napster and the iPod are part of history now. When we think of on-demand content today, we think of video streaming, music streaming and podcast listening—with video streaming and podcast listening both up sharply during COVID.

We are now living in an on-demand world with consumers firmly in the driver’s seat, choosing from a virtually unlimited roster of entertainment.

Here are 3 things we see as the move towards on-demand content continues:

1. Less push, more pull for marketing and advertising

On-demand content changes the grand bargain between advertisers and the audience. The audience will still accept ads in return for free content. But it imposes limits. Too many ads—or ads that annoy or offend—risk sending the audience to the exits. There are so many other options, many of them ad-free. That’s an issue for both media outlets and the agencies and advertisers that feed them.

Podcasting offers a petri dish of what works, and where the dangers may lie. Podcasting currently enjoys the enviable position as one of the few media where advertisers can still reach the affluent, younger consumers who are first-in-line for on-demand entertainment. With podcasting’s roots largely planted in public radio, ads are typically limited and dialed back in intensity. Perhaps as a result, sponsors are viewed positively as supporters of listeners’ favourite podcasts (more on that in the Podcast Download Spring 2021 Study we conducted in partnership with CUMULUS MEDIA). Brands have also been successful producing their own podcasts, giving listeners engaging content that reflect their brand values, but with a feather-light brand touch. Can podcasting maintain this unique brand/audience relationship as it moves mainstream? The answer may well define its future as on an on-demand medium.  

2. The audience, not the regulator, is setting the rules

Over the years, broadcast regulation has been based largely on the scarcity principle. Because the broadcast spectrum was limited, licenses were granted by the government in return for ensuring that the broadcasters operated in the public interest.

The explosion of on-demand content hasn’t just cracked that foundation, it has split it wide open. With the audience free to choose from an infinite array of online on-demand entertainment options, the notion of scarcity feels quaint. Regulators around the world are struggling with this new reality.

Here in Canada for example, the government and the regulator are trying to find a path towards continuing to protect Canadian cultural content.  And it’s having a hard time. As it looks to level the playing field between broadcasters who are regulated to meet Canadian content quotas and their on-demand competitors like Netflix and Spotify, the government is considering legislation that would regulate the online content providers. That’s easier said than done. For one thing, you can’t obviously force an on-demand audience to consume a prescribed amount of Canadian content. Rather than regulate the Internet, a more sensible solution might be to provide broadcasters regulatory relief. Otherwise, the cruel irony is that the one window where Canadians are assured of being exposed to at least some Canadian content is in danger of having its curtains drawn by the hands of its on-demand competitors.     

3. Don’t write off broadcast TV and radio as part of the on-demand future

Overall, broadcast TV viewing has been soft during COVID. But a lot of that can be attributed to lack of new programming with fewer shows in production. Meanwhile, pointing the way to continued relevance for live linear TV, news viewing hit enormous peaks when the many of the big news stories of the past year were unfolding.

Listening to broadcast radio was also down during COVID. That doesn’t, however, mean audiences will be smaller in the post-pandemic future. The biggest part of the decline in listening comes from people spending less time within easy reach of the radio in their cars—and listening is rebounding as people get back on the road. At the same time, more radio listening has been shifting to AM/FM streaming, suggesting that listeners have been taking active steps to keep the companionship and connections of radio in their day-to-day life.

Watching broadcast TV or listening to AM/FM radio isn’t just an easy option for those too lazy or too technologically challenged to make another on-demand choice. They both offer the audience unique benefits that earn them a place in a new on-demand world.

Where do you see the on-demand revolution taking us? Are we there yet? What are the implications for various sectors of the audio industry? I would love to hear your thoughts. Send me an email and we’ll continue the conversation.

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Signal Hill Insights is an audio research consultancy. We partner with publishers, broadcasters and advertisers to tap new opportunities in audio. If you’d like to know more about our brand lift studies or the other audio research we do, visit us at https://signalhillinsights.com/