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The final say

By Anne Sweeney 29-01-2015

Ten years ago, many predicted that the technological advances that were crippling record companies, newspaper publishers, bookstores, and video rental businesses would also destroy the television industry.

At Disney/ABC, we believe the digital and mobile revolution has actually strengthened our business – and will continue to do so in ways we never could dream of before – by creating opportunities to better serve consumers’ media needs and add new revenue streams.

Technology and the exploding growth of mobile devices have enabled constant connection and unparalleled access to content, giving viewers almost unlimited ways to watch television.

They can watch on a 60in screen in their living room; on a Nabi in their bedroom; on an iPad in the coffee shop; or on a smartphone on the train.

They can watch on platforms as varied as video game consoles and MP3 players, smart phones and tablets, over-the-top set boxes and desktops.

They can swallow a whole season on a Saturday afternoon in one epic binge via ABC Studios on Demand, Netflix, or Amazon/LoveFilm, or take one bite at a time each week while they live-tweet and post about every moment with their friends on Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat.

Or they can decide to just snack on two-minute online videos from Maker Studios.

What does all this choice mean for the future? Content may be king, but the consumer is the true ruler of the realm. And technologies just beyond the horizon will only put more power into the hands of those who want to consume media on their own terms.

The companies that survive will be the ones with trusted brands like Disney, ABC, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm that figure out how to deliver the best storytelling in the most innovative ways – empowering viewers to watch their favourite content where they want, when they want, and how they want.

The companies that thrive will be those that super-serve fans with content experiences that deepen their relationship with the shows while also driving engagement for advertisers.

A great content experience and the ability to generate multiple revenue streams go hand-in-hand: in order to continue to create the quality storytelling that the world has come to expect of us, we must be able to monetise our offerings.

Advertising remains a robust and vital way to do this. While we’re always looking for ways to add value for our viewers, we also want to add value for our advertisers. That’s why we launched ABC Unified in the US, so that an advertiser can reach every screen – and the full scope of our audience – with a single buy.

To further diversify our revenue streams, we also forged a groundbreaking alliance with Yahoo! in 2011 and created the Yahoo-ABC News Network. This network has been the number one online news and information source for more than two years. It has fundamentally altered the delivery of news and information across the digital landscape and continues to create and drive new advertising opportunities across all properties.

In addition, we’re working closely with Nielsen on mobile measurement to provide media companies with a more complete picture of who is watching their content, when they are watching it, and on what device, as well as giving advertisers a better idea of where their messages are being seen.

In the future, TV content will be even more immersive, fully interactive, and on-demand via the Internet, easily sourced and searched, and detached from any specific screen or device. Fans will interact and influence.

Disney/ABC has been preparing for this future for more than a decade.

In fact, we identified the need for ‘TV Everywhere’ in 2004 when we talked with kids and families about how we could add value and convenience to their TV-watching experience and to understand the potential of emerging platforms.

At the time, these platforms were laptops, set-top box VoD, mobile feature phones, and hand-held gaming devices. Usage of most offerings on these was very low, but the potential was clear. Kids told us that the size of the screen didn’t matter and moms told us they’d love to be able to bring a TV with them to the grocery store or the doctor’s office.

The need was there, but the technology wasn’t yet – offerings were clunky and complicated, costs were high, and content was limited. But we knew it was only a matter of time until these barriers fell.

The key was to build business models around consumer needs rather than those of a particular channel or platform.

We began by offering our content on iTunes – the first network to do so – and we followed that by developing multiple digital products that have moved our business and industry forward.

Each advance led to our latest products, our TV Everywhere WATCH services that deliver the best possible live and on-demand viewing experience for fans of our shows on desktops, smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs.

Our WATCH products are ad-supported and provide special access to viewers who verify that they are pay TV subscribers with one of our cable, satellite, or telecom partners. This ensures that fans can access our shows anytime, anywhere, while also maintaining the integrity of our revenue-generating partners.

These partners now include most of our MVPD distributors in the US, like Cox Communications and Verizon, as well as StarHub in Singapore and J:COM in Japan.

WATCH is essentially a content creator’s take on authenticated TV Everywhere, similar to Sky Go and Foxtel Go’s MVPD versions. WATCH builds a foundation for our company to have a direct relationship with our consumers in a world where they have the final say.

To deepen that relationship, we’ll continue to add features to WATCH to provide a more integrated, immersive, personalised, and social experience for fans to do everything they love to do around TV.

This includes increased shortform video and gaming, and new tools to: multi-task on social media platforms and connect with friends while watching live and on-demand programs; share video clips; and watch all of our live broadcasts from multiple vantage points during the programme – all on one screen.

One thing we know how to do at Disney/ABC is tell great stories. And great stories, more than anything, are what consumers want, and what will endure.

With new technologies giving us the ability to tell them in extraordinary ways and make even deeper emotional connections with our audiences, we think the future of television is more exciting than ever.

today's correspondent

Anne Sweeney Co-Chair Disney Media Networks

Anne Sweeney is the outgoing co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, which includes The Walt Disney Company's global entertainment and news television properties, owned television stations group and radio business. She joined The Walt Disney Company in February 1996 as president of Disney Channel and executive VP of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. Previously she was chairman and CEO of FX Networks, and before that spent 12 years at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite.

Widely recognised as one of the most powerful and influential women in media, she announced last year that she was stepping down to become a TV director and leaves the Mouse House on February 1.