Snacking on the stream is passe. Watching a whole show online is where it’s at.
That’s an overstatement: People still like watching short content while standing in line or tuning out the subway crowd. But the fact is, according to Nielsen, tablet devices are in 46% of consumer hands, and increasingly are used as a “television set” in and out of the home. People turn on the television set to watch a whole show.
David Wertheimer, president of digital at Fox Broadcasting, and his team worked hard this year to improve the user experience of watching those full shows on tablets and smartphones, via Roku boxes and through the Xbox platform.
“We hit a critical mass this year,” Wertheimer explained, in terms of getting multichannel video programming distributors signed up (via the Fox Networks distribution team) and enabling their customers to watch Hell’s Kitchen, American Idol, Gotham and other Fox programs in a timely fashion, via Fox.com and the Fox Now app.
NEW LOOK ON WEB
“That was a huge thing for us,” Wertheimer said. “We are pushing 20 million installs across all of our apps. So we now have a critical mass of authentication, we have a critical mass of footprint. It’s been a big year for us on the Fox Now front.”
November also saw a key redesign of Fox.com. It’s now easier to watch whole episodes, with a full-width player and full episodes presented on every page of the show sites. The mobile-responsive design optimizes for all devices, which is important because 35% to 45% of traffic to the site is from mobile devices, per Fox.
So far, according to Fox, so good. Video-completion rates (watching from start to finish) are up by 40% and time spent per visit has grown by 16%.
That dedication to making it easier for consumers to sample Fox fare digitally, while rewarding pay TV customers for their business, helped David Wertheimer stand apart as a technology executive in the programming sphere in 2014.
“All of the technical infrastructure that we have been putting in place, and all of the user experience, together with recommendation engines and targeting capability, comes together in a really big way for us in 2015,” the former Paramount Pictures digital-entertainment president said.
“The end result for us is, we ought to, over time, be able to make digital viewing as good as or better than television. That is a high bar, because people enjoy watching television. But I think we can make it even better with some of these enhancements.”
Wertheimer brought that mindset to Fox in October 2011 after three-plus years as CEO and executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California, a part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts that brings companies and consumers together to find the best ways to use new technologies in all aspects of the entertainment industry.
After his high-profile stint at Paramount, he was founder and CEO at digital-content creator WireBreak Entertainment. Earlier, he worked for Steve Jobs at the NeXT computer company and was senior director of entertainment alliances at Larry Ellison’s Oracle.
“I think we have crossed into a new era where technology and the content that flows through that technology are inextricably linked,” Wertheimer said. “So I think it’s crucial to understand the capabilities, the opportunities, the pitfalls of the various technologies that are out there and coming down the road.
“That’s why I not only come from Silicon Valley but I spend a lot of time up there, talking to companies up there and [venture capitalists] and evangelizing what we’re doing, learning what other people are doing, thinking about where things are going down the road. Because as much as there is this huge pent-up demand for content, we need to make sure that we’re delivering it to the right people in the right ways at the right time.”
It’s still early in the television digital-viewing evolution, Wertheimer said. Around the third inning, to use a baseball analogy.
HIGH ON ‘TV EVERYWHERE’
Cable-friendly authenticated viewing also is in early days, with positive signs. Wertheimer cited the growth in TV-everywhere awareness tracked by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (Fox is part of those collaborative efforts), and recent stats from Comcast-owned Freewheel that showed authenticated ad viewing jumped 368% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2014.
Fox.com and primary Fox Now “10-foot devices” (e.g., Apple TV and Roku) access is now at 77% of pay TV customers, rising to 97% in January, Fox said. Fox Now primary mobile apps (iOS and Android) are at 63%, rising to 83% in January.
“I think it’s important to reward people who do pay for television,” Wertheimer said. “They deserve to get great benefit from it, and we make every effort to reward people who have providers and can authenticate and do authenticate.”
Using social networks to keep viewers engaged is also a huge concern for Wertheimer and his team. Fox claims the crown of being the top broadcast network in social media terms, with more than 254 million “fans” via Facebook, Twitter and other outlets.
“The goal is how to we keep people engaged, how do we provide a delightful experience for them to view in — and then an engaging experience for them to stay engaged between episodes and between seasons. That’s one of the things that I find so exciting about what we can do at the network that otherwise can’t be done at a pure distribution point.”
If 2014 was a year of improving the user experience, of exploiting the growing digital platforms to find and keep Fox viewers, what specifically is Wertheimer looking forward to in 2015?
“Of course, all of our new shows — Empire on Jan. 7, 2015. The return of American Idol (leading into Empire). You can quote me on that.”
“For us, it’s really about delivering new kinds of experiences that allow people to go deeper and wider than before,” he said. “We’re keeping an eye on emerging technology. We did a really cutting-edge exploration with Oculus Rift at Comic-Con San Diego earlier this year, it was very forward-looking. We’re definitely experimenting with some of these things. Obviously, there’s going to be a huge amount of noise about virtual reality a t CES [ in January] and we’ll see how much this catches on as a consumer proposition.”
It all boils down to engaging audiences and getting them to watch television, which, as he has said (including at last September’s Next TV Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.), is a term that now means watching television content, wherever it might go.
“There will be several things that we can talk about later in the year that I can’t really disclose right now, but it’s going to be exciting. The good news is that this is a great time for TV and we’re just super-excited to be doing the things that we’re doing.”