Editor’s note: Audra Priluck is vice president, media and entertainment, at market research firm Maru/Matchbox, Los Angeles. 

The media’s point-of-view is very different from that of consumers, causing the industry to struggle with seeing things from their consumers’ perspectives. We have broadcast networks and cable networks. We have subscription streaming services and transactional streaming services coming through a variety of TVs and plug-in devices. These distinctions matter to us, the media industry, but they don’t make a difference to the viewer. People don’t care to differentiate between a broadcaster and a cable company, which one has subscription streaming vs. transactional streaming. 

Adding to the confusion is the fact that many media companies don’t really understand their new end-buyer. Sure, companies used to do some audience testing but typically the buyers were not the end consumer. Now, increasingly, they are. That’s a whole new voyage of discovery that will require companies to embrace a new consumer-centric mind-set and lose their industry-centric perspective.

Giving people what they want

Consumers just want to watch what they want, when they want and on the device they want – in a frictionless way. That’s easier said than done, as Turner found out recently with The Match. Designed to be a pay-per-view event featuring Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods golfing head-to-head, the “total audience for the match surpassed expectations across all of our platforms,” according to Turner President David Levy. The problem was the infrastructure was not ready for it.

In the minutes leading up to The Match, the company lost the ability to process payments, so Turner decided to make viewing the match free for anybody who tried to purchase it. And subsequently, those who purchased The Match through cable providers Comcast and Spectrum were issued a full refund. “Turner had reportedly paid $10 million for the event’s broadcast rights,” reported GolfWorld. Those are expensive teething pains for Turner as it learns to become a direct-to-consumer content provider. 

Consumer-centric not industry-centric

The media industry is struggling to adjust to looking at the world through consumers’ eyes. This was made abundantly clear to me by a survey I recently completed. It was from a well-known digital-first media company that was reaching out to their users. The survey was clearly industry-centric.

Here are a few of the questions:

Which of the following subscription streaming services do you have?

Hulu, Starz, Sling TV, HBO Go/Now, DirecTV Now, Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation Vue, CBS All Access, YouTube TV, ESPN+, Netflix, Showtime On Demand

Which of the following transactional streaming services do you have?
Microsoft Movies & TV, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Video, iTunes, Fandango Now, Sony PlayStation Movies & TV, On-demand through TV or app from your cable or satellite TV provider

(Transactional streaming service wasn’t defined.) 

The final question:

Which of the following streaming media players or devices do you own?
PlayStation, Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Xbox, Smart TV, Other streaming media player

Back to the future

Seems to me there were a few questions missing, such as: How familiar are you with these services? Do you know what they offer? Does the distinction between subscription and transactional matter to you? I’d wager that the answer to all these questions would be “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Media researchers learned a long time ago that when you ask, “What networks do you watch?” the networks are not split up by broadcast and cable. History is repeating itself with the launch of streaming services. 

These new content providers should not be split up by type. Moving forward, transactional and subscription services should be included in the same question. Consumers can easily identify services which are familiar to them, or perhaps they subscribe to, which can be followed by a question asking about service familiarity and subscription structure (paying for specific titles or access to an entire service). 

The reality is, asking people to look at the world through the media industry’s eyes simply won’t work. Not only does it not matter to average consumers, it’s complicated.

Still relatively new 

My family is filled with media industry junkies. There are so many streaming/transactional services that basic awareness for us is a challenge, no less figuring out what that service offers. How can the media industry think consumers know the differences between these services when two industry insiders aren’t clear on them either?

Streaming services are still relatively new to consumers. As one of the first, Netflix has enjoyed a decade of growth and consumers are comfortable with its service offering. Smart TVs with built-in apps have made content discovery much easier for some streaming services that got in on the ground floor. Industry executives can’t expect viewers to know the intimate differences between these streaming services when their campaigns have only recently started to have massive reach and frequency. 

These are revolutionary times in the world of media. One thing is certain, viewers decide who wins and who loses. What happens in a world of high churn and subscriber uncertainty? Streaming services that understand consumers and make watching great content seamless and intuitive will win.