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Inside ABC News’ Live OTT Strategy: ‘I Don’t Frankly Care If Anyone Over 40 Watches’

The Wrap Thursday, 18 April 2019
Live OTT programming is playing a leading role in ABC News’ content strategy as the legacy network looks to attract viewers under 40.

Nearly a year after launching ABC News Live (a 24/7 OTT channel) on its owned and operated websites and on Roku’s AVOD platform, the effort has garnered more than 5 million monthly active viewers. “That’s not counting the number of people who watch the channel on Hulu TV or Facebook Watch,” said Colby Smith, the network’s SVP of content and partnerships, who could not disclose more specific data.

On Facebook, ABC News Live has captured the attention of news-seeking consumers. On the day of last fall’s midterm elections, for example, ABC News Live combined with the Network’s VOD content accounted for 54% of all Facebook video views, according to Delmondo, an official Facebook media solution partner. And more recently, over 20 million people tuned in to the ABC News Live Facebook Watch page for coverage on the fire that broke out at the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, according to Facebook data.

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However, Facebook does not have a way for publishers to run ads on their livestreams. So while the stream is an effective way to bring consumers into the ABC News bubble, the network is not yet able to monetize the views (at least not on Facebook).

Still, ABC News hopes that by investing more heavily in the OTT market via social media and OTT platforms, it can connect with more viewers under the age of 40, a demo it is losing to NBC in the broadcast arena.

“Right now, I believe we are ahead of the game” on the digital front, Smith said, while admitting other news networks could soon catch up. MSNBC, CNN and Fox all have some type of video content on Facebook, but none have a dedicated 24/7 livestream. When Facebook Watch announced it would be funding a slate of news programming, many news outlets weren’t able to stream on third-party platforms, according to Shelley Venus, the video lead for news partnerships at Facebook.

“At the time ABC was one of the few partners that were able to actually stream content onto third-party platforms,” she said. “So for the CNN and MSNBCs of the world that had cable tie up arrangements, that’s something that they weren’t offering at the time.”

ABC News is also the only major news outlet with a 24/7 channel on The Roku Channel, Roku’s Ad-supported video service.

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To make use of its head start, the news network is investing in technology, like a state of the art “livestream desk,” and experimenting with ways of displaying and delivering content to remove the need for a second-screen experience.

The term “second screen” refers to the process of interacting with a second screen (mobile phone, laptop or PC) while watching television, especially to access supplementary content or apps. This can significantly impact the level of attention a viewer gives to the main screen.

Picture and picture news coverage is one way the company is trying to stomp out the habit. So if a viewer is watching one of the documentaries that regularly stream on the ABC News Live channel and significant news breaks — like the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle goes into labor — a live picture of the coverage will be displayed in a small section at the bottom of the screen.

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It’s a level of intrusion that may be too much for older viewers to handle, Smith said, but she isn’t worried about the streaming channel losing out on that demo. “I don’t frankly care if anyone over 40 ever watches the ABC News Live stream,” he explained. “We are building this for the streaming audience who grew up in the digital age and is uniformly comfortable consuming content on multiple screens at the same time.”

With boots on the ground around the world, a network of domestic affiliates, and international partners on every continent across the globe, Smith says ABC News Live will continue to invest in experimenting with the way it delivers the news. “And it will be creative and fresh and something no one’s ever tried before,” he added.

On the tech side, ABC News has invested millions for a state of the art live stream desk that allows it to monitor live streams from around the world, allowing it to keep on top of breaking news.

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“Whether it’s Twitter, whether it’s YouTube live, whether it’s Facebook Live — so that if someone’s livestreaming there, we’ll find it, we’ll clear it and we’ll pull it into ABC News Live coverage,” Smith said.

ABC News’ growing focus on streaming news over free, ad-supported distribution points comes at a time when consumers are turning to social media platforms and streaming services for their daily content intake. According to a recent study from Conviva, global adoption of streaming TV accelerated in 2018 with viewing hours up 89% year-over-year, and up 165% in the fourth quarter compared to 2017.

Smith said ABC News Live will continue to experiment with new ways to deliver the news in hopes of attracting and retaining the younger audience that flock to streaming platforms. Later this year, ABC News Live will announce multiple new distribution partnerships ahead of next year’s presidential election.

“The journalism hasn’t changed, the breaking news coverage hasn’t changed,” says Smith. “But the packaging and the way that we present it has changed.”

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ABC News Producer Alexa Valiente Dies at 27

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