News content production and distribution have been revolutionized in almost equal measure by social media in an ongoing process dating back to the dawn of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the others around 2005.
At first the relationship was distant, revolving around marketing and engagement, but has deepened since to the point at which no news content producer can survive, or certainly not thrive, without a clear social media strategy. The smartphone has increasingly shaped and driven this revolution by becoming a major portal of both content consumption and production as screen and camera quality, as well as mobile network bandwidth and service consistency, have improved markedly, with 5G administering a further fillip. The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated integration of news broadcasting and social media by stimulating remote production as well as viral distribution of news via these platforms.
Social media is also having a profound impact on the content itself, in part related to the increasing dominance of the smartphone for consumption. This has made news consumption more coincidental and often a secondary activity of users engaging in social media for other purposes, such as responding to a friend’s notification. Demand has grown for snackier content and social media has also tended to amplify negative news more than positive, to a greater extent than had occurred in the past over traditional linear TV. Various studies, including one cited in the Wall Street Journal in November 2021, reported that Facebook’s efforts to make its platform a “healthier place” backfired by stimulating dissemination of content fuelled by anger (Horwitz, Keach Hagey and Jeff (2021-09-15). "Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660).
The smartphone itself has dictated many of the demographic trends in social media news consumption, diving most growth among the young and also many areas in developing countries where access to fixed line internet services or linear pay TV is rarer or too expensive for most people. A 2020 study published by Statistica, a portal for market data, found that over 70% of adult participants from Kenya, South Africa, Chile, Bulgaria, Greece, and Argentina utilized social media for news while in France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan the figure averaged out at under 40%. In the USA, social media was still only on a par with legacy sources, as 20% of adults reported they obtained their news social media "often," compared to 16% from print newspapers, 26% from radio, 33% from dedicated news websites, and as high as 49% still from linear TV. However, results were heavily skewed by age in the USA, with social media being easily the least popular way to receive news for over 50s, but most popular for the 18-29 age group.
As always, these trends have yielded winners and losers, both among content producers and their technology suppliers, with those reacting or even anticipating the changes tending to fare the best. Danish government-owned subscription TV station TV 2 is a traditional broadcaster striving hard to be abreast of the social media curve. Its regional TV channel TV 2 Lorry in September 2021 deployed Sony’s Media Backbone Hive platform, designed for running on premise, in the cloud or a combination of the two, to encourage collaboration online or via social media between field-based journalists for pooling of material.
For TV 2 this is reducing duplication of valuable and expensive precious production resources. It is also helping attract younger viewers to news and current affairs.
Above all, it meets an urgent need to create content that can be published on different social media platforms, according to Morten Kjær Petersen, Managing Director at TV 2 Lorry. “The rapid change in media habits has made it crucial for us to adapt as a Public service media,” said Petersen. “We need to be present and able to distribute content on new channels and platforms. To do that, we need a tool that can easily transform our content to match these different platforms. The simple publishing editor that Hive has for social media makes this possible, and at the same time, the system makes a copy of everything published, which is very important for us.”
Danish broadcaster TV 2 has deployed Sony’s Hive platform to engage younger viewers in news via social media.
Just as importantly, the platform supports the trend towards more interactive news coverage with users increasingly contributing. “One of our ambitions is to give our audience a voice on all our platforms, and Hive gives us the opportunity to do so with a working system for editing and working with user generated content,” said Petersen. As part of this change, TV 2 is shifting news editing out of house as it breaks down the silos that used to confine workflows in departments and inhibit wider collaboration, which now extends to users and customers.
Among vendors, Grass Valley, based in Montreal, Canada, appears to be doing well from social media, attributing part of its 27% rise in revenues year-on-year over the last quarter of 2021 to its focus on supporting its customers on that front. "Last year, we launched our new strategic focus and rebrand, and this was the driving force behind our successful close to 2021,” said Jan Lange, Chief Revenue Officer, at Grass Valley as the results were announced early February 2022. "
Grass Valley’s social media strategy revolves around its GV Stratus set of production tools, whose primary use cases include provision of an application layer for management of productions in news environments. Specific management of social media was introduced in GV Stratus 6.0, which allows content and any associated metadata supported by the relevant social media platform to be published to any of the popular social media networks, essentially Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. At the same time, this version allows operators to track popularity of assets on social media and also delete the content. In addition to metadata, stills and closed captions can be published almost instantly from the system to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. A key point is that News or Live Production teams can distribute content to their viewers and subscribers without the need for complex downstream systems, since GV Stratus controls creation, transcoding and publishing of the media, as well as exporting and uploading the metadata in parallel.
HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) is a slightly different example of a long-standing vendor, in this case from a legacy enterprise IT background, embracing social media within its production systems. The emphasis is on efficient management of distributed news production and gathering, orchestrated through a community web app. In common with Grass Valley the aim is to unify all production within a single web-based environment, with a focus on content impact. HPE’s Community Manager web app visualizes and sorts contributors according to their social impact, judging by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) such as numbers of friends, pages, and followers, and such. Each KPI is assigned a weight according to how highly a given editor rates its relevance. The CM engine then aggregates subscribers’ social data and suggests top-ranked collaborators according to the defined KPIs.
HPE reckons there is growing demand for such capabilities as broadcasters and content owners engage more deeply with social media. There is also support for user interaction, so that contributors not accustomed to provision of news who happen to be at the centre of a breaking event can readily be recruited by different outlets.
Such classification capabilities are a natural development for specialists in content quality control such as Interra Systems. This company has applied machine learning to content classification and also to QC tasks such as identifying lip sync issues, audio language detection and aligning speech to text captions. Such QC mechanisms are important for broadcasters struggling to maintain standards as they embrace more remote and user generated content. Interra offers its VEGA Media Analyzer (VMA) for standards compliance, debug, and interoperability of encoded streams, supporting popular video compression and container standards.
Some technology vendors are partnering with one or more social media platform in the hope of engaging users more intimately. Norway’s production company Vizrt was attracted by Twitter’s Curator platform developed to help broadcasters and media publishers manage and engage viewers with their favourite shows and events. The aim was to manage and exploit the huge but rather disorganized content collection already available on Twitter. Curator allows users to search within a pre-defined set of topics around news, politics, sports, entertainment, and other genres, and then prepare presentations of this generated content by tracking trends and breaking news. So, as the name suggests, the aim is to assist broadcasters in curating and accessing content around the most relevant “social media conversations”.
Vizrt has integrated its production technology with the Curator platform to give broadcasters a tool to incorporate social media content with on-air graphics and video. The integration includes access to tweets, trendlines, and metrics such as gender breakdown and total volume. Content can be visualized with interactive graphics, virtual sets, and news tickers to present warnings or breaking headlines.
While there will be shifts in popularity between social media platforms, with no doubt new ones emerging and established platforms fading, the overall trend is towards ever greater video consumption that way. As 5G rolls out, mobile networks will become even more video-capable, while there is mounting evidence social media generates greater ad revenues per buck spent. US audience analytics company Nielson has found that ads on the Snapchat platform had greater reach than TV ads and generated more awareness, as well crucially as purchase intent. If consumers are voting for social media with their wallets, content producers can only follow.
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