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Thirteen/WNET exec: Mobile drives reach, revenue opportunities for public TV

NEW YORK – A Thirteen/WNET executive speaking at Mobile Commerce Daily’s fourth annual Nonprofit Mobile Day discussed how the public television station is leveraging mobile to reach new audiences outside of its New York and New Jersey viewing area to create an additional revenue stream.

The organization launched the Thirteen Explore for iPad application in January, with more than 50 percent of downloads so far coming from outside its viewing area. The free app includes full episodes of popular programming such as American Masters, Nova and Antiques Roadshow.

“Our biggest asset is video, and with people streaming video on mobile devices more, we said let’s put the Thirteen brand around that and make sure that when they are getting the videos, they are getting it from us,” said Joe Harrell, director of digital strategy at WNET, New York.

“This is a huge game-changer for us,” he said. “PBS has an iPad app with much of the same content.

“We wanted much more control over the experience. Our goal is not to compete with the hand that feeds us, but that is happening a bit.”

Nonprofit Mobile Day, a conference owned by Mobile Commerce Daily parent Napean LLC, was co-presented with the Direct Marketing Association.

Content consumption
With mobile users having a strong appetite for consuming a variety of content on their devices, this is changing the relationship between the Public Broadcasting Service, a nonprofit public broadcasting television network, and member stations such as Thirteen/WNET.

So far, there are no restrictions on local public TV stations when it comes to including content in their mobile apps, per Mr. Harrell.

For example, public stations in other markets have created apps showcasing PBS’ childrens’ programming to create an immersive experience for families in their areas.

“We clearly need to be addressing this audience, and it has completely transformed how we are thinking about how to take our station brands or show brands, like Nature or American Masters and how we are presenting them and connecting with our audiences,” Mr. Harrell said.

“It remains to be seen how this is going to play out,” he said. “In areas where PBS is big, they are trying to keep the model where they are at the center of it.”

In-app purchases
Mobile also provides new revenue opportunities for public TV stations from affiliate marketing and in-app purchases.

“There is a whole new world of opportunities in mobile in terms of in-app purchases,” Mr. Harrell said.

“That is what we are hoping to do here, create an additional revenue stream where we let them buy the last season of Downton Abbey from the app, and we are getting a portion of every sale,” he said.

Thirteen is also using the app as a way to build its email database by asking users who download the app to enter their email address, with more than 20 percent doing so. Mr. Harrell reports that a large percentage of the emails are from viewers not already in the station’s system.

Viewing habits change
Recent market research conducted by WNET highlighted how the younger segment of its audience may not have a cable box and is not watching a majority of its content on TV. Therefore, they may not be aware of Thirteen, which affects how its presents content on mobile platforms.

With the percentage of Thirteen’s Web site traffic coming from mobile devices recently reaching 23 percent, the organization recognizes that smartphone and tablet users will only become a more important portion of its audience going forward.

“When you are looking at new ways of consuming video, iPhone, Android, they are at the top,” Mr. Harrell said.

“They are still watching on TV, but the viewing habits are switching,” he said. “Even for an older audience, the majority of people who are watching TV who have a mobile phone are on their mobile phone at the same time.

“The viewing of TV is very much a social experience, so we need to consider that.”

Membership opportunities
WNET has an interactive engagement group that produces a lot of video and is tailoring a lot of this content for mobile devices.

One way WNET is addressing the growth in mobile viewing is by committing to use responsive design for all of the Thirteen Web sites going forward.

The organization is also playing close attention to the convergence of social and mobile and looking for ways to put hooks in its content that will drive sharing opportunities.

Thirteen also offers apps built around several of the shows that is has developed, such as the NYC Arts and MetroFocus apps.

Going forward, the organization is looking to incorporate text-to-give opportunities but wants to make sure it has the right strategy in place for fundraising on mobile first.

“We want to build this mobile list and really treat it like an email list, so we can get them connected to us,” Mr. Harrell said.

“When the timing is right and it is not going to cannibalize the ability to get a membership, we’ll strike at that moment instead of jumping on and getting a $5 text to give when someone is watching Downton Abbey,” he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York