June 3, 2015 Last Updated 12:08 pm

Should publishers consider launching their own TV channel? Maybe, maybe not, but learning the medium is still a good idea

Each time a new digital media platform appears publishers are faced with the uncomfortable decision about what resources, if any, to dedicate to the publishing effort

The introduction of the second generation Apple TV held the promise that Apple would launch an app store for TV the way it had for the iPad, and before that the iPhone. It hasn’t happened, yet.

iPhone-original-appsIn 2007, if your memory is fuzzy, the iPhone launched without an app store. The software was originally said to be OS X, basically the same software that ran the Mac. It was a way of Apple being able to claim that its device would be running real software, “baby software,” as Jobs said at the time. But the apps were limitd to say least. Only what Apple wanted on the device is what you got, with the promise that Apple would allow more apps over time.

This was actually kind of nice in that the device was not loaded with junk the way other so-called smartphones were. But it meant Apple needed to be committed to releasing new apps frequently.

Ultimately Apple realized the error of its ways, or it was part of the original plan, but with the release of iOS 2 in July of 2008 Apple launched the App Store and allowed third party apps to come to the iPhone (though power users for a long time advocated jailbreaking the phone to bring in better and more useful apps not being allowed by Apple).

When the iPad launched it immediately got its own App Store, but when the second generation Apple TV was launched there was no app store, though some predicted there might be soon. Instead, Apple allowed media companies to negotiate with Apple to add their channels. The Wall Street Journal and other media companies thought they saw an opportunity and so went to Apple to launch their channels.

roku-3-tv-360And so Apple has slowly but steadily added a channel here and a channel there for the past couple years. But the world has moved on and other players have seen things differently. Roku, for instance, says it offers more than 2,000 channels to choose from. Like Apple, Roku has its own developer program, allowing anyone to build their own streaming video channel.

What this has led to the creation of some really bad TV channels. Most are simply collections of videos that are housed on services like YouTube or Flickr. Some appear to possibly bend copyright rules. But few are really worth installing on your Roku device.

Major publishers like Time Inc. (TIME) and Bonnier (Saveur) have experimented with creating their own channels. Although I have installed them on my own Roku, I never view them.

Is the future TV really just collections of YouTube videos? Maybe. That is, maybe that will be part of the future – channels differentiated by whether they provide prepackage programming, schedules, or whether they are simply collections of videos.

For Bonnier to create its channel for Saveur, it needed content. It was faced with the situation at least two times in the past: when it launched for the web, and when it launched its digital editions. With its roster of world traveling contributors, I said they needed a strategy that would encourage authors to not only make sure their features included world-class photography, but video as well. All the better to create those native digital editions.

But Saveur is still a print first magazine and so appears firmly committed to the PDF replica. Online, though, it has added a video area, broken out by “channels”. These couple of dozen videos are what comprise its Roku channel.

The current first video available on the channel is an introduction to the August/September 2013 issue.

FT-Roku-300Time Inc’s channel for TIME offers 100 videos, while the Financial Times offers many more individual video to view. In each case, the depth of content is completely determined by the number of videos at the publisher’s disposal. To gather content, some publishers have decided to partner with third party video producers.

Other publishers, such as the WSJ, have experimented with live broadcasting – with decidedly mixed results. Obviously, media companies already committed to live broadcasting, such as Sky News, can offer channels with a mix of live and archived content when creating channels of these box top TV devices. But publishers generally are going to have to stick to archived video content (though apps like Periscope could, theoretically, be one way to introduce live broadcasting).

But publishers will be faced with the same decision they have faced each time a new platform has emerged: do we experiment with the new platform or stick to what we know best?

The decision, when presented that way, may seem easy: why experiment with new digital platforms when the costs and time needed to investigate them is too much. But looking back, it is also easy to see that not becoming Internet savvy would have been a terrible mistake, though most print publications were slow to launch their first websites.

Today, many media observers think digital editions are a dead end, but mobile is the future. Regardless of your own opinion, it is clear that not becoming fluent in either digital platform is a mistake. Should your digital team now explore what it takes to develop its own branded channel?

End note: Media companies that went hard for video soon learned that content is one thing, monetizing that content another. For those who think they have solved this issue, the prospects of gaining more views through these TV box to devices should be enticing.

Update: I added the words “maybe not” to the original headline so some readers do not immediately assume I am advocating that all publishers consider launching a video channel. The point, which I hope is clear enough, is that learning about new forms of digital publishing is essential to being a knowledgible digital publisher.

Later update: the NYT late on Wednesday (June 3) reported that Apple will NOT be unveiling a new model of the Apple TV at WWDC as had been expected. The Times speculated that the device might not be ready, but its more likely that Apple wanted to also announce a streaming video service at the same time, but can’t as they cannot lock in the networks. The current Apple TV is very long in the tooth, but it probably doesn’t matter whether it is announced in June or September, except that any announcement at the iPhone event would likely overshadow the new iPhone itself as all that is expected this year is modest hardware upgrades. Apple continues to fall behind its competitors in this space, but it still has massive power due to its large iOS install base and its massive bankroll that can promote anything it wants to death.

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