It’s imperative for studios, networks, indie distributors and other organizations to make their content available to critics, and when sending out pre-release content to those reviewers it’s also important that they make the process as user-friendly as possible, according to TV critics and other industry experts.
“One of the things we know is that we’re in peak TV season and, with peak TV, there’s so much competition, that we need all the help we can get, like reviews” from critics, Bob Gold, principal at Bob Gold & Associates, said while moderating the panel “Ask A Reviewer: What Do They Really Think About Your Screening Site?” Dec. 6 at the Content Protection Summit in Los Angeles. Critics help because, among other things, they’re “going to help drive engagement and keep the ecosystem going,” he said.
Asked if he believed TV critics drive viewer engagement in Pittsburgh, Rob Owen, TV critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said: “One hopes so.” He added: “We get a lot of feedback from people” who say they discovered shows only because he and other writers at the newspaper recommended them.
Without access to a program, critics can’t write a review about it, and they need time to see the content, so anything that interferes with that process stands to reduce the amount of time to watch it all, Gold said. Not making things any easier for critics is the fact that there are about 500 original series now and networks will often send critics multiple episodes of a show – often an entire season, he told the summit.
There are several factors that content owners need to consider before pre-releasing content to critics and other writers, including how to deliver that content and how much to spend on security for it, Gold noted.
Of course, “we have a pretty significant security problem” in which DVDs and other mediums are often ripped off and “content gets out into the world” before content owners want it to, Gold pointed out, stressing the importance of security mechanisms.
Just a few years ago, screeners were mainly released via DVD, but that’s largely shifted to online streaming sites now. One major new obstacle that’s been created by this trend is that fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding are often not possible at the streaming sites, Gold said. And that makes it more difficult for critics to do their jobs obviously.
It’s also not great when a critic must wait for buffering to stop every 30 seconds while watching a streamed screener — a common problem — and if a company is spending $10 million on a show, it makes sense that they would want their screener process to “reflect well on the show” and not drive critics nuts, according to the panelists. It’s also a pain in the neck for critics to have to sign in with their passwords again for every piece of content from the same company, such as different TV shows from the same network, they noted.
There’s also issues with at least some of the watermarking security techniques used by content owners, according to Randee Dawn, a writer and content creator who frequently writes about TV for publications including The Los Angeles Times and Variety.
Some watermarks “distract” from viewing because “they take up an enormous amount of real estate on the screen,” she complained. It’s “a real problem” having the watermark there on the screen the whole time one is watching a program, she said, adding that it’s also distracting when the watermark disappears but then keeps popping up again while watching.
MediaSilo developed the Screeners.com platform that uses SafeStream watermarking to help overcome many of the challenges, according to Jared Vincenti, product manager at the company. Early on, the company supported a press site for a “major original content initiative” and the company “found that nobody was really happy with what they were getting,” he told the summit.
Everybody has security requirements in response to all the screener leaks that we’ve seen in recent years, he noted. But he said: “The way these were getting implemented and the way these problems were being solved ultimately was just creating more problems than it solved.”
His company did a lot of research and spoke to many experts to improve the experience and used all that insight when developing Screeners.com, he said, noting that content owners don’t want reviewers saying they’ll just wait until next year to watch a show on Netflix because of all the issues they face with streaming sites.
The Content Protection Summit was produced by MESA and CDSA, presented by MediaSilo, and sponsored by Independent Security Evaluators, Aspera, the Digital Watermarking Alliance, Menlo Security, Microsoft Azure, NAGRA, NexGuard, Convergent Risks, HGST, PwC, Thinklogical, Avid, Militus Cybersecurity Solutions, Amazon Web Services and Bob Gold & Associates.