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Is Social Media Becoming the New Cable TV?

Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in how consumers watch TV and video. Viewers are increasingly turning toward new screens, new media properties, and alternative programming. As viewing habits change, advertisers are watching the changes with interest. That’s why a recent opinion piece published by marketing executive Ian Schafer is worth a second look. Schafer argues that social media, which has long been the home for users to post personal photos, random thoughts and heated discussions, may be evolving into a new distribution channel for professional video content, with important implications for the ad industry.

As Schafer sees it, social media is already becoming an important platform for the distribution of video content. While much of this content comes from amateur sources right now, a growing portion of that content is evolving in a more professional direction, turning our own “newsfeeds” into something that more closely resembles specialty cable TV networks focused on sports, premium movies, food, travel, or home improvement. Take a closer look at recent news, and there are signs that this transformation is already well underway.

Consider the world of live sports as one example. While live broadcasts of sports were once the exclusive domain of linear TV, we’re seeing more and more examples of social media platforms and digital outlets streaming games. Twitter has organized a number of partnerships with sports leagues including the NFL, NHL and MLB to live-stream a selection of games and just this week they announced a plan to partner with other popular content creators. Add to this the recent news of layoffs by cable TV sports giant ESPN, which appears to be reevaluating its content approach as more of its audience moves online.

There are even more signs of this shift toward professionally-produced, cable-like, TV content beyond the realm of sports. Consider Snapchat’s popular “Discover” feature, a product that many ad industry observers increasingly suggest has the audience numbers and programming content to resemble a premium TV experience. On top of this, the May 2017 Digital Newfronts will include original content offerings from a number of social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter. Twitter plans to pitch original video content offerings to advertisers, and YouTube’s “Red Originals” continues to push further into original programming as well.

What does all this mean for advertisers? It’s certainly another signal that consumer viewing habits are changing at a rapid pace. New content opportunities, of course, bring new advertising opportunities. TV audiences may be changing, but as this profusion of new “cable-like” social video content suggests, brands have plenty of great options for reaching consumers in exciting new ways.