Thursday, March 4, 2010

TV is Dead. Long Live TV.

A great post by Brian Halligan at HubSpot, on a dinner he had with a group of Madison Avenue folks, got me thinking about some possible futures for Television. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom, I don't think that Television is about to suffer the same fate as newspapers as information becomes free.

Here's why - we're lazy.

I recently watched some Olympics coverage, and was impressed with the seamless flow back and forth from the events that were being shown to a physiologist talking about the effect on the human body of the snowboard half-pipe, to a profile of one of the upcoming short track speedskaters, to an in depth look at how moguls are judged, to an interview with a hockey coach. It was this careful orchestration of content that made the experience enjoyable, and all I had to do was sit back and take it in. For that, I watched a few ads.

Could I have found all of that content online? Probably. But the point is I couldn't be bothered.

In a similar manner, iTunes beats out online downloading of music for many people. I don't subscribe to the idea that we download via iTunes because of a profound respect for copyright law (see Larry Lessig at TED on that topic). I strongly believe that many of us use iTunes just because it is easier. It's just plain easier to find, download, and be assured of quality. For that, 99c is worth it.

Television fits this iTunes model.

Television, generally, does a great job of orchestrating, curating, and sequencing the content. This has a value that needs to be appreciated by anyone predicting the downfall of television. I suspect that we, as viewers, will demonstrate a willingness to "pay" for that value through advertising.

Newspapers, while also providing content, don't cater to the same level of passively experiencing the content. One needs to leaf through a newspaper, pick an article, and read it. Far more active of an experience - and not much different than finding the same article online.

Of course, the question of what happens to the classic "30 second spot" is up in the air. Exactly how we "pay" for television with our attention is a bit unclear, but economics will find a way. Whether it is through deeper integration of product placements, integrated story-telling, or better targeting or quality of 30 second ads that make us want to watch, the model can be found.

What do you think? Is there a future for Television?
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
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Unknown said...

You've got a great point here. I too was blown away by how great the Olympics coverage was and I'm sufficiently lazy that I wouldn't want to dig all that stuff up myself. I would have predicted that the advertising rates for live events like the Olympics "should" stay high because they are not as enjoyable in DVR time. But, I was surprised to hear that NBC lost $200million on the Olympics overall.

If the Olympics can't make the math work, I suspect regular shows will have a hell of a time making the math work.

I actually hope I'm wrong about all this stuff about the 30 second spot because I love watching great tv. If the math just doesn't solve, then the quality of events like the Olympics will go down and it will be a lot less enjoyable to watch.

Satoshi Takano said...

Watching the Olympics on an HD set was truly an experience, and I was definitely glued to the set.

Having said that, I would also have to say that the 2 weeks during the Olympics was the most TV I have watched in a couple years. Not to mention my most unproductive 2 weeks ever -- all for a good reason.

I would also add that the internet streams from the Olympics was quite interesting. To be able to skip to highlights that were indexed (scored a goal, penalty called, etc.) solved my problem of having to watch the program in its entirety.

Now that the excitement is over, I'm back to barely watching TV and spending time on my Mac watching the streams. Watching what you want, when you want it is incredibly convenient, and sites such as Hulu has the right idea of embedding the commercials into the high quality streams. For what I get from Hulu, I wouldn't hesitate to watch a few commercials.

Is TV dead? Not sure, but the days of having a PVR could be numbered as more on-demand videos (TV or user-generated) continue to give the viewers more control, but is it worth the money?

Steven Woods said...

Satoshi, that's a really interesting point - essentially, if I can paraphrase, that the Internet may not kill TV, but perhaps it will kill the PVR. Much like online music didn't kill radio, but it did kill the use of tapes to record songs off of the radio.

Brian, I hadn't heard that loss statistic. Somehow seems a little strange, to be honest. Where did that data come from?

Thanks for the comments - interesting point.