Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 8, 201011:19 AM

Television At The Crossroads

Did you hear? The future of television is... wait for it... 3D!

While everybody is busy running over to their favorite consumer electronics store to pick up a 3-D television (btw, is it just me or do those glasses make all of us look like the love child of Karl Lagerfeld and Roy Orbison?), it seems like the television industry - much like all of the traditional media channels - also struggles to define its place with viewers while grappling with a future of digitization, media fragmentation and uncertainty. In what could be considered a strange twist of self-perception, the TV industry is looking more toward interactivity in a world where most people enjoy television because it keeps them passive without having to think or work too hard (we might not like to admit this, but TV is successful because the majority of human beings are pretty lazy).

Is TV making a big mistake in trying to be more like the Internet when it should be focused on what it does best: keeping viewers hypnotized as they munch on snacks and try to forget the day of work that just passed (and the one that is coming)?

You can't stop technology, and the TV industry knows this. It has some of the smartest media people in the world on the case to figure out what the business models look like in a world where the big broadcasting companies are no longer the kings of the castle, and as cable television pushes more and more niche content through specialty channels. If that weren't enough disruption, we now have DVRs (PVRs, TIVO or whatever we're calling them these days) that allow us to not only record, fast-forward, pause and rewind live TV, but it also brings with it the ability to skip commercials. So, if consumers are skipping those commercials, what's the point in brands advertising on TV? To further that thought: if brands are no longer advertising on TV, how does TV make its money? The core business model of television has always been about placing those 30-second spots in between the content.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and many of the other major technology companies (that also happen to have media properties) are not letting this media disruption go unnoticed (in fact, they're playing a huge part in the disruption).

A few years back, Apple's iTunes allowed people to download TV shows on a pay-per-episode model, and while the introduction of Apple TV hasn't done quite as well as the iPad launch, Apple is still very focused on that product line in the hopes that people will want a hybrid TV platform that enables them to watch their regularly scheduled programming while also being able to watch YouTube and other online video properties from the comfort of their couch. Google also recently announced Google TV, which like Apple, will be a set-top box (much like your current TV cable box) that will layer on the ability to search, share and do a lot more with your TV as you know it to date (it, too, will record, make recommendations, etc). Microsoft has commented publicly that they have been in development of unique TV fare that will run via their Xbox online channels, completely circumventing the notion of TV as we know it today.

The fact remains that the old model of watching Glee at 8 p.m. on Tuesday may be a thing of the past, but how people consume television by habit is where the future of television gets interesting.

Is TV's next prime time how it shifts from a passive media (one we just sit back and consume) to a highly interactive one (think about choosing content, commenting on it, sharing it and - maybe even - creating it as well)? It's a big, bold move, and those same media executives who are banking that the Internet and television are going to converge may be in for a big surprise when they realize that people like TV and the Internet for very different reasons.

We are currently at this very interesting intersection of culture, technology and media where we are beginning to see the mass media consumer's appetite for paid, on-demand content and how this integrates with advertising and the traditional 30-second spot.

Ultimately, we may also learn that it's not about one media channel to rule them all, but rather how these many media channels play with one another and the consumer's desire to consume content in one moment, interact with it at another and create the experience at some point as well. No matter how this pans out, I still can't get my TV to keep a normal, equalized volume between the shows and the commercials. If they can get that fixed, it may well be the first step to a truly successful future.

What are your thoughts on the future of television?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

By Mitch Joel