The Real Future Of Television Is The Present

by , Jan 14, 2011, 12:30 PM
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Last week, I wrote a "review" of all the magical things that "happened" in 2011 in the media world.  It was an exercise in satirical absurdism. Chances are, "Celebrity Pottery Wheel" will not be the tipping point for 3D TV.  The actual changes for 2011 are likely to be much more ludicrous. 

At this point last year we had to speculate about the "major game-changing" announcement Steve Jobs was going to drop on consumers.  Think about it - at the beginning of January 2010, the Apple tablet computer was just a rumor.  In April, the iPad hit the market, and by July Apple had sold 3.3 million of them. 

When 2006 began, tweeting was still done exclusively by birds.

So, no, I won't be predicting what the next game-changer in media will be by the end of the year.  Any real guesses I'd make would be wildly inaccurate and pointless.  Let the CES attendees do that sort of speculation.  I shouldn't waste my time on what's next, when we don't know enough about what we already have.

You might think it's antithetical for a fella who works for an agency with the corporate motto "Leading New Thinking" to make such a statement.  Well, a key component to thinking is understanding.  "New Thinking" builds upon knowledge -- something we seem to struggle with in our industry. 

As someone in research, I'm constantly asked for audience information on things that have a lot of buzz but little usable metrics: HDTV, 3D, VOD, etc. 

Having these products available to the consumer and as a research community is not the issue.  It's what we can do with them and how we understand them -- that's where we've become myopic and impatient.  So yes, we have 3D, but we can't measure it yet.  We have HD, ditto.  Time-shifting?  We have C3, a deeply flawed metric that satisfies no one completely.  Just ask any local affiliate what C3 ratings mean to them.  But least we have something - which took eight years, a new land speed record for an industry that typically moves at a glacial pace on changes to any currency.

It's not that the industry is sitting on its hands.  The CRE, CIMM, Ball State's Center for Media Design, among many others -- they're all doing brilliant work in what's a very fast-moving time for our industry.  I like to think that the efforts of MPG's own Collaborative Alliance are very public demonstrations of our commitment to leading new thinking. 

The MRC does an outstanding job of validation.  But the process is arduous and expensive.  It's also singular -- that's why you won't see "set-top-box research" accredited.  You might see Kantar apply for accreditation of its set-top-box research methodology, but you won't see a blanket "here's how the industry should approach the set-top box conundrum" with an MRC stamp of approval. 

These organizations give very practical demonstrations of just how difficult it is to measure these new media toys that are in their infancy.  Which is all the more reason why it's so important to get what is at a point of critical mass right. As advances in media continue to evolve, unless we get the metrics around them locked up, we'll end up relying upon outdated methods out of necessity and legacy.  Does Nielsen use paper diaries in 30% of the country because it's the best technology available?  Hardly.  But the current system "works," so the motivation for a full-scale change isn't really an investment that makes sense right now -- or maybe ever.

Research always takes time.  Buzzy new media revolutions don't.  So when you wonder why there are no currency-level audience metrics for something like 3D TV, remember that getting things as important as currency right takes time.  And there's no app for that on your iPad.

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