Commentary

The Dexterity of Dinosaurs

 Back in the days when the Internet was young and social media hadn’t been invented, many of the thrusting young Turks leading the digital charge were keen on declaring that the “old media” companies didn’t “get it.” They were dinosaurs hell bent on their inevitable path to extinction. Much the same was said of bricks-and-mortar retailers and pretty much any large established business.

Well, it’s roughly 25 years since those cries began to be heard — and repeated endlessly, along with the phrase “paradigm shift.” There seems to be a remarkably large number of those seemingly tenacious dinosaurs going about their business alongside relatively few genuinely successful (large) digital businesses that started during those halcyon years.

The real impact of digital was less about replacing one set of companies with another, and much more about changing aspects of how those companies do business. Often this adaptation has involved acquiring the new digital innovators; on occasion it, has been based on internal investment and innovation.

In the TV world, one of the consequences has been that the conversation has moved well beyond the early and primitive debate best characterized as “TV vs. the Web.” Now, in our cross-platform world, we’re now talking about “video” rather than “TV” and – critically – how and where it is consumed and what those insights mean for advertisers, programmers and the business of buying and selling media.

Right now, there is no credible doubt that TV remains the pivotal video medium.

While online and mobile video (tablet on cellphone) may prevail in certain out-of-home environments, overall and in-home, TV is still the big dog. And that’s fine. The real question here is how these media can be leveraged in tandem to add value to each other and – more importantly – to the advertiser’s proposition when consumers are in relevant setting and receptive mind-states.

But that isn’t to say that TV itself isn’t evolving. While the level of DVR penetration and usage, along with VOD consumption remains small compared to scheduled TV, those forms of on demand consumption continue to grow.

Similarly, as the currently tiny share held by OTT providers, such as Roku and AppleTV, continue to grow, one has to ponder what the response of the content providers will be.

If history is any guide, release windows across these platforms will continue to shrink. If music and movies are anything to go by, the whole concept of distribution windows may come to look like a quaint little relic of the past in five-to-10 years.

There are some that say the OTT providers represent a serious threat to the cable and satellite companies and possibly even to the networks themselves.

By unleashing access to a rapidly growing world of professionally produced content – as well as “the Web on your TV” as the saying once had it, the theory is that the MSOs and the networks could ultimately be displaced.

I’m not so sure about that.

Apart from the fact that the content has to be licensed from somewhere and leaving aside my jaded memory of the similar dotcom era predictions, the MSOs are already taking steps to secure their position in the cross-platform ecosystem. With Both TV Everywhere and XFinity leading the charge for the MSOs and HBO GO showing the way for channels, nothing is a foregone conclusion.

Rumors are already circulating to the effect that Roku is an acquisition target – and why not?

Roku and others that gain traction in the space will almost certainly be acquired in due course — possibly by a cable or satellite company seeking to broaden its footprint. More intriguingly, they could be bought by a consortium of networks and channels looking to be less dependent on the seemingly ever-more-fractious relationship between themselves and the MSOs.

And then we will have come full circle. The dinosaurs that were meant to be driven to extinction by the ice age of alternative distribution, will have done what they did in real life for tens of millions of years — adapted with admirable dexterity in order to thrive in a changing landscape.

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