What is television today? I have explored this question in previous articles. But the Future of Television conference further expanded the definition in terms of content, distribution, monetization and venue viewing opportunities. The big takeaway for me was that television seems to have finally crossed the digital Rubicon, transitioning from the “delivery box” to a veritable state of mind, a programming option where no screen is primary. What is television today and what are the challenges to the current business model? Here are my ten top takeaways, from the conference, not in any particular order:
1. There are marked generational differences in television usage. For Time Warner’s Joan Gilman, the definition of television has two answers: a professional and a personal one. At work it is program content: the creative. At home with her kids, it is hardware-based. They spend less time on the primary household screen but consume large amounts of content on second screens.
2. Don’t talk about the “second screen” -- there is only one screen. Among Millennials, the first screen of choice may not be the television set. It might be the tablet or mobile. Is there really a “second screen” anymore? Isn’t just “The Screen”? Meredith’s Laura Rowley notes her kids say that all you need for television is WiFi. And according to Craig Palmer of Wikia, “If you use the second screen, it is the first screen for you.”
3. More programming sources expand consumption; time is flexible and expandable. Will there be more competition for viewers’ time, since all of this new content -- from Netflix, Yahoo, AOL, YouTube and other sources -- needs to fit within the time that the average viewer allots for television entertainment? Not necessarily. “Video is invading other spheres of life.” says Rowley. “Our site All Recipes… can be downloaded via mobile in the grocery store. So we are expanding the hours used for entertainment. We offer a solution for consumers and insert a video in their day [where they] didn't have a video before. In this way we are redefining TV, with consumers consuming video in new places and in new ways.”
4. Measurement is (still) the big challenge. No matter how you define television, new sources of content make no impact unless you can measure them all properly and completely. Measurement has not kept up with the way content is being delivered, and the concept of rating may not be as relevant today as it was in previous years. CPM may be less of an issue if actual behavior is measured in terms of reach and frequency. Anthony Wood of Roku explained that there are many sources of viewership not currently measured by Nielsen, including Hulu Plus. How can you monetize it if you can’t measure it? A big step forward is asset-identification coding that facilitates automatic content recognition across all screens. But everything is still in process, with no industry standard as of yet. Here is a link to a video of that panel.
5. The borders may soon be shifting. While the virtual MSO may still be in development, it does have the potential to upend the business model and change the viewing landscape. Think of it as TV without borders.
6. Storytelling trumps technology -- but give technology its due. Even with all the new and ever-expanding range of viewing platforms, nothing is as important as being able to offer great and compelling content, as long as it is in context. Shane Rahmani of Electus says that the core of success is great storytelling -- but “what works on linear might not work on YouTube, and it should be form -factor appropriate.”
7. New programming (and advertising) experimentations. Nick Demartino of Theatrics summed it up: “We are at the beginning of an unprecedented time of programming experimentation. We are evolving from the tyranny of the 22-minute sitcom.” But predicting the end of the 22-minute sitcom and 30-second spot may be premature.. Some formats are better for digital and can be adapted from linear. Rich Cusick of Yahoo offered this insight: “Buzzy moments have resonance and can be inexpensive to produce. We took a (longer) program segment and found users only wanted to view the buzzy moments that they cared about. We edited it down to 3 minutes and increased viewing.”
8. But old programming has a great value, too. Magisto’s Reid Genauer spoke of “decades worth of content with no place to live today.” His company is experimenting to bring that content back into the social dialogue. He says, “Our videos get the same number of views per month as an episode of ‘Breaking Bad.’”
9. TV Everywhere is a temporary advantage for MSOs, at best.When asked if TVE is working for MSOs, Steve Ronson of A+E equivocated. I would answer that question as, “it depends, not so much and maybe. It may help MVPDs to some extent but the problem is in its execution.” Karen Cahn of AOL called TVE “A band aid solution” since consumers want content and don’t really care about the delivery provider. But Craig Palmer of Wikia feels that the “traditional model will go away since kids don’t feel the need to be subscribers.” And what about delivery via IPTV?
10. Celebrity participation helps drive appeal. It was agreed that celebrity involvement helps in attracting audience and attention. Still, the definition of celebrity is fungible. AOL’s Cahn said, “Influencers don't have to be a household name but they can influence popularity.” Will everyone be able to get their 15 minutes of fame more easily?