The media and tech worlds have long been enamored of the shiny and the new — and the extravagance and wonder currently in full swing at CES is probably the best testament to that you’ll ever see. Conversely, there are some things that just won’t die.
Among these are the seemingly immortal predictions of the demise, doom, death, decay and all-round destruction of TV.
Whether this particular breed of media punditry and its unwillingness to die more closely resembles a zombie or a vampire is debatable, but it demonstrates some of the same characteristics of those denizens of the undead and seems just about as popular in some quarters.
The extent to which some from the digital space, who see media consumption and its future as a purely zero sum game in which there can be only one victor, echo the refrain “TV is dead” is both alarming and depressing.
The extent to which a disappointing number of journalists and other writers re-work the now-tired story on slow news days — often based on only one press release about one piece of research —is equally annoying. Of course, articles about the demise of TV are shared and tweeted at alarming rates and often with great glee across social media. The result: it all seems like an even bigger story.
And yet, here we are and TV remains alive and well with more original content being produced than ever before and more revenue streams feeding the beast. Even ad revenue is generally holding up in rough economic times.
Sure, things are changing — but those who blithely throw out the offhand and super-nonchalant comment that “TV is a medium that will be gone in 20 years” are at best guilty of lazy thinking or possibly plain delusional.
The important thing to remember is that TV — just like everything else — exists in a kind of ecosystem that includes not only the obvious cast of characters, like the broadcast and cable networks and their various offerings, but also the OTT players, many online businesses, consumer electronics manufacturers, advertising agencies, brands, retailers, production companies and the businesses that support them, etc.
There’s a very real interdependence that ensures all these parties and others survive and thrive in relation to each other. Netflix and Amazon Prime need TV content to make available on their services; its unlikely they’d survive with movies alone. Amazon also sells TV product direct to consumers. The movie industry needs the TV industry to be healthy to provide a revenue friendly distribution channel for it’s output. And increasingly, we are seeing more TV content supporting various time-shifted viewing businesses – whether paid VOD or online services – without which their offerings may be somewhat lacking.
Similarly, advertisers and their agencies still rely on TV to reach large, definable audiences to convey a sight, sound and video based message – at the same time. Even though the Web delivers large numbers, we have yet to see any sustainable evidence to support the notion that the web can deliver audiences in the way TV does (but then we shouldn’t expect it to).
All of these parties rely to a frequently greater though sometimes lesser extent though on the biggest player in the ecosystem: TV.
Survival of many players in the video ecosystem would be untenable if TV really did “die.” It would be the biological equivalent of the earth’s sun turning off the lights with the inevitable results. Just think what would happen to California.
Naturally, the changes in technology and media, added to changes in how we live, will lead to changes for the TV business. Already, the term is increasingly referred to in the broader context of video. and I can’t think of a single ”TV company” that isn’t operating beyond those conventional definitions.
To assume that these huge, well-resourced companies staffed by smart people are simply going to go away is naïve in the extreme. A more plausible reality is that they will continue to evolve and drive things like time-shifted viewing — to name but one declared threat to the current TV model — evolving it as a profit center as they go. Maybe they’ll buy Netflix. (I know at least one cable company seriously considered that at one point.)
These days, just about everything is increasingly about video (even the print business is getting in on the act) and that’s only going to increase – and “TV companies” are going to be a major part of that. I have no illusions about the TV and video business and the challenges it faces — no more than I do about the digital and mobile sides of the media industry.
Nor do I make things like New Year resolutions (I know it’s late). But I do profoundly hope that going forward the debates about the future of the TV and video business can be based more firmly in reality than much of what we saw toward the end of 2013.
Let’s just focus on doing a better job of understanding and making the most of video as a consumer proposition across any screen that can deliver it. Call it TV, call it video, call it content. Consumers call it “my program” or “my show.” That’s what matters.