Commentary

Conan's Rethinking The Future Of Network Television -- And So Am I

Not sure if you had the chance to catch Conan O'Brien's interview with Google, but I did, and I think he is onto something. In the interview, Conan talks about how network television is essentially becoming dated, referencing his recent split from "The Tonight Show"and how he has been reaching millions of fans through Twitter to promote his new TBS gig, as opposed to relying on television to reach his massive fan base.

We have certainly entered into a new wave of how we consume content online and on TV, with a stronger appetite for accessing it in other places than network television.  It's hard to believe, but YouTube just celebrated its five-year anniversary. Look how we have moved away in such a short period of time from strictly watching our favorite content on our television sets.

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So what's next in terms of online content and television? Is there a fusion model out there where both can exist harmoniously? I am calling for a deeper adoption of widgets on connected devices, similar to how Yahoo is allowing you to view your personalized Internet content while watching TV. Launched last year at CES, Yahoo Connected TV has built a compelling offering to reach consumers in a way a network can't. Verizon Fios recently announced it is offering customers YouTube content on TV  -- and earlier this month, Google TV delivered an app-type experience into the browser.

As Forester Research mentioned in a recent report ( "The Future of Online Customer Experience"), the four attributes that will characterize the next phase of content development on the Internet will be content that is "customized by the end user, aggregated at the point of the use, relevant to the moment, and social as a rule, not an exception."

 And this is exactly what new widgets on TV are allowing. You can scroll to an icon, search for and launch the app of your choice and watch whatever you want on your TV, and share it with a friend. This trend ushers in a whole new way of thinking about  how you experience TV.

My personal belief is that programming networks are holding onto old business models that ultimately will make it harder for them to compete in the future.

What does all this mean from a technical standpoint? There still needs to be a centralized programming concept. Yahoo Connected TV is still bleeding-edge and doesn't have a deep penetration yet, but I like the idea of it because it seems to be device-agnostic. If a content owner invests in a branded experience, maybe they could port that widget to any device - a computer, iPad, mobile phone -- and consumers will be able to mimic the same experience. The platform doesn't matter.

And within that widget is not just a video but rich metadata, news and photos. Not to mention that the consumer could become a programmer by sharing and intelligently linking metadata with other widgets such as an electronic programming guide, social networking widget or a recommendations engine.

In this unified widget environment, I can email or drop that widget on any device that I or my friends own, and that experience goes with the widget.  During this whole collaborative process, we have changed the way programmers function, possibly bringing  the consumer closer to the content owner.

For this to be broadly adopted, I believe that an appcentric vs. webcentric approach makes the most sense.  The Web doesn't have the stickiness that apps do on connected devices, as the Web interface all too often takes you out of the site, and you lose the consumer. (Or let me put it this way: Do you use the Google Maps app, or do you go to maps.google.com on your connected devices?)  Not to mention a browser-based experience becomes very messy in the living room. 

Just so we are all clear, I'm not saying that browser-based experiences can't be successful on mobile devices or in the living room.  There just seems to be something intuitive about a cleanly written app.  This of course is exactly what Clicker.tv is trying to achieve inside the browser. 

4 comments about "Conan's Rethinking The Future Of Network Television -- And So Am I".
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  1. Jennifer Webb, May 24, 2010 at 3:14 p.m.

    This is nothing new. I got a program from seetvpc [dot] com, then connected my laptop to my TV with a S-cable. I don't have Cable TV because of this.
    Google just knows how to spin their "revolutionary" ideas. Amazing how the mainstream media reacts to any Google announcement. It's Wizardry and Snake Oil. Nothing new and revolutionary.

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 24, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.

    But the big money, for a few more years anyway, is still in broadcast networks. Conan failed in the big tent. If Jay is "not ready for prime time", then Conan is "not ready for late fringe" except on a cable network (maybe, we'll see; remember Arsenio?)

  3. Ann Wellington, May 24, 2010 at 5:10 p.m.

    It is only after Conan failed to get any broadcast network to offer him a deal, it was then, and only then, he went to basic cable. The door had clearly closed on him and now he's proclaiming the networks are on the way out? Then why was he trying so hard to be on one?

    Of course he's going to go to Google and tout the internet over TV. It's called "playing to your audience".

  4. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, May 25, 2010 at 3:03 a.m.

    Still, Conan has star power that Google and/or other start-ups can use. If I were him (and them) I would get some shares in these companies and become a spokesman, lending a comedy show to blaze the trail for a TV app.

    An amusing illustration of how to use synergy in merging star power to business: Fergie, the Duchess of York, really should have just registered as a lobbyist in Washington DC. Any US politician would have gushed over meeting her and she could then have conveniently by her side someone who paid big money to be there.

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