Commentary

When TV Dies, How Will We Know What We Want To Watch?

It may soon be the end of TV as we know it. But how will we know when it happens? We’ll need a commercial or reality show to tell us.

In the 1990s, due to the coming of interactive TV and to a lesser extent cable, many predicted the 30-second commercial would die. There were also eulogies for traditional TV.

Some two decades later, TV is still around and overall viewership keeps climbing. According to analyst Brian Wieser, average viewership has grown to 34 hours a week in the 2010-2011 season from 29 hours a week in 1999-2000.

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget says no one likes to see commercials, and that will be one of the reasons traditional TV comes to an end. Other reasons, he says, are that no one watches “networks” and that the percentage of people who watch at least some online video online is higher than those who watch some traditional TV.

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Wieser says overall TV consumption has grown by approximately 40% with only 7% of it eroded by DVRs. Many more people watch commercials – or partial commercials – then they let on. Wieser also notes that a global survey that only focuses on online consumers is “functionally useless.”

Just observing the broadcast networks over the last few years, their erosion of 18-49 gross ratings points has slowed to a trickle; it is now just 1% or so in Nielsen C3 ratings. About the same erosion levels were observed in 25-54 gross ratings points. Is that just a data glitch in an overall trend?

We were saying the same thing 20 years ago: “TV is over.” Were we just whistling down the graveyard then -- and now?

Blodget says that, with all the alternatives like Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and Hulu Plus, why do consumers need networks when we can get everything we want? That’s the wrong question. What he should be asking is: “How do we know what we want?”

Right now, if we miss an episode of  “Modern Family,” “Big Bang Theory” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” we can probably do a search to find those shows on the Web or on specific platforms.

In the future, what, exactly, will we be asking for?  Please give me a complex, enthralling medical drama with a rich back story and deeply flawed characters”? I don’t think so.

The digital world may like to tout ‘discovery’. But will this go for premium TV/video content – or just for gorillas on roller skates? We now ask for “Grey’s Anatomy” because we have seen it on traditional TV.

Death of TV? What happens after that? No one has figured out a real replacement, which is why the real media dollars -- some $70 billion strong --  keeps things very alive for traditional television.

11 comments about "When TV Dies, How Will We Know What We Want To Watch?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 8, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

    Good questions. I predict we will be so focused on our tablets (which will become as ubiquitous as cell phones) that solo-viewing will become the new norm and group-viewing the occasional exception. Big TV narratives, like big movies and big sports, will still be in demand, but less so, as our attention will be fragmented into many distractions, including our new-found ability to continuously connect with friends and other people we want to follow. Yes, it's hard to imagine a world without a big TV screen dominating the mass experience, but it was hard to imagine that newspapers and books would ever fade. I think it's "when" instead of "if." But I've been wrong before.

  2. Pamela Horovitz from Internet Video Archive, June 8, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.

    Wayne, I don't live in the UK, but I've watched a number of British TV series (Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders, etc.) simply because they were listed in Netflix with a one line description. With the explosion in subscription viewership I'm obviously not alone. So I don't rely on traditional appointment television to discover what I want to watch, and I suspect fewer and fewer people will look to TV in the future.

  3. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., June 8, 2012 at 4:23 p.m.

    Wayne, good job as usual. Always good to be factual even when others choose not to be confused with the facts. Very easy for the Blodget's of the world to attack TV, afterall as you state it's been a target for over 20 years now. Of course how and when TV is consumed has changed and no, there will never be another "Must See TV" Thursday night viewing experience again.
    When I have a choice I'll take my lead from Brian Wieser, someone who is a true professional rather than someone looking to light up the blogosphere with random, gratuitous statements.

  4. Cece Forrester from tbd, June 8, 2012 at 6:03 p.m.

    Super Bowl proves that people will watch commercials if they're not stupid, or irrelevant, or interrupting anything more interesting. And if a commercial is irrelevant but extremely entertaining, that's all right too. But mostly, people are highly motivated to skip the irrelevant and interruptive. And why do you care about forcing people not in the market for your product to watch your commercial? You don't.

    Why would I want to watch an absorbing hour-long program on my computer when I could more comfortably watch it on my TV?

    My TiVo, in theory, could direct me to new stuff I'd like. In practice, it doesn't seem to have any serious basis for doing so accurately. More often than not I ignore whatever comes up in the shows it records without asking. Sometimes I will happen to catch a promo for a new show on a cable network I watch a lot. But the promo by itself, even if it gets on my radar, doesn't often make the sale. I get turned on to TV shows I might like by reading reviews by reviewers in the good old newspaper who know what they're talking about, or hearing people discussing shows on the radio, giving reasons so I can judge for myself. Then I program a search into my TiVo and wait for the new show to turn up. I watch an episode and if I like it, it gets a season pass, provided I have room for it.

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, June 8, 2012 at 6:11 p.m.

    Superb commentary. I was pleased with another analysis this week that noted that HBO gives their consumers more inexpensive subscriptions through cable than they'd have to pay for internet only. Why? Cable posting, listing, and distribution are extraordinarily valuable advertising. In reality, I don't think people like Mr. Blodget have a thorough sense of TV. Too bad there's so much money to be made and so many careers to be advanced these days claiming to see radical TV change in the future.

  6. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., June 8, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.

    "We were saying the same thing 20 years ago: 'TV is over.'” Were we just whistling down the graveyard then -- and now?" Actually, I heard the same thing nearly half a century ago at an IRTS conference in New York. Then some agency people made a presentation of FACTS showing more people than ever were watching more TV than ever. Pretty lively for a corpse!

  7. LeRoy Grubbs from ssserv.com, June 9, 2012 at 12:48 p.m.

    Interactive advertisement is the answer. It is non intrusive, directly marketed to viewer, driven by intelligent analytic data, with interactive TV and transparent ad overlays on current streaming content. With interactive advertisement you can lean back on your couch with the remote, press the * key, and pull up a menu with features like "Buy it Now", "Like" it, "Tweet" it, rank it on a scale of 1 to 10, vote yes/no, give real time feed back. The sponsor sees real time response, ROI ad value is increased by industry standard for direct marketing of 45%, the viewer is engaged with loyalty incentives.... The possibilities are there, the technology is in place, I would love to demo this to any interested party. www.ssserv.com

  8. Jeff Koenig from digiriot, INC, June 11, 2012 at 3:31 p.m.

    Leroy, with all due respect, the *last* thing I want - both as a viewer and a content creator - is interactive overlays on my content. I chose to watch the show/video behind the overlay, and you can't get more disruptive than sticking something between me and what I'm watching.

    Try this test: watch a TV show, and during it have someone stand right in front of the TV and sell you something while you're watching it. Adding interactive "functionality" doesn't make that better, just means they're jumping up and down and waving their arms taking even more of my attention away from the show I'm watching.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 11, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.

    Interactive = super inter annoying with crap. If you want more crap about a program go twitty or use the face paint and read them. Nothing will turn people off more to watching programs than to see those eyesores.

  10. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, June 13, 2012 at 2:51 p.m.

    You lost me at "Henry Blodget." Unless you meant to provoke, not sure why you would go to such a shallow thinking, fire-aim-ready source.

  11. LeRoy Grubbs from ssserv.com, June 14, 2012 at 8:55 a.m.

    Interactive vs Interruption. Imagine a world where we no longer pause for station identification. Or the five minutes of commercials. Though some may argue the use fullness of interrupt based commercials, like when else can I go to the bathroom, may I sugges using the pause button on the DVR? Seriously, has no one seen a ticker tape commercial run across the bottom of a TV Screen? or the transparent overlays on internet news articles or Youtube?

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