The New Unnatural Pace of What's Possible

There’s a promotional video put out by media tech firm that caught my attention the other day. It promises its new gizmo “will work with any device out here, even the ones that aren’t out there yet.” I love that phrase.

Yet the product sounds great that it figures the device must have existed before now. There should be was panel, like Underwriters Laboratories, that would give “new” ideas a grade for real newness, the way New York City’s health inspectors give “A” ratings to clean restaurants.

But by now, of course, every content contract contains similar language. It reads something like this:  “The Big Big Really Big Co LLC. owns rights to Your Little Insignificant Program (Definitely LLC)” for exploitation on TV, cable, Internet, mobile phone  and anything else anyone anywhere ever thinks of now or in the future, regardless of how stupid that device may turn out to be or how badly it works.”  

Which brings me to VCast. Verizon—giant Verizon--just announced that the video service that began in 2005 will end soon on all devices, yes, even the ones that don’t exist yet. As MediaPost’s Matt Walsh reported, “The step comes as Verizon faces increased competition from free video providers on mobile devices like YouTube in addition to the mobile extensions of video services people are already paying for like Netflix and Xfinity. In short, VCast became superfluous.”

Who could have known, way, way, way back-- 2005-- what would be superfluous?

At about the same time Verizon was packing up most of VCast, Nielsen was issuing its 2012 Social Media Report that is remarkable in different ways than VCcast’s announcement is.

It shows the increasing influence social media on viewing and the proliferation of two and three screen situations. It's crazy big.  Nielsen says 44% of tablet owners, and 38% of smartphone users access social media while watching TV (the stat is way higher outside of the U.S.) and nearly a third of us actively tweet about the TV shows we’re watching. Basically about a quarter of the people using tablets look up coupons related to TV advertisers or just to get more information about commercials. (And just to get this big fact in, about a third of people 18-24 use social networks while they are on the toilet. This is a statistic sure to be prominently mentioned on every morning zoo radio show in America.)

Yet those are the kind of statistics that built from almost nothing a little while ago to massive numbers today. And yet, in ad communities, advertising on mobile and on tablets is still an iffy proposition. The natural business sense of being careful is being so careful, many cars on the speeding train have already passed by.

Maybe that’s because there’s always another train coming down the track. You can spend all day thinking about what existed on the Internet once and now doesn’t—or just the other way around.  But it seems that the short life cycle of the latest greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread breeds a souring kind of cynicism about building things to last. It’s like the whole community of innovators-- amazing men and women-- should be wearing one of those nametags that reads, “Hi my name is…what’s yours?” There's always something and someone new. Ask Verizon.     

P.J. Bednarski can be reached at

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