The Demise of Television: An Executive Onliner's Opinion

Last week I attended a meeting of a small gathering of industry luminaries. All of the usual suspects from the key agency food groups were represented: a media planner, a broadcast buyer, a direct responser, a researcher, a communications planner, a creative, a gaggle of onliners and a digitalist -- that's me, a digitalist, given my agency role as a transitionist from the traditional to the new digital televisual media realm. After pleasantries were exchanged (name, rank and camp) and meeting protocol established (gavel ownership, procedure and more campiness), the onliners jumped right in with probably one of the hottest topics in the media community, with a rating on the Richter scale of $60+ billion: the future of TV and its evolutory demise. The gauntlet was served, and immediately the line of demarcation between the traditionalists and the onliners formed, each behind their raison d'etre for job security, with the communication planner and myself seeking the occasional ephemeral consensus in the no-person's realm between the fortresses.



I will not bore you with the skirmishes. I imagine you all have been involved in some way or another in the heated dialogue and scorched by the exchange. However, I was impressed with an example of TV's demise presented by one executive onliner in attendance. In a valiant effort to move the conversation forward from the theoretical to the "real" he offered a personal experience, which I applaud. In my opinion, unless we are able to imagine the theoretical in the realm of the mundane we will never make progress in assessing future possibilities. His statement -- though not verbatim: he and his wife were not able to watch one of their favorite TV shows, "Ugly Betty" (ABC/ Thursday/ 8pm) the other night; they had planned to watch the show but weren't able to be home when it aired and had not taken the precaution of recording it; but ultimately were able to watch it on a few days after its broadcast. Proudly he rested his case: TV is dying; long live online video viewing. His fellow onliners nodded knowingly, the traditionalists dismissed the example outright. And so did I, I must admit -- even in my role as a neutralist and moderator.

Overarching question: if one knew, as he did, that one could watch a favorite TV show of theirs online, on demand -- as in this example, "Ugly Betty" -- why would one, such as he and his wife, choose to watch this TV program via a live television broadcast. The opportunity to catch a missed TV program on the Web is convenient, becoming pervasive and affordable -- free, in exchange for not being able to fast-forward through limited commercials, as in the's "Ugly Betty" scenario. I've done it on numerous occasions when I messed up my TiVo recording "To-Do" list and I am thankful for the opportunity. But my preference has always been for the big TV screen. So the translation of the executive onliner's example was really that he missed the live TV broadcast, so as a fallback position he went online to catch the missed episode.

Some other points in contention that he didn't express though were transparently present in his example about choosing the TV viewing experience over the broadband video viewing experience: the monitor size and supporting sound system, the comfy couch or bed positioned perfectly to maximize the television viewing experience, the ability to snuggle with a loved one -- further maximizing the television viewing experience, and the affordability of paying monthly fees for pay TV cable and satellite (roughly 82% U.S. penetration) and broadband connectivity -- approximately half of the U.S. households elect to broadbandly wire.

I think that oftentimes the media community is confusing the distribution methodology with the consumer viewing experience. In the end, it is my contention and others that the consumer will not care what form of coaxial, digital terrestrial antennas, fiber or hybrid material enables them to receive their data, audio and video. Price, billing, programming, speed of delivery, ubiquity among devices and customer service will be the points of differentiation that drive consumer satisfaction, loyalty and the much sought-after potential of up-selling products and services by providers.

With that said, I do think that the executive onliner brought up a good point -- though unfortunately it wasn't the point that supported his funereal contention: the ability to watch TV programs at a viewer's convenience once they missed the original broadcast. Whether through a PVR, online bookmark or simply going to a site for a free view, the Web site application is a terrific extension of the ever-expanding way consumers receive TV programming. The focus of this year's Consumer Electronics Show was the technology that would make unlimited television programming available 24/7 on every screen one owns. Last broadcast season Nielsen Media Research reported that the average American watched 4 hours and 35 minutes of television a day and U.S. households scored nearly 8.25 hours daily. The highest viewing numbers in Nielsen's 50+ years of tracking viewership. And these numbers don't take into account watching TV on computers or mobile devices.

In closing I thought of another medium, the theatricals, that has extended its reach through what was once deemed as the harbinger of its demise: home video. Initially pundits predicted that people wouldn't want to leave their homes once they had the option of viewing theatricals in the comfort of their abode. So after 20+ years we find that the movie business is generating $9+ billion in ticket sales and its home video viewing extension another $26 billion. Translation: a $35+ billion dollar sector -- not counting ancillary sales to the traditional TV industry (broadcast, cable, syndication, teleco) as well as the burgeoning on-demand realm (video-on-demand and online subscription on demand). Of course, one could argue that all is not well for the theater owners, but that will be fodder for another TV Board topic.

Next story loading loading..