To be honest, I don't now remember the answers that were forthcoming, but I did ponder the question myself, and remember reaching a conclusion that was not voiced by the panelists -- namely, health-care services.
To date, when we think of healthcare and TV revenues, we think of Big Pharma spending the earth on extensive (rhymes with expensive) ad campaigns. In the future however, we are going to see a completely different range of activities open up, largely facilitated by the digital return path.
At its simplest level, whole VOD channels related to particular conditions such as diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy and countless others could be of immense value to those with the condition and those caring for them. Imagine, too, the value of such a channel to expectant or new parents. The opportunities for sensitive yet useful and appropriate sponsorships of such content will aid brand awareness and facilitate deeper understand of the role of the sponsoring brands among the array of options available. Add interactivity and you've really got something special.
Channels like these will become seen as valuable resources for those needing information, rather than the inevitable promotion-only exercise that makes up the traditional advertising experience.
Beyond the VOD model, the return path also facilitates some pretty powerful applications that concern health-care monitoring and delivery itself. For some of these to become a reality, there will need to be a realignment of thinking at the FDA and among practitioners, but once different services become billable, there are not only services to be delivered that will be of value to patients, but also services that will dramatically cut costs and time / admin inefficiencies while improving service.
For example, it is already technically possible for biometrics such as body weight, glucose levels, blood pressure and others to be measured conventionally -- and then for that data to be sent wirelessly to a device hooked into a digital cable system so that the readings will go directly to a nurse's station at the doctor's office and be registered into a daily log within the patient's electronic medical records. Depending on the readings, a message will then be sent back to the patient's TV set confirming that all is well or, if not, then alerting the patient to the need for a follow-up call or visit (which subsequently happens conventionally). Home health-care visits will thereby be prioritized according to need based on such information, rather than a pre-determined -- and less patient-sensitive --schedule.
While this sort of information-based service doesn't lend itself to advertiser funding in the traditional way that the TV industry thinks of the health-care industry, as the owners of the digital return path, the cable companies stand to gain significant sums from health insurance companies, Medicaid etc, for their part in the process.
For those who may feel this is all rather fanciful, I would say that the technology is already there and being experimented with; we are doing so at Ball State and are by no means the only ones. But there is an inevitable financial imperative for the health-care system to make more and better use of technology to mitigate the effects of the demographic time bomb that is our current future scenario.
TV won't be the only solution, but it will provide partial relief to the growing challenges of cost-effective health-care and health-related information provision -- while at the same time building new revenue models.