Commentary

Television: Our Emotional Second Life

Our industry -- having been blinded by the bright lights and public relations spin of multiple companies such as Google, eBay and Joost -- is at a crossroads. Today it seems we look no further than the Internet to solve the structural issues of the television platform (which had found its birth within a treasured natural resource called the spectrum).

Recently we have heard rumbling that Google has also wished to have wholesale access to the spectrum for any intended service. Thankfully, this idea was shelved -- for now -- by the Federal Communications Commission. Are we capable of risking more of the same from these newly minted media companies by streaming more Internet over our treasured resource? Bashing Google has become a popular sport, but it is not really about Google's strength. Rather, it is that Google has become the poster child for what is the most visible representative of an increasingly vanilla flavor -- and the world is again about to change. With the Feb. 17, 2009 digital conversion approaching, could the valuable open spectrum ultimately be used to turbo-charge digital television? Who's to say? But we should pause to recognize the influence television continues to play in our lives and the ways it can continue to shape technology.

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The television platform is looked at by uncultured Internet interlopers as a dumb box in need of proper burial -- a technology that is missing that dot-com sizzle. Last I checked, us Americans love our dumb box. Internet folks prophesize that the time is coming for TV to drop into the La Brea Tar Pits, yet if you look closely at it, you see our old friend, the "dinosaur," changing and adapting to its new environment.

When we dig into the consumer experience of television, treat it on its totality, and apply the same logic of Nielsen Media Research to the more than 100 million TV homes, we find that the nation has come together in a collective consciousness to help shape the television medium through all sorts of inputs like product sales and "American Idol" text messages. While Nielsen Media's 10,000-consumer panel has historically rated shows, the totality of the country has enabled symptoms of the coming digital transition to find a home within television today. Some of these symptoms include varied pod sizes, product placements, graphical overlays, text messaging and scrolling ticker tapes. It truly is a timeless emotional barometer, and a permanent record of the thoughts and feelings of the American public.

Our industry is currently engrossed in understanding commercial ratings and how to follow the viewer across the dial, but this is meaningless data and serves only to bend our present-day experiences and to keep them squarely metered in the past. Viewers today are sampling content and graphics across the screen in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of emotional triggers and reactions. Television is a sensory experience of audio, video and ideas, and this deep experience helps us to nurture our soul and free our mind from its everyday pressures. TV is our emotional second life. As HDTV provides a warm brain cocoon of crystal-clear content, HDTV's promises of a deepening real life experience could not be far behind. But can those emotional connections be valued, especially in a split-second rating? They can't. A new industry metric will surely emerge that captures emotional engagement.

My heart believes that the future of our emotional video world will be found within that plasma television, through the television spectrum and its wireline delivery. While others believe in the Internet, for video my brain listens to my heart. And my heart watches television.

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