Commentary

Viewing Habits

Viewing habits? Anytime you see those two words strung together, it should evoke the words in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre":

Dobbs: 'If you're the police, where are your badges?'
Gold Hat: 'Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!." Check out the clip on the ubiquitous  YouTube: (http://youtube.com/watch?v=VqomZQMZQCQ ).

Viewing habits? Well, we don't need no stinkin' viewing habits, because the chances of us getting any data that's meaningful are getting slimmer each day. What do we know? Well, we know that the percentage of viewers of domestic prime-time programming declined overall in Q1. Pure and simple. Declined.

Now, yes, some pundits pointed to the decline as a result of programming reruns due to the WGA strike. We are just a few weeks away from the end of Q2 and we'll be able to compare Q2 viewership with Q1 viewership. Will the data show that viewers who were lost in Q1 returned in Q2? I don't buy it, and even if the numbers indicate that some viewers came back, the numbers are just going to continue to decline. Because, let's face it -- you just don't need to be a genius to figure out viewing habits. What are you doing? What are your friends and colleagues doing? Do you wait for "the show" to come on TV? Do you plop down in front of the couch to watch it? Or do you time-shift and place-shift it?

Do you watch the 6 p.m. (or 5, or 430, or 4) local news or the nightly network news anchored by Gibson, Couric, or Williams? Do your friends? Or are you starting well down the path of consuming your local news by going to your daily newspaper's Web site and the site of the local television station that you usually watch? And, oh, by the way, it's not like this is a domestic phenomenon -- the BBC's www.bbc.co.uk averages six million page views per month and has sometimes seen peaks as high as 23 million!

And on it goes -- faster and more dynamic ways for us to get the content that matters to us, on our individual time schedules. This is what the majority wants -- and the majority is slowly but surely getting its way.

Instead of being stuck with the notion of trying to figure out the future viewing habits versus current and historical viewing habits, I think we should realize that what people are doing and what their habits are becoming will be defined as trawling and scanning behaviors. And, yes, behaviors tend to become habits.

It's scheduled programming and the consumption of scheduled programming that's in decline. Fewer and fewer amounts of people want programming scheduled for them. They want it available but they don't want it to unfold or to wait until what segment they are interested in comes on the screen (sounds a bit like having to buy a CD for all the songs when you only like one of the songs-and we all know how that story turned out...).

That's one of the main reasons that television viewership is in decline. Linear programming where you watch the beginning, middle, and end with commercial interruption depends on story and actors to get you to buy into linear consumption, though we know more of us are time-shifting linear shows and not watching the commercials.

And trawling and scanning behaviors are significant contributors to the desire and mandates of any significant media company to have a 360 initiative where programming is available on a wide variety of platforms (take a look at Ad Age's 360 Media Guide for NBC Universal at: http://brandedcontent.adage.com/360/details.php?brand=22 ). Media companies realize that their audience includes linear viewers, trawlers, scanners and the net better be cast as wide as possible in order to retain and gain viewers (though one could ask, who's the fisherman/woman casting the net -- the content owner or the content consumer?).

The Internet Cloud Becomes the Media Cloud

We all know that, historically, what we've been doing is to reach into the Internet cloud to access information offered by a constantly growing amount of servers and sources. And we are increasingly seeing people reach into the cloud to run applications that, heretofore, they ran as thick, installed applications on their desktops and laptops (e.g. word processing, spreadsheets, etc.).

And, by the way, while there are some people who think that this is a non-starter and non-event -- that there can't possibly be enough people who would even consider running a Web-based word processing or spreadsheet application or that the functionality isn't nearly as good as an installed application -- you'd better look around at the generation of kids who normally do that and don't see any logic in an installed app. And it's only natural that reaching into the cloud to get media, streaming, download, ad-supported, and so forth will only increase. Where do the majority of people see trailers for upcoming films? It isn't in the film theater.

And, increasingly, diversity of programming -- however niche -- is served and available through this media cloud.

Which brings me to comment on Mark Cuban's "All your media belongs to us" blog, dated May 29 (http://www.dmwmedia.com/news/2008/05/29/mark-cuban%3A-all-your-video-belongs-us ). On this one, I disagree with him. The notion that you'll have to license all your content to Google/YouTube, that you may not get a lot of money for it, that you may not get anything for it, that it may be an exclusive license, etc., is just meaningless to the vast majority of people who really don't care one way or another. Most people just want to be heard/seen/share their experiences. They couldn't give a damn as to whether they ever see a penny as long as they have an outlet for getting things out there. Most people are thrilled to be able to share something and if it takes off and really does have a lot of views, they're overjoyed. To get paid on top of that is icing on an already pretty satisfying cake. And with respect to the cost of creating content, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to create great-looking content on very little cost.

Does anyone really care if you have to license your content to a specific hosting entity when you are just interested in getting your message out? Nope, they aren't. And, if by chance your content/idea/concept really does take off, that entity that you licensed that content doesn't have you -- or your brain -- and that's really where the content is being created in the first place

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