Television At The Crossroads

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Did you hear? The future of television is… wait for it… 3D!

While everybody is busy running over to their favorite consumer electronics store to pick up a 3-D television (btw, is it just me or do those glasses make all of us look like the love child of Karl Lagerfeld and Roy Orbison?), it seems like the television industry – much like all of the traditional media channels – also struggles to define its place with viewers while grappling with a future of digitization, media fragmentation and uncertainty. In what could be considered a strange twist of self-perception, the TV industry is looking more toward interactivity in a world where most people enjoy television because it keeps them passive without having to think or work too hard (we might not like to admit this, but TV is successful because the majority of human beings are pretty lazy).

Is TV making a big mistake in trying to be more like the Internet when it should be focused on what it does best: keeping viewers hypnotized as they munch on snacks and try to forget the day of work that just passed (and the one that is coming)?

You can’t stop technology, and the TV industry knows this. It has some of the smartest media people in the world on the case to figure out what the business models look like in a world where the big broadcasting companies are no longer the kings of the castle, and as cable television pushes more and more niche content through specialty channels. If that weren’t enough disruption, we now have DVRs (PVRs, TIVO or whatever we’re calling them these days) that allow us to not only record, fast-forward, pause and rewind live TV, but it also brings with it the ability to skip commercials. So, if consumers are skipping those commercials, what’s the point in brands advertising on TV? To further that thought: if brands are no longer advertising on TV, how does TV make its money? The core business model of television has always been about placing those 30-second spots in between the content.

Apple, Google, Microsoft and many of the other major technology companies (that also happen to have media properties) are not letting this media disruption go unnoticed (in fact, they’re playing a huge part in the disruption).

A few years back, Apple’s iTunes allowed people to download TV shows on a pay-per-episode model, and while the introduction of Apple TV hasn’t done quite as well as the iPad launch, Apple is still very focused on that product line in the hopes that people will want a hybrid TV platform that enables them to watch their regularly scheduled programming while also being able to watch YouTube and other online video properties from the comfort of their couch. Google also recently announced Google TV, which like Apple, will be a set-top box (much like your current TV cable box) that will layer on the ability to search, share and do a lot more with your TV as you know it to date (it, too, will record, make recommendations, etc). Microsoft has commented publicly that they have been in development of unique TV fare that will run via their Xbox online channels, completely circumventing the notion of TV as we know it today.

The fact remains that the old model of watching Glee at 8 p.m. on Tuesday may be a thing of the past, but how people consume television by habit is where the future of television gets interesting.

Is TV’s next prime time how it shifts from a passive media (one we just sit back and consume) to a highly interactive one (think about choosing content, commenting on it, sharing it and – maybe even – creating it as well)? It’s a big, bold move, and those same media executives who are banking that the Internet and television are going to converge may be in for a big surprise when they realize that people like TV and the Internet for very different reasons.

We are currently at this very interesting intersection of culture, technology and media where we are beginning to see the mass media consumer’s appetite for paid, on-demand content and how this integrates with advertising and the traditional 30-second spot.

Ultimately, we may also learn that it’s not about one media channel to rule them all, but rather how these many media channels play with one another and the consumer’s desire to consume content in one moment, interact with it at another and create the experience at some point as well. No matter how this pans out, I still can’t get my TV to keep a normal, equalized volume between the shows and the commercials. If they can get that fixed, it may well be the first step to a truly successful future.

What are your thoughts on the future of television?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


  1. I don’t watch tv, don’t have cable. Everything is on the internet…from movies to hockey to the UFC. Just connect your laptop to your flatscreen and away you go!

  2. I predict that soon we will be able to subscribe to TV shows; download and watch them when we want (no longer need to be home Sundays at 9 to catch Desperate Housewives – set your own schedule). With subscriptions (like satellite radio) TV advertising will disappear. And interactivity will increase (choose your ending?) It’s a natural evolution esp in this connected world we live in.

  3. What an interesting time for TV. I think the innovations are still a long way off from being adopted by the majority of consumers. Personally, I consume much of my media online, because I like watching what I want when I want. What television could really do well is provide a richer live experience, including on screen social media conversations, more angles, replays, of course 3D sports and more. Make it more interactive…

  4. I think more than anything else, the emergence of the digital environment has made us pickier. With the Internet, if you want 8-bit pixelated games based on classic literature, you can find it; if you want to converse with a group of fellow Australian Shepherd fanatics, they are two clicks away. We have more choice than ever before and that is the trend that TV needs to pick up on.
    Gimmicks are nice (3-D TV, streaming Pandora or Youtube, etc.) but what I think people are really looking for it the ability to have more control over what they watch and when. It comes down to one of the base ideas in marketing: what speaks to your customers? The future of television will be based on consumer choice, in whatever form that officially manifests itself.

  5. The future of TV/video/whatever is the same as it’s always been. The creation and exhibition/distribution of original, compelling content. And there are more and easier/cheaper ways of doing that now. The future is so bright. But you need a great story first.

  6. 1. Response to TiVO – One of the dominant TV watching behaviors is communal viewing. While TiVO is a threat to missed advertising, research shows that TiVO is used for recording content based on individual preferences. When multiple people watch television together, they tend to watch whatever’s on – warts, ads and all.
    2. Age of Interaction – As you rightly mentioned, consumption of content on TV and on the internet have different characteristics (which sometimes overlap in, for example, in households that have only one television and the losing remote dominance contenders make do with internet content). But interactivity on the TV, one hopes, will go a long way in engaging consumers, giving them what they want from brands, and reciprocatively allowing brands to keep TV channels in business.

  7. Television as an experience is not going to die. The idea of at the end of the day sitting back and watching something entertaining without having to do anything is so very appealing in this fast paced life. I like to get sucked into a great TV program. Its easy, in my living room, with a PVR I can pause, snacks are cheap and handy.
    Now.. how TV is going to be delivered to you. Thats a different story. I don’t expect to sit in front of a screen and have it dictate what I watch. Its going to be the other way around.
    Future? I hope good quality programming stays. I want to control how and when I watch it.

  8. I think TV will become a bigger window (40 – 70 inch window) to the internet and our personal digital assets. TV for me is about the experience, I see it as a comfortable way to view things. And I do agree, it’s great for when you’re in that passive mode. I also appreciate the video/audio quality of true HD 1080p, which is another reason why I prefer to watch movies on a large LCD, LED, Plasma or whatever. A wishful prediction would be for cable companies to create the ability for subscribers to video chat/conference on our HD TV’s. Imagine that, answering the phone on your TV. Ok maybe not.

  9. Funny that you should start your article off mentioning in home 3D. I saw Toy Story 3 over the weekend, and while it was a great movie, maybe Pixar’s best to date, the 3D didn’t add much to the experience. At least not for me.
    I don’t see a mass adoption to in home 3D happening. I see it as more of a gimmick.
    What I do see is the value of “television” going down. There’s just so much consumer choice. One would think that with so much choice, that the content of what is produced would increase in quality, but reality says different.
    What is interesting is the new Hulu Premium service. Give me what I want, when and where I want it, at a price that doesn’t make me think twice about it. That’s the future of TV.

  10. The Future of Television
    Television also feel vulnerable on technological race, answers are still vague, back in the years where the internet is an infant technology, they have power. The power of pricing certain time budgets and conditions depending on how catchy or less threatening your product, (sometimes TV giants disapprove tech threats for their friends) giving an immoral side or health blahs that felt like a repetitive attempt to cover up changes in trends.
    But as time goes by, they also feel that some punch lines or patterns never work or get any profitable senses.
    As Internet unleashed the “Truth” – a world of cocktail parties and opinions (or dangerous “creative destruction”), many companies lost their advantages (though temporary), an example happened of what digital camera did to Kodak.
    The fate of Television is either to Go Out or Go In.
    “Going Out” means being a stronghold, a separate entity some sort, Televisions are going mobile, still rivalling internet for attention. I also predict that Television can evolve, like adding some guns and cannons in their techniques to catch attention, more good baits will come(3D offers), but it is more in a soft sell version.
    “Going In” means alliance, in early times; it is a way of surviving a great empire and avoids bloody battles, to preserve what they have to tailor what they need. Partnering ideas here and there.
    Marrying Julia or Anna.
    How is the feeling that all holograms are interconnected and experienced interactively?
    Television wants action and movements, I predict it will partner those ideas that also
    demands action-videogames.
    Television is may be slow, but maybe they think the opportunities out there are small for them to recognize, giants always wake up-maybe sooner or later.

  11. Personally, we have not had cable at our home or office for a few years now, on the point of spending our time better, and the access of television on the internet.
    It’s funny, one of the largest problems that is facing TV today is in fact, what made is so successful in the first place. People are no longer as lazy as they once where – Actually, let me change that
    When TV was first introduce, it was ideal for the men and women who had physical jobs, and wanted a time/place to rest and take there mind off of things. However, in today’s world, we’re all working more (as we’re connected via cell phone / iPad / computer) and we’re not being nearly as physical. So, when it comes to TV time, we’re distracted still by work, but not as physically tired to just accept what is on.
    Plus with the addition of the 500 million shows that TV now offers, we are no longer restricted to watching only 3 or 4 channels.
    Plus, there is still Nothing Good To Watch! but that’s just my thought
    Thanks for the post
    Josh Muirhead

  12. Interesting post and comments. This debate on the future of television has been going on for a long time. I remember sitting around boardroom table with a global technology client talking about the impact of TIVO etc on TV consumption. At the time, their TV budgets were steadily decreasing as it became more and more difficult to reach their primary senior executive target. That was probably about 10 years ago. I’ve been out of the game for a few years due to mat leave and other things, but it amazes me how little the TV industry seems to have changed. Now we have social media taking even more of consumers time it seems obvious to me that it’s about time there was a pretty major paradigm shift on how the TV execs run their business. I’m guessing product integration will continue to grow and I agree with Sue’s comment – maybe the time will comes for subscription based TV. They better get on it though, while I don’t think TV is going away anytime (Joel is right that it’s sometimes nice to sit there, watch TV and snack mindlessly), it they want to maintain or grow share something’s got to change.

  13. HD and 3D are nice evolutionary technologies, but we are still a mile away from revolutionizing the medium.
    I dream of the day I’ll be able to sit down (or using any of my devices in the home or on the road) and choose to watch anything I want: the last episode of a hit show (from any country!), an obscure drama from the 60’s, any movie ever made, ask for a list of all the Michael Jordon’s 50 point plus games and choose one.
    Full access. One flat per minute rate which is fair for both the viewer and content producers. Everything else is transitory.

  14. Mitch, great post, thank you for moving the conversation forward on this. We posted up a few thoughts over on our blog: What do we think? Mainly, socializing is going to really matter to TV, and luckily it doesn’t do a lot to the feeling of passivity that TV tends to elicit 🙂

  15. There is no denying of realism that major technology companies are driving towards IP connected TV driven by consumer preference to have more control over content through video on demand, access to online libraries, YouTube, accessing content in home network or cloud. I believe the success key here been the innovation in user experience and ease of usage
    On related note, although TV is adopting computer like functionality, web and TV may newer completely converge. Connected TV will have the resources and capability but work, research, browsing the web and social interactions may largely remain in the computer domain

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