The Future of Television May Only Be One Screen

You know that the definition of television is changing when a Future of Television conference is hosted by a company called Digital Media Wire. This event was part of the NY Games conference indicating to me that all content, no matter how it is delivered and used by the consumer, is part of the new and complex television ecosystem.

What is television today? I have explored this question in previous articles. But the Future of Television conference further expanded the definition in terms of content, distribution, monetization and venue viewing opportunities. The big takeaway for me was that television seems to have finally crossed the digital Rubicon, transitioning from the “delivery box” to a veritable state of mind, a programming option where no screen is primary. What is television today and what are the challenges to the current business model? Here are my ten top takeaways, not in any particular order:

1.   Marked Generational Differences in Television Usage
For Time Warner’s Joan Gilman, the definition of television has two answers - a professional and a personal one. At work it is program content – the creative. At home with her kids it is hardware based where they spend less time on the primary household screen but consume large amounts of content on second screens.

2.  Don’t Talk About the “Second Screen”. There is only One Screen
Among Millennials, the first screen of choice may not be the television set. It might be the tablet or mobile. Is there really a “second screen” anymore? Isn’t just “The Screen”? For Meredith’s Laura Rowley, her kids say that all you need for television is wifi. And according to Craig Palmer of Wikia, “If you use the second screen it is the first screen for you.”

3. More Programming Sources Expand Consumption - Time is Flexible and Expandable
Will there be more competition for viewers’ time as all of this new content – from Netflix, Yahoo, AOL, YouTube and other sources – needs to fit within the time that the average viewer allots for television entertainment? Not necessarily. “Video is invading other spheres of life.” Says Rowley. “Our site All Recipes .. can be downloaded via mobile in the grocery store. So we are expanding the hours used for entertainment. We offer a solution for consumers and insert a video in their day that didn't have a video before. In this way we are redefining TV with consumers consuming video in new places and in new ways.” 

4. Measurement is (Still) the Big Challenge
No matter how you define television, new sources of content make no impact unless you can measure it all properly and completely. Measurement has not kept up with the way content is being delivered and the concept of rating may not be as relevant today as it was in previous years. CPM may be less of an issue if they measure actual behavior in terms of reach and frequency. Anthony Wood of Roku explained that there are many sources of viewership that is not currently measured by Nielsen including Hulu Plus. How can you monetize it if you can’t measure it? A big step forward is asset identification coding that facilitates automatic content recognition across all screens. But it is still in process with no industry standard as of yet.

Joan Gillman of TWC talks about measurement:

5. The Borders May Soon Be Shifting
While the virtual MSO may still be in development, it does have the potential to upend the business model and change the viewing landscape. Think of TV without Borders.

6. Storytelling Trumps Technology But Give Technology It’s Due
Even with all the new and ever expanding range of viewing platforms, nothing is as important as being able to offer great and compelling content, as long as it is in context. Shane Rahmani of Electus says that the core of success is great storytelling but “what works on linear might not work on YouTube and it should be form factor appropriate.”

7. New Programming (and Advertising) Experimentations
Nick Demartino of Theatrics summed it up. “We are at the beginning of an unprecedented time of programming experimentation. We are evolving from the tyranny of the 22 minute sitcom.” But predicting the end of the 22 minute sitcom and 30 a second spot may be premature. Much of it is predicated on specific content. Some formats are better for digital and can be adapted from linear. Rich Cusick of Yahoo offered this insight: “Buzzy moments have resonance and can be inexpensive to produce. We took a (longer) program segment and found users only wanted to viewed the buzzy moments that they cared about. We edited it down to 3 minutes and increased viewing.”

8. But Old Programming Has a Great Value Too
Magisto’s Reid Genauer spoke of “decades worth of content with no place to live today.” In his company, they are experimenting to bring that content back into the social dialogue. He says, “Our videos get the same number of views per month as an episode of Breaking Bad.”

Shane Rahmani (Electus) and Rich Cusick (Yahoo) talk about the Impact of Data on Content

9. TV Everywhere is A Temporary Advantage for MSOs, At Best
When asked if TVE is working for MSOs, Steve Ronson of A+E equivocated. I would answer that question as, “it depends, not so much and maybe. It may help MVPDs to some extent but the problem is in its execution.” Karen Cahn of AOL called TVE “A band aid solution” since consumers want content and don’t really care about the delivery provider. But Craig Palmer of Wikia feels that the “traditional model will go away since kids don’t feel the need to be subscribers.” And what about delivery via IPTV?

10. Celebrity Participation Helps Drive Appeal
It was agreed that celebrity involvement helps in attracting audience and attention. But while celebrity participation helps drive content, the definition of celebrity is fungible. AOL’s Cahn said, “Influencers don't have to be a household name but they can influence popularity.”  Will everyone be able to get their 15 minutes of fame more easily?

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