The future of Television?

Post date: Feb 27, 2013 1:19:17 PM

Here I am watching the penultimate episode of Netflix' House of Cards (in HD quality on my AppleTV). I can't help but wonder if this it a Gladwell-like tipping point in the way we'll be watching 'big-budget serials' (as the telegraph puts it) in the future.

If it is, then what does this mean for established broadcasters? Mr Robert Colvile's take on this is an interesting one:

For many people, this splintered vision of the broadcasting future will appear rather terrifying – a world beset by a bewildering profusion of entertainment options, in which the idea of “water cooler” television, or even a national cultural conversation, is a relic of the past. But the consolation is that there will be more TV, of better quality, than there’s ever been before. True, it will be impossible to find time to watch it all – but as problems go, that’s rather a nice one to have.

Some may say that this trend will increase, exponentially reducing traditional broadcasting's influence on primetime viewing slots. Ultimately reducing their advertising revenues, share price etc, ...but will it, or will it force broadcasters to make a step change within the industry?

No wait, that's not the question... it's inevitable that the broadcast industry will change and adapt to viewing habits, it has done for years. The question is...

As a viewer, do I want to search for something to watch tonight, or do I want someone to make that decision for me?

Let's take a step back. We know that the amount of VoD content available to viewers is increasing. As it does the amount of energy we have to excerpt as viewers, to discover something we want to watch also increases. This is similar to why Pinterest has gained popularity, for curating the web's content.

In the traditional scheduled TV world, I select a channel with the expectation that it will deliver content to me. I sit back and let the shows and the adverts wash over me. All the content that a broadcaster has curated into a schedule, largely based on what will have mass market appeal. I occasionally get a sense of satisfaction from this experience, out of knowing that others will also be watching that same scheduled content too. Friends at work, family, and more prominently these days, people I follow on my twitter feed.

The Linear broadcast schedule isn't going anywhere, anytime soon, especially for live mass-market appeal content. What about more niche content; pre-recorded VoD content, like Netfilx' House of Cards? Could there be an opportunity, a need to deliver more granular curated content for viewers, as an alternative to scheduling and viewer search?

Flash forward a few years to a hypothetical world, and imagine that pre-recorded content is primarily consumed through VoD. Broadcast scheduling has become much more about live events, and focused on mass market appeal. More and more quality / premier style content becomes available via VoD for first time viewing. VoD platforms like Netflix will need to do this to attract subscribers, and broadcasters will follow suit to compete and gain customer / viewer insight.

Great, but I get home from work and I'm tired.. how do I choose what to put on in the background as I make dinner? There's a vast catalogue of choice, but I have no apetite to spend the next 30 minutes of my life putting effort into searching for content I'd like to watch. There's the current approach of applying clever analytical algorithms to generate recommendations, but people are far too irrational and emotional creatures for those algorithms to guess what we want, every time. Recommendations are too generic, and the content is too broad and getting broader.

Lets go back to why people enjoy linear broadcast scheduled content; my view is it's ultimately the social aspect. In a world with a plethora of VoD content, could we benefit from focusing on narrower communities built around our friends, family, other fans, people you follow on twitter?

This sounds like a problem I already have, is this just history repeating itself for a different medium? Consider your music habits, do you subscribe to Spotify? There's a vast amount of music available, and sometimes it's difficult to know what to listen to. If you want to discover new music there are services like SoundDrop which offer "rooms" for users to curate their own playlists of tracks. Joining a room to listen to music curated by people with similar taste to you, or perhaps the mood you're in, as you would tune into a radio station.

Perhaps initially we will see a finer grained schedule of content, curated by broadcasters and targeted at specific viewer demographics. Then in the future maybe we'll move towards broadcasters providing the ability for viewers to curate their own schedules. Schedules that trend like twitter hashtags, and maybe if it's trending for the community I have constructed, then perhaps I'll tune into that feed, and contribute to that short-lived community of people, just as I would now alongside linear broadcast TV.

Is this a bad thing for traditional broadcasters? Perhaps if they miss, or worse, ignore the opportunity. As ultimately this capability provides more viewer insight, viewing habits and all the advertising opportunities that go along with that insight.