TV of Tomorrow: Distribution, Devices, Content and Advertising

The telephonoscope by Albert Robida (1883). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephonoscope

Last July 25, Google launched Chromecast in the United States. Chromecast is a hardware key that plugs into the television’s HDMI port and is used to project the content of mobile devices directly on a television screen. Technology observers welcomed the device very enthusiastically because of its highly affordable price ($35), its compatibility with all platforms and—last but not least—its fantastic ease of use. As read in a tweet: “The last nail in television’s coffin?”

There’s clearly something wrong with this concept because television is far from dead. Yes, the medium has been greatly transformed in recent years and will surely undergo yet other major transformations. However, television—in the strictest meaning of the term—is very much alive and well.

SEEING TO A DISTANCE: A CONCEPT THAT IS AS OLD AS THE WORLD ITSELF

Composed of tele (meaning “far” in Ancient Greek) and vision (meaning “to see” in Latin), the term television dates back to 1900, when Russian physicist Constantin Perskyi used it to describe the process of using electricity to create an image by reproducing light waves.

In La permanence de la télévision (a summary of meetings organized by the Centre d’études sur les médias, les technologies et l’internationalisation [CEMTI] at Université Paris 8), it is hypothesized that television was a desire long before it became an object or an industry. This desire is almost as old as humankind itself. The desire of ubiquity and omniscience, the dream of becoming universally invisible while remaining able to see and hear everything that goes on around.

Last June, former chair of the FCC Julius Genachowski, while taking part in an Aspen Ideas Festival panel titled “The Future of your TV,” pointed out that a great deal of confusion clouds any discussion on the future of television and that there are four items that must be differentiated in any discussion on the future of TV: content distribution, the devices used to view TV content, advertising and the content itself.

Distribution: Volatile subscribers in a fragmented industry

“Television is television, no matter what pipe brings it to the screen,” recently declared Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, to theNew York Times.

Cable television was invented 65 years ago in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania by an appliance salesman who wanted to give his customers access to content whose signals could not pass through the area’s mountains. For a long time, cable television was the only way to “see to an even farther distance.”

Now that there are more and more services available to provide access to audiovisual content, services that are often exclusive in an attempt to attract consumers through other means than cable or Hertzian waves, some observers predict a very fragmented future for distribution: the more glutted the market gets, television viewers will be less and less satisfied with a single subscription and will increasingly tend to browse through different services in search of the one that satisfies them most.

But until then, don’t consider the cable distribution industry defeated in the “battle for consumer dollars.” That’s the analysis made by Fabien Loszach in his post titled Cable is Far from Dead; Smart Boxes to the Rescue! on Trendscape.

DEVICES: TELEVISION WILL BE OMNIPRESENT AND EVERYTHING WILL BE TV

Displair Air Screen technology is used to project digital images in thin air, actually using ultrafine water droplets. Source: http://www.displair.com/

Displair Air Screen technology is used to project digital images in thin air, actually using ultrafine water droplets. Source: http://www.displair.com/

Soon, television will float in thin air and we’ll pass through it like Alice in Wonderland’s mirror. The experience will be totally immersive.Television will be everywhere, the environment will be filled with ubiquitous screens, as in this vision of the American glass making company Corning, with walls, closet doors and tables converted into screens (“A day made of glass”).

Regardless of the form, size and positioning of the windows that will enable us to “see to a farther distance,” a pattern is developing: the hierarchy of screens is coming to an end. First, second or third screen, what’s important is to understand how viewers interact with television and focus on developing applications designed for a multi-screen world, claims Janko Roettgers, GigaOm collaborator.

CONTENT: A CHANGING ART

McLuhan once said that “Television will not be understood before it has been replaced by a new medium. Once a medium is obsolete, it becomes a ready-to-use art form. For example, cinema and photography are two media that are better understood since the arrival of television” [Jean PARÉ. Conversations avec McLuhan, 1966–1973. Éditions du Boréal].

In the United States, there is more and more talk about the new golden age of television (the second or even third golden age, according to some). During the “The Future of your TV” panel, Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Corporation of America and Sony Entertainment, pointed out that PVRs (personal video recorders) and more recently Internet broadcasting have given rise to a new form of television viewing: catch up TV or television that is viewed on an ongoing basis. This new form of viewing allows creators to innovate and configure their work’s dramatic frame differently.

For example, the creators of Arrested Development, a series that Netflix brought back to life this year, explored a new and rather unusual narrative form for television: each episode focuses on a character’s point of view regarding the same events. Its creator Mitch Hurwitzexplains that “a new medium requires a new format.”

REVENUES: PROFITABLE, BUT FOR WHO?

In terms of funding, the trend is to diversify rather than to replace one means by another. Television financed by advertising is exploring new possibilities, including branded content and targeted advertising. Viewing video content over the web will not replace traditional television watching: according to certain indicators, the new ways to access content translate into an increased overall consumption of content. That is what was recently confirmed by a survey conducted by Media Technology Monitor (MTM) with Netflix subscribers in Canada. More than four out of five respondents also subscribe to traditional television and pay programming services.

Jonathan Brand is the attorney who defended consumers in the case opposing Aereo and television networks. He declared to the New York Times: “We are in a transition period, migrating toward a world where you are going to get the content you want without commercials,” said Jonathan Band, a lawyer and advocate for consumer choice. “But the truth of the matter is that you are still going to have to pay. The only thing really being argued is who gets the money.”

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