New technology ends reign of broadcast cartels
The internet sparked a golden era for television viewing, and liberated audiences that for decades had been held hostage by the broadcasters. Now it’s time for the networks to face up to their future, which looks a lot like Mad Max.
For anyone that doesn’t gorge on a steady diet of mindless soaps and sitcoms like Two and a Half Men, TV is not a pleasant experience.
Just ask anyone that has persevered through the process of hunting down episodes of TV series that aren’t deemed suitable for the viewing public by benevolent TV executives.
To get a copy of The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, The Office and the endless raft of high-quality shows effectively censored from local viewing screens, niche audiences had to pay a king’s ransom for DVDs or forced to resort to more unscrupulous, complicated measures.
The internet and new technology changed all this. Suddenly iTunes and similar content stores allowed TV shows to be easily and legally acquired, and these could be viewed across a plethora of new devices such as phones, tablets, and media centre devices.
It is truly a golden age to enjoy entertainment of your own choosing.
While this revolution was taking place, television broadcasters did what they do best, sat idly by, indulging in their own hubris, telling audiences what they should think.
It has been shocked into action by years of declining audience figures and shrinking revenues but alas the response has been too little, too late.
At the XMediaLab conference in Sydney last week to Dr William Cooper (former head of BBC interactive and new media unit and founder of digital television consultancy informitv) gave his 20 predictions for how television viewing habits will change in 20 years.
Needless to say, it doesn’t bode well for the TV broadcasters and manufacturers.
The prescient prediction was that television will be relegated to the same social status as radio.
This is pretty much the worst nightmare for TV executives, who have for decades reigned supreme at the top of the media pyramid, much to the chagrin of their lesser media counterparts.
In this post-apocalyptic, radio future, a handful of survivors will squabble over an increasingly fragmented audience. Think Mad Max, where tribal TV warlords fight for a share of decreasing viewers and advertising dollars.
“Fewer TV channels will survive, mass media ownership will continue to consolidate, and the number of broadcast television channels will continue to decline as the interruptive advertising model will fail to support them all,” he said.
“TV traditionally has been largely territorial, largely that’s been because of the tech of transmission the internet is inherently international, it’s a global network that doesn’t respect international boundaries.
He said TV will retain its role in delivering live events that can attract a national audience, such as news, entertainment or sporting events, and there will even be the emergence of global networks in the vein of CNN.
However the future lies in servicing fragmenting audiences and niches, and TV will largely take a backseat in the media landscape, becoming more like production companies re-purposing content for multiple devices and audiences.
There’s a delicious irony to television companies being forced to take a back seat, the position they forced audiences into. We deliver, you consume.
While companies like Google and Apple have developed the devices and applications enabling consumers to watch whatever, whenever, wherever, the broadcasters have stubbornly held on to their head-in-the-sand strategy – ignoring the threat until it disappeared.
Dr Cooper agrees.
“Global corporations like Apple and Google are creating global distribution platforms that are beginning to compete with broadcast networks for a share of audience attention.
“Broadcast channels and operators will no longer be able to dictate what TV is and how it works,” he said. “For consumers, it will be a screen or a display service where they can do many things.”
“Broadcasters will have to deal with many different types of displays and form factors… delivering video on demand, changing the fundamental user experience about making people feel connected to a wider community.”
And 3D Television, the industry’s last roll of the dice, will be a limited success and a niche product he said, because it complicates rather than simplifies the viewing experience.
“TV is actually a background activity that takes place while people are doing other things and they don’t necessarily want to watch TV while wearing dark glasses.”
It’s fitting that he described 3D TV as an “illusion”, the spell cast by broadcasters to control audiences for decades.
To preserve their power and hold audiences hostage, the broadcast cartels limited viewing choices which pandered to the lowest common denominator. Their reign is over and and the bosses will be relegated to a future in the media backwaters.
Now that viewers are being liberated by the internet and new technologies, “whatever, whenever, and wherever” is becoming the norm rather than the exception.