The future of TV

I made a long interview with Mathieu Chevrier (in French) for the RTS, discussing the future of TV and of media in general. Here is a recap of our discussion.

  • Youtube is launching new channels with heavyweights of the media industry (Endemol, Lagardère, BBC, Wall Street Journal) to increase the quality of content available. What Youtube proposes is a cheaper access to audiences for channels that would otherwise have to go through the complicated and expensive process of obtaining a broadcast licence via the traditional system.
  • Youtube is doing this to attract more eyeballs, which in turn will allow for more ads.
  • Established channels are ignoring these developments as they are reluctant to work with Youtube, because it would force them to share their revenues with Google.
  • Still, some financially challenged channels might migrate exclusively to Youtube, just like Newsweek went completely digital. But overall I expect these new channels to complement the existing TV offering, not replace it.
  • TV is still way ahead of other media in terms of usage. In the US in 2011, 32 hours a week are spent in front of TV, 4 hours in front of online videos. The reason is that TV is a passive media, one you can leave in the background while doing something else. The web is different, you have to click every other minute, scroll, search. It is a “lean forward” media that requires attention, while TV is “lean back”.
  • Television revenues are still up a) because of these 32h a week b) because of the fact that 25% of the time spent watching TV is spent in front of ads (it’s only 1.3% for online video) c) because how much people really watch ads on television can not be measured. Every single person I have seen watching TV changes channel during the ads. But this is not what is reported to advertisers (and everybody seems very happy with that system).
  • Television is here to stay because it fills a certain need. TV is social (we watch it together), TV is in the background (you can watch it while tweeting), TV is public (which is useful when you have kids, you can know what they are watching). Rumors of TV’s death are greatly exaggerated.
  • Youtube is making money but still searching for an advertising model. At first they tried to do online what was happening offline, i.e. pre-roll ads. But it it not working. Nobody wants to sit and watch a 30 seconds ad to see a 2 minutes clip. So a new model needs to be found, and in that sense Youtube is similar to Facebook: it attracts a lot of attention but still hasn’t fully cracked the code on how to effectively monetize it.
  • Internet is not an enemy of media. In fact, internet is the reason why media consumption has increased greatly in the past years. I have never seen that many people consuming media since smartphones. If internet is not a positive force in the media industry, it is because of the lack of innovation of the industry. Let’s take TV shows, the channels had an absurd and long process to bring them to the market: release the episodes in the US, sell them to foreign broadcasters who put them on the market 2-3 years later. With the internet and the emergence of a global culture, users simply wanted their shows, and were left for years with no legal way to download them. Illegal downloads developed because of the lack of innovation, not because people are pirates. It is a huge missed opportunity. Blaming technologies for your own lack of innovation is stupid. Sending the lawyers to crack down on your clients is even worse.
  • Fighting innovation is typical of large companies. The big media has everything to lead their own future – money, network, experience – but they started to become arrogant and ignore weak signals that their markets was changing. Reminds me of what Tim O’Reilly was saying, that we must always chose between protecting the past from the future, or protecting the future from the past. Through the internet revolution, most large companies have tried to protect the past from the future.
  • The smart television is not working. The industry does not get it and is trying to push it down the throats of customers because it would force people to buy new TVs and generate more profits. Nobody needs a connected television. The screen is too far to read. Entering text with a remote is a nightmare, and nobody wants a floating keyboard in his living room. Connected TV already exists, but in another form. It is in our palms, smartphones and tablets, that we are using while watching our shows (26% of people report using their tablet in front of the TV several times each day).
  • Connected TV reminds me of MMS back in the days, a technology the telecommunication industry loved but that never took off because it was expensive and not user friendly.
  • Where is the media headed? I think that we are coming back to the expert era, with a new meaning behind the term “expert”. From being fascinated by having the most information possible, we are now seeking the most relevant information. It’s a good news for journalists, whose filtering role is taking a huge importance again. It’s also a good news for the industry, because a clearer role will be easier to monetize. It might be a less good news for users, as good media will have to be paid somehow, soon.
  • From TripAdvisor we are moving to systems like ChefsFeed, where there is less information but more qualitative, with an identity behind every comment. Experts are coming back, but they are not necessarily what they used to be. They don’t have to come out of the academic system, and could be a user that was promoted by the community.

Listen to the full interview

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