TV: The Once and Future King

TV Set With Crown

While mobile and streaming take the headlines, traditional television viewing still reigns supreme. Will that always be the case and will digital ever change it – or just enhance it?

John McCarthy sat down with Dr. Jeffrey Cole, Director, Center for the Digital Future to discuss TV’s place in today’s digital revolution and what lies ahead for the longtime king of media.

John: What is TV today? What is the definition of TV in a digital world?

Jeff: It is almost impossible to define television. I simply define it in the broadest possible terms, which is audio and video. It is becoming a semantic argument as to whether television is a URL on the Internet or the Internet is a channel on the television set. So when I am talking about television I am talking about every delivery system that enables people to watch moving pictures and sound on a screen.

And as we also know, the screens they are watching have changed completely. On one hand they have gotten bigger than ever before, so the gap between movie theatres and the home has narrowed, and on the other hand screens have gotten smaller. As a result, people are watching television outside of the home for the first time. So television has become a much bigger more significant, broader thing than ever before.

John: We see traditional TV viewing still having dominance. Is this a vestige of a transition to digital that is still being made or is there something else at play here?

Jeff: Traditional television viewing is still the place that the largest amount of high quality programming is assembled. Even if you look at an Over The Top (OTT) provider such as Netflix, they have produced in the past maybe 25-30 hours of original programming. On broadcast networks, one show does that every season. And the network has 15 of those shows to produce so the broadcast networks still produce the largest amount of original programming. The broadcast networks are also still the only entity that buys professional sports, which is the only content that can deliver enormous live audiences, so broadcast is still hugely significant.

Broadcast television is still thriving and ultimately young people don’t make a distinction between cable and broadcast and OTT. Ultimately, OTT is going to be just another channel on the television set and broadcasters will go over the top. But the broadcasters will be much more about programming and content than they will be about delivery.

John: Even with the ability of streaming and time shifted viewing, unquestionably there is a better viewing experience on a larger screen, is the obstacle to watching programming in that format - especially among younger viewers- is it that the set is anchored to a room? Is it purely a question of mobility or is there something else at play?

Jeff: We saw college students who were getting their first apartment not buying television sets. They had their tablets and smart phones and were pretty comfortable viewing in that manner. Ultimately they will live in homes with TV sets and some programming will always be watched on a big screen. Ultimately, there will be a mix, but initially there is a preference among younger consumers for the second screen.

John: Do you feel that there is a different level of engagement that young viewers are beginning to learn by holding a mobile platform and holding content in their hand, a level of intimacy that you don’t get from viewing a screen from across a room? Are they learning an emotional need that traditional TV won’t be able to satisfy?

Jeff: Everything is changing. You are more engaged when you are looking at something in your hand – and that’s why mobile advertising while more intrusive is engaging. But one of the most interesting things we are seeing about the TV audience is that the reason why ratings for live events is climbing so high is that viewers are watching TV with other people. Until recently you could only watch television with other people when they were in the room with you. Now we are watching television with other people who are not in the room with us. We watch by sharing the experience through texting and social networking. I think the little crawl at the bottom of the screen that now delivers news will be replaced with a closed network social media crawl where we can see what our friends have to say about the programming as we are watching. That’s the real change in the environment of television - sharing with other people who are not with us.

John: So this gives one the ability to have both an intimate personalised experience and a social one simultaneously?

Jeff: Absolutely. We now believe that the words television and social are almost interchangeable. All television is becoming social.

John: It’s an interesting phenomena that broadcast and the electronic media was thought to be re-tribalizing for the culture, but that we have actually moved toward more individualized experiences through mobile platforms. There seems to be a dichotomy.

Jeff: We have also seen something historical. When we first got TVs or colour TVs, most families watched television together. But then mostly because TV sets were so reliable, we got new ones - not because they broke but because we wanted new features. So we kept the old ones and put them in the kids’ bedrooms and then we got the phenomena of four people in the family watching the same show at the same time, but in different rooms. When HD came along, with one big HD set in the living room, I was hoping it was going to draw people out of the bedroom, and it did for a while, but tablets have driven them back in to individual viewing.

John: We have definitely created an expectation of content on demand and mobility of content among a younger generation. Do you see a period of time as this generation begins to mature that they will want a better quality viewing experience? Will a larger format or higher definition screen become more appealing?

Jeff: No, not especially. There are people who maintain that an iPad at a certain distance is the equivalent of a 50 inch TV. The quality on the screen of a mobile device is pretty good. Ultra HD and 3D will ultimately be a big success, but it will be a feature in the set. People are not going to pay extra for it. But teenagers are pretty happy with what they have. They don’t talk about the quality of the picture.

John McCarthy, Global Marketing Communications Director, Kantar Media Audiences interviewing Dr. Jeffrey Cole, Director, Center For The Digital Future.

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