What is TV good for?

What is TV good for? The linear, traditional TV of 1969. No, really. This is a legit question. It’s the 21st century. Rigid timelines of massively parallel broadcasts of more of the same should be a thing of the past. Or, maybe not yet.

TV_prehistoric_7171945403_a14ed75dcf_z
Unreal stats: is TV an immortal unicorn?

What is TV good for? The linear, traditional TV of 1969. No, really. This is a legit question. It’s the 21st century. Rigid timelines of massively parallel broadcasts of more of the same should be a thing of the past. Or, maybe not yet.

OK, look at the numbers, viewer shift is happening. To quote this complaint of the American Marketing Association:

Adults between the ages of 50 and 64 spend 191 hours per month watching traditional (rather than time-shifted) TV, according to Nielsen, and those over 65 watch more than 223 hours per month. Teens, by contrast, spend 84 hours per month watching TV.

The younger they are, the less they watch. Like bingo, traditional television smells a bit like an unkempt retirement home. People are dying here! TV is past its prime. Thank you, case closed. Or, is it?

Now bear with me. Let me read you the Oxford Dictionaries’ definition of watch.

Look at or observe attentively over a period of time.

Do 50-64 year olds “observe attentively” for more than 6 hours per day what’s happening in the box? Mind you, this is an average we’re looking at. There must be people out there “attentively observing” the tube 24/7. And if you ever observed attentively a Teenager: does the majority of teens have an attention span of 2 hours plus of single-minded daily dedicated observation of anything? Besides that: a daily active usage of 2 hours plus sounds like user stats any super successful web service would kill for. You’re looking for a Facebook killer? Take grampa’s television.

There seems to be something a bit off-kilter. So I decided to take a fresh look at this TV thing again.

and TV’s job is …

What are you looking at?!
What are you looking at?!

Working with my friends at Magine TV, a Stockholm-based OTT TV service, I looked for some answers by applying Clayton Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done-framework. JTBD’s core concept looks like this: people don’t buy a product. They “hire” a product to get a “job” done. The researcher’s job is to identify the job people want to get done.

The outcome can, sometimes, be rather surprising. Christensen’s milkshake-example is all about the insight, that if you know what job a product is hired for, you can much better improve and scale.

“The fact that you’re 18 to 35 years old with a college degree does not cause you to buy a product,” Christensen says. “It may be correlated with the decision, but it doesn’t cause it. We developed this idea because we wanted to understand what causes us to buy a product, not what’s correlated with it. We realized that the causal mechanism behind a purchase is, ‘Oh, I’ve got a job to be done.’ And it turns out that it’s really effective in allowing a company to build products that people want to buy.”

Same goes with TV. We know for a fact that billions of people are “hiring” television on a daily base. But what is television’s job to them?

Jobs To Be Done is qualitative research. You try to find answers by analyzing longform interviews, which follow a clearly defined timeline. Never ask directly. Stated preferences are your enemy. You chat your people up to get the the gist of what you need to know.

As a former full time journalist, I felt quite comfortable in going this direction. And it worked reasonably well. Most results are of course proprietary. But let me share a couple of things with you: forget about inform and entertain as the core driving factors. There are two core jobs TV has to fix, depending on personal needs. Because not all of you TV viewers are created equal. What we can identify are two quite different sets of viewer personas:

  • there are the bespoke attentive TV personalities
  • and there are the many owners of an animated wallpaper

total attentive immersion: your personal off switch

Totally immersive must watch TV: your world lives in a box.
Totally immersive must watch TV: your world lives in a box.

Let’s start with the fully immersed, totally attentive viewer. The job he needs done is what you would actually expect from “hiring” TV: get effortlessly tuned out of your daily life.

If there’s a Santa for media executives, the attentive viewer will make top of their wish lists. Turn on, tune in, drop out: they are the idiotes savantes you need in any ad recall measurement.  There are a couple of subgroups here, which differ mostly in how they discover what they want to watch. But their typical user journey starts always like this: I’m coming home from work and need to turn off the day. The subgroups mostly differ in how they choose what to watch.

  • totally passive: you have a relevant subset of two handfuls of channels. You turn on and start to watch what’s on your favorite channel. If you’re not satisfied, you switch to the next channel. You prefer to zap or maybe use an EPG to get a quick overview on what’s currently up. You might even know when your fav show is running. You’re mostly satisfied with the work the professionals did in programming a timeline. Because everything else would be way too much work.
  • somewhat picky: you have some kind of an idea what you want to watch. Or, maybe even more important: what you do not want to watch. You might have programmed a PVR to record your favorite things. Because this one time effort brings some pleasure later on when you’re in the mood to watch something (but not anything).
  • totally picky: there’s just a couple of highlights you’re after. Maybe top sports events. Maybe top movies. Maybe the daily news (if you are in a decidedly un-Teen age bracket). You actively plan around those events.

You might have recognized yourself already in all three of those subgroups. Which is not too surprising. Those preferences have just a different weight. If you’re totally picky and down with the flu, you easily switch into your totally passive persona.

If you’re leaning towards pickiness, a SVOD service like Netflix sounds like a present from heaven. If you’re the totally passive viewer, you might actively hate the concept. Because, as one of the interviewees mentioned: actively looking for some program to watch is way too much work.

That’s probably one of the main reasons why series and binge watching work so well on SVOD: when a movie ends, you go back to zero and have to start searching all over again. But after the first 13 episodes of a series, you just move on to season two.

extensive wallpapering: radio with benefits

In reality, this electric fireplace is a talking animated wallpaper.
In reality, this electric fireplace is a talking animated wallpaper.

Remember the average viewing numbers? 84 hours per month, 191 hours, 223 hours for 65+. TV can look like a full time job, even if you’re not working in media. Not too surprisingly, those viewing hours are only slightly connected to attentive watching. The time is spent with media, but not on media. For those people, TV’s job, to stay in the JBTD-framework, is not immersion, not entertaining. They just need a companion.

A typical example goes like this: you work home alone, be it running a household, working in your home office, preparing your student homework whatever. You sit in front of your notebook. But somewhere in the room, not too far away is a running TV set. It’s either totally muted (if you’re the sensitive type), softly babbling (probably the majority) or blaring in full power (yes, granny, I’m looking at you).

Those TV sets are actually doing what the name television is promising: you can see something happening, far, far away. It’s a window to the world. And like with real windows looking over a street or a back yard, you’re not glued to the view. It’s a just very nice and humane distraction. Being able to look out of a window beats staring at a white washed wall. Mind you, a running TV set cannot (yet) substitute a real window. TV lacks spatial information, the color temperature does usually not match your biorhythm and the time of the day. But it adds a social layer: TV is constantly trying to tell you more or less entertaining stories. You don’t have to ask for anything, search for anything, do anything. If you open the hose, it will never stop until it gets your attention. Then you might turn up the volume and watch for a minute or two.

It’s visual radio (a medium, which used to be an immersive one as well). But without the ads literally shouting at you, because the visual attention grabbing is there as well.

The real television is a talking, animated wallpaper.   

The Future of TV

Some of you might remember the little booklet I did in the early 90ies, Fernsehen 2000: global, digital, interaktiv. Back then, the year 2000 still had this Stanley Kubrick Sci Fi ring. Now it seems like a good time to ask the same question again: What is the future of TV?

At Internationaler Medienkongress at ifa, Columbia University’s Eli Noam presented a quick ride into his take of the future of TV. Basically, he sees the following problem: according to Moore’s law, IT technology changes with an assumed 40% per year CAGR. Doing the same calculation for TV, you end up with a CAGR of 4% (dubbed Sarnoff’s law by Noam).

As IT encroaches  more and more into CE hardware territories (even a sluggish Smart TV has more processing power than your first laptop – equally, you can watch TV on your iPad or PC), there might be a threshold when the stupid box finally will disappear, like a demented dinosaur. Or, maybe not. But at least, some drastic changes are on their way. When buying a new TV set, consumers already experience a new sales spiel. It’s not just about screen size anymore (and has never been about 3D). Creative sales people now sing the praise of quad core-TVs vs the lame old dual core CPUed TV screens. Next thing, they’ll get a start button to turn them off.

But it’s not just about the hardware. The whole ecosystem is changing, and Noam sees some drastic changes coming up. One pretty convincing example: cloud delivery is not an if, but a when.

But then, what’s tv anyway? For the guys at ifa it’s all about the hardware. For a broadcaster, it’s a linear sequence of audience reach optimized content. For a professional producer, it’s professionally produced formats. For the audience, it’s their beloved hanging out in front of their beloved telly. But hey: does watching VoD qualify as watching TV? And what about a catch-up service vs. a movie played locally from your hard disk recorder vs. a bootlegged stream served via YouTube? Hmmm. It’s a hornet nest. That’s why Noam wisely prefers a Gestalt definition of TV (some kind of: if it looks live TV, it’s very likely that it is TV).

Ooops, I do it again.
2020tv.biz: ooops, I do it again.

And as we were chatting after his talk, he nudged me into the following direction: how about setting up a scenario for television in 2020? Well, OK, call me a fool in fiddling around with the future, but here we go: 2020tv.biz. My pretty ambitious and hopefully not too preposterous snapshot of 2020 television.

Paging Dr. House! Outbreak of Appendicitis Pandemia on TV sets!

I’m so glad the Internet wasn’t invented by some crazy Korean hardware manufacturers, collaborating with American cable guys. Just calling a device smart and adding some clickable icons doesn’t add any extra intelligence.

Compare the smart phone with the smart tv. The first makes your typical phone tasks a bit easier, simply by adding a smooth user interface. It puts some networking and computing power in your pocket, adds some extras like GPS, and offers even financial incentives for developers to do some great, new things. Thank you, smart phone.

How about the smart tv? The main task of the tv set is being a window to another world, constructed by mostly really large corporations. The last three inventions making your viewing task a bit easier were the remote control (you don’t have to stand up for your right to choose), the VCR/DVD (buy or rent whatever you want) and the PVR (you don’t have to be on time to meet you favourite tv star).

Compared to those three game changers, the smart tv is still a rather weak contender. Yes, they’re selling well. Because it’s hard to find a tv set with a decent screen and no built in internet access. But people aren’t really using the “smart” part. So why would that be?

Let’s have a look at the idea of the app. Most of the apps on my iphone are just easing up things I could do as well on a browser. But hey, the phone’s processor is rather slow and its screen a midget. Apps make life easier for me, because they shrinkwrap a task so I can hold it in the palm of my hand. Even more important: Where or when do I use it? Only, if there’s no larger networked screen with sizable processing power around. (The ipad app use case fits just in between. You’ve got the extra space to handle the slightly larger screen. But you’re not schlepping around a powerful laptop.)

Now, let’s compare those use cases to the current promise of the smart tv. Assume, you’re just two people watching CSI. Wouldn’t it be kind of rude to overlay parts of the screen with your personal Twitter stream? The tv app does not add anything to tv’s core use case: watching tv. It’s either watching tv or app watching. Even more important: you bear with the tiny screen of the smart phone, because you’re on the road. Sitting on your couch, you surrounded by a wifi cloud and you have the choice between laptop, ipad, smart phone – and the tv remote. For all task and things not connected to watching tv, the smart tv loses (no privacy, meager screen resolution, cumbersome data entry …). And smart manufacturers now even get rid of the dumb remote, and stuff it as an app in your phone or tablet.

One of the rare tasks where a smart tv makes sense is finding stuff to watch. But even here, we should look more into well constructed back end systems, than watching out for appy eye candy. To be sure, displaying static information on a tv set is quite a challenge. But the real value does not come out of a grid display of tv shows currently on. The value is in the meta data, the ability to get any video content you want (hello, generation YouTube), starting from a single point of entry. Which could be an app on your tv screen, your tablet, a web browser, whatever.

See, from it’s heritage, the tv is a window to an outside world. Or, technically speaking, a rather dumb displaying device. Will stupid evolve into something like a fully capable large screen ipad on the wall – or more likely resemble the screen attached to a desktop PC?
I guess the interesting part starts in the grey area in between: how much smart will do good?

Upcoming: there’s a rotten app in my smart fridge and where’s the app store in my Smart (as in car)?

O Sony, where art thou?

Remember Sony, inventor of mobile music (the Walkman, if you’re generation iPod), makers of shiny gizmos and all things transistorized? Yesterday, I spent one hour at Sony’s press conference T IFA Berlin, where all manufacturers and lovers of home electronics gather since the days when television was the next big thing and very much black and white.

What’s the big deal? Sir Howard Stringer smoothely presented the vision of the wholly integrated media and entertainment empire. Hardware, content, and distribution, all under one roof. Now, what’s missing here? Right: Software. Entertainment hardware is almost a commodity. The differentiator is software and the User Interface. Why? Look at your smartphone, your tablet, your smart tv: big shiny screens, with slightly different form factors.

The new Sony tablet has a nice new form factor. But turn it on, and it’s an Android device. The new smart TVs look definitely nice. Turn it on, and it’s an Android device. Boot a Sony PC: hello Microsoft Windows. Start the Playstation: it’s a Sony.

Sure, you still could find a way to combine all those different worlds. Integrating all battling units into one large consumer unit sounds like a smart and ambitous move.
But the press conference mostly proved, that running a vertically and horizontally and however else integrated empire is not a silver bullet. One hour with three talking heads, from smoothely presented CEO vision to well rehearsed droning on features of products with gripping names like XYZ-123 is definitely nothing I would expect from a media empire with a gazillion tv, movie, and music superstars in their employ. Text to speech in front of a smurfish-blue background does not substitute for an entertaining event. And I won’t start to compare this hour with the product presentations of a certain Man in Black.

The Google Set-Top Box

TechCrunch has a pretty interesting write up on this. And of course, it’s not about a settop boxes at all. Think Android For TV, says Erick Schonfeld. Right. Google getting into CE hardware would make as much sense as King Midas getting into copper mining.

Still. With an Android TV, we should finally stop thinking of settop boxes. First of all: what’s an STB anyway?

  • a mostly ugly piece of cheap plastic and some electronics, attached to a mostly beautifully designed displaying device (vulgo: tv set)
  • a crutch, which assists your standard compliant displaying device (we’ve got it all set: NTSC, PAL, DVB …) in descrambling a standards compliant signal, which has been artificially crippled (I mean, protected) by your network operator
  • a wheel chair, to carry yer good olde analogue tube into the 21st century
  • Now, let’s take a step back. There’s this wonderful new HDTV set you just bought. It probably already has more computing power than NASA needed to put a man on the moon. The descrambling part, well, think CableCard 2.1. You just need a card reader, like the SIM card on a GSM phone. There’s no need for a stupid box to be attached to a smart tv.
    And of course, as the history of computing teaches us, the smart tv – if you really want it to become smart – should have something like a nice, stable standardized OS as a foundation. The basics, besides handling all the standard stuff like putting moving images on a screen, would probably be something like

  • intelligent handling of distributed storage: attach an USB-HD. Connect a NAS via W-LAN. Access your network PVR. Get stuff from your PC. Or any othe connected PC.
  • intelligent handling of different networks: all IP, broadcast networks, anything networks. Why should you care?
  • intelligent handling of the user interface: consumer electronics still tend to look like a pre-war (Gulf War I, I mean) game console. And the appeal of retro does have its limits.
  • Now. Forget about storage and networks. The really interesting part will be the UI. Why? Well, Google is in the ad business. And the quantum theory of adverising teaches us: an ad nobody looks at does not exist.
    Now look at the status quo. In one corner, we’ve got the media sales super giant with a market cap higher than the stratosphere. In the other corner, we’ve got the incumbents: cable MSOs, satellite operators, some DSL, and last but not least: the tv networks and stations. Representing the allocation of the largest piece of global media cake. Backed up with a finely interwoven network of legalese and some well greased, age old business relationships. Don’t try to push some interstitials in between their shows. Because that’s exactly the incumbent’s billion dollar business. And a well protected turf.
    So. Where’s your disruptive moment? Your leverage? It’s not that the tv ad sales business is desperately looking for some streamlining.
    Now think UI again. And have a look at the Electronic Programming Guides of nowadays: thick as a brick. TV means: you’ve got time to waste, but no screen real estate to do the same. And what does your run of the mill EPG? It wastes your valuable tv-time AND your screen real estate. Instead of waiting for the scrolling listings of the TV Guide on Screen (late 20th century), now (early 21st century) you click, click, click until you might find (or, most likely, not) the craved for nugget of information. Even worse: with all the computing power in your household at its (virtual) finger tips, an EPG stills treats your grandmother with the same relentless indifference as it treats you. For an EPG, The Weather Channel (TWC) comes just after TCM, because it’s spelled like that.

    Current EPGs are just plain vanilla displayed data. Not even information, because this would imply some intrinsic value. How comes? It’s a structural problem: “Premium” EPGs, which are slightly better, cost you a premium.
    You meaning: the operator. And the question you’re asking yourself (or your market researchers) is: is a better EPG a reason to subscribe? Would it reduce churn? Good question. Your panel won’t be able to answer that. Because they’ve never seen a really good EPG.
    Or you meaning, the manufacturer. Mostly trying to keep cost down, down, down. Because if you want to ship units, it’s a really low margin business.
    Or you meaning: the consumer. Yes, friends of Tivo, if you’re really good, a company might find some handfuls of consumers, paying a monthly premium. But tv is a mass market. Paying premium is not. Therefore, Tivos are the CE equivalent of a Beemer.

    Now how about this. If a well known company offers you (the manufacturer) a piece of software for free (hey, no licensing fees!), which even handles most of the basics things you’re going to have to implement anyway? Maybe you’ll have to add some dollars for hardware. But at least, that’s a business you understand. And it’s still cheaper and it even gives you some leverage with your operator clients. Because it’s not just a better device. There are even some ad revenues the well known company is offering to share with the operator. But wait, there’s more: how about if you (the operator) doesn’t just get a new, incremental business. They’re even throwing in the additional incentive of lowering your cost of operations (it has been nice working with you, Gemstar). And that’s just the beginning.

    Sorry. I got carried away a bit. This wouldn’t be Android TV, but Trojan TV. And maybe, you do not even need the operator that hard. As long as you are in the tv and got a net connection. What the heck. As long as your Android powered TV set chats happily ever after with your Android powered cell phone, filling iGoogle with all the behavioral data it needs to serve you the ads you deserve.

    TV 2.0?

    First thing I have to say: Bertram and Harald did a phantastic job. This is grand. But unfortunately, I’m a bit in a nitpicking mood.

    Let’s start with some of the basic assumptions. The assumed basic cost structure for a free tv network doesn’t make too much sense. Yes, the key areas are right: content licensing/production, marketing, and distribution. But distribution is not a variable. At least not, if you need national reach. The more coverage you want, the more you pay. Let’s just assume that German mega broadcaster RTL pays annually about 12 million Euros to reach its tv audience. 9live has almost the same distribution. And therefore pays about the same amount of money. The big difference: RTL has renevnues of round about 2 billion Euros. 9live makes about 60 millions.

    This has of course serious implications. The cost of distribution limits the access to the public (as do the technical limitations, e.g. available spectrum). It’s called mass media, because you need the masses to watch (or interact, as it’s the case with 9live). Otherwise, you’re going to be out of business pretty fast.

    Pay tv is kind of different. Essentially, as a channel operator you have to convince a gate keeper, that the he should shoulder the cost of distribution, against a revenue share. Joost seems to aim to become some kind of funny in between. A gate keeper for a p2p -based distribution of free tv.

    Both approaches pose quite serious barriers of entry. That’s why one of the key factors in tv 2.0 is the lowering of the cost of entry. With web based distribution, you can reach an international audience for zilch. Hey, that’s a start.

    Now, what’s going on with this audience? As a side note: tv networks (as most traditional media players) do not like Google. But the media sales organizations of tv networks do not (yet) feel the sting of Google’s AdSense. Yes, Google is a juggernaut. But the bauty of the text ad system has been, that Google found a whole new pot of gold. Google isn’t making it’s billions with the handful of mega brands, that fill the koffers of the tv networks. That’s why traditional media is much more scared of bud.tv and the likes. If the media buyers become audience aggregators of their own … As it turns out, it’s not that easy. Especially, because as a media buyer, you’re buying into consistency of reach. Ventures like bud.tv are, like any new media brand, a risky thing. And don’t forget: one of the heaviest spender in media is media itself.

    But back to tv 2.0. OK, web based video lowers the barrier of entry. That’s good. The same reasoning applies to the cost of production. Not because of the web, but because the hard- and software for video production and editing is finally approaching zero. This applies to all areas. With my own company, we’re deploying professional broadcast playouts into cable headends. Unthinkable a couple of years ago. same with professional video editing. HDTV cameras. Post production and 3D animation. You name it.

    This is good. But still: producing a video is still quite some effort. Will “moving images replace HTML pages”? Never ever. Producing a video is too much effort for the producer. And, for most parts, watching a video takes is too much equally. Why? Video is a linear medium. You can scan a written page in light speed. Speed watching isn’t that easy.

    OK. Enough nitpickin’. Bertram and Harald are of course right. TV is going to change. The means of access to video content are changing. Channels as the main organizers of content access will have to change.

    The funny thing is: we really don’t know, what tv really is. Do we define tv by content. Most likely not. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make a difference between tv and DVD. Do we define tv as a technology? That’s probably a bit closer.
    It’s tv, if it’s broadcasted and displyed on a tv set. But how about PVRs? With video and DVD, we distinguish between a solid media and ethereal broadcast receptions. PVRs are a virtual broadcast.

    tv reception itself won’t change that much. Why? tv is a linerar medium. If it’s good, you watch. If not, you switch. Or tune off. That’s all the interacton you ever need.
    What going to change is how you find and access content.

    The main difference between tv (as is) and tv (2.0) is the enhanced on Demand factor: on Demand with an URL. Because the URL opens up all other means of access, business models, and social feature you can imagine.

    TV2.0 – Digitaler Film