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.

from the TV Hackday

Had quite some fun at the TV Hackday in Munich. Together with @rjung, we built this litte app here. We called it Pinkelpause, or TV Leaks: a crowdsourced tv ad blocker. Which of course is not blocking any ads, but telling you when the commercials are done and you can safely come back and sit down in front of your linear tv set.

You choose your network, the current show gets displayed. If the ads start, you can click the red commercial warning-button. Some stochastic wizardry later, everybody who checked into the show will have his app set to “commercial break”. During the commercials, the display shows the approximate remaining time of the ad block. When the show comes back, you press the big green button, everybody get’s an alert. Stir in some gamifiction, and that’s it.

What device should this be on?
Mobile, of course. A smart tv app would be kind of self defeating. As watching the app count down would be even more annoying than watching some commercials.

Will we ever take it live?
Most likely, not. The smart phone wielding crowd tends to be alittle bit younger than the typical tv target. And well off tv aficionados do not have an ad problem. They fastforward with their digital video recorder. So we’re maybe ten years late.

Would there be a business model?
Sure. And no, I do not think an ad supported ad blocker is a valid proposition. So …

Jurassic Print

Vor vielen, vielen hundert Jahren, als das Internet sich grade selbst erfunden hatte, plante ein sehr grosses, sehr gelbes Unternehmen unsere damals noch sehr getrennt-deutsche elektronische Medienzukunft. Dicke Fernsehkabel würden Datenströme in Bildtelefonfernsehgeräte pumpen, unter Aufsicht wackerer Beamter. Dann kam alles ein wenig anders. Die elektronische Hälfte des grossen Gelbes bekam ein magentafarbenes Börsenmäntelchen, dem die EU dann die dicken Fernsehkabel wegnehmen wollte. Das komische Interdings rock’n’rollte über die putzige Bildtelefonfernsehgerätiedee und von der DDR blieben nur noch Rotkäppchensekt, ein paar schlecht konservierte Mauerreste und entindustrialisierte Unkulturlandschaften übrig (von schwäbisch besetzten Zonen wie dem Prenzlauerberg natürlich mal abgesehen).

Um den Übergang von “so stellen wir uns das vor” zu “so war das aber nicht geplant” gut zu kaschieren, gab es damals eine Handvoll begleitender Massnahmen. Als Solidarprojekt für notleidende Baukonzerne (West) wurden die entvölkerten Innenstädte des Ostens in Referenzprojekte für die innerstädtische Sanierung entvölkerter ostdeutscher Mittelstädte verwandelt. In Sachen Gelb war gestern, die Zukunft ist Magenta, raste der ehemals volks- ähm staatseigenen Betrieb an die Börse, um zukünftiglich Eigentum von Volksaktionären und dem Staat zu sein.
Um die Werthaltigkeit dieses neugefärbten Riesen nachhaltig zu befördern, wurde er vorübergehend vor der bösen EU-Regel geschützt, als ehemaliger Staatsmonopolist entweder die TV- oder die Telefondrähte abgeben zu müssen.

Lange Rede, kurz gefasst: gut zehn Jahre lang lassen die Magenta-Manager ihr ungeliebtes Kabel am ausgestreckten Arm verhungern (wer investiert schon in die künftige Konkurrenz?). Die Aktienkursentwicklung seit Start ist trotzdem nachhaltig magentafarben.
Als Kollateralschaden bleibt uns eine Breitbandinfrastruktur mit dem Status “quasi-albanisch, ausbaufähig”.

Acta est fabula, wie der Asterix-Humanist weiss. Vorbei ist vorbei. Kann uns so heute nicht mehr passieren. Oder? Fast Forward 2013. Die deutsche Medienindustrie singt der Politik ihr Retro-Requiem. Das verwurstelte Urheberrecht, dass sich ein wenig um die Rechte der Urheber und ganz viel um die Rechte von Lizenzauswertern dreht, hat einen kleinen Bruder bekommen. Das Leistungswurstrecht (oder so ähnlich) dient als Arbeitsbeschaffungsmassnahme für Medienrechtler und Existenzberechtigungsbescheinigung für die Wirksamkeit von koordinierter Lobbyarbeit und der Wirksamkeit klassischer PR in klassischen Medien. Kann sein, dass nebenbei ein wenig Porzellan zerbrochen wird. Aber das sehen wir dann in 20 Jahren.

Tatsächlich mag es sich bei diesem Kuriosgesetz um eine Art Testballon halten. Denn weil die grosse, böse Welt auch nicht vor deutschen Medienmillio- und -milliardären halt macht, muss nun der Regulator ran. Auf dem DLM Symposium, einer höchst ehrbaren Veranstaltung, überkommt den Beobachter das Zittern. Wird der Plan von Pro Sieben-Sat.1 in ihren linearen Programmen regionalisierte Werbung schalten zu wollen wirklich das deutsche lokale Mediengefüge wie ein Kartenhaus zum Einsturz bringen? Gottseidank wurde die Technologie schon zwei Dekaden lang in US-Kabelnetzen geprüft, bevor man sie hier wegregulieren kann.
Noch mitreissender allerdings die Idee, notleidende Druckwerkserzeuger in eine Art Hartz-Print-Hospiz zu überführen. Freilich nicht mit der Gieskanne soll die Staatsknete staatsfern verteilt werden, sondern zielgerichtet. So anderthalb Milliarden per Anno, nach Beispiel Frankreich, wären schon ganz ordentlich.

Zwangsernährung nur für bleischwere Medienriesen? Das geht natürlich nicht. Man vergesse bitte nicht den lokalen Rundfunk. Auch Guten-Morgen-Ronny will subventioniert sein, und erst recht der brave Lokal-TV-Mann. Der ist gerade in Deutschland ganz besonders internetmedienhausaffin: auch ihm fehlt das funktionierende Geschäftsmodell, und das schon mindestens so lange, wie manch ein selbstausbeutender Blogger alt ist, was fatalerweise dazu führt, das zur Selbstausbeutung neigende Nachwuchsmedienmenschen heute lieber cool bloggen, als uncool in unbezahlten Überstunden Sende- oder Seitenstrecken zu füllen.

Was fehlt bei der Diskussion um das Notopfer Print, diesen demokratienotwendigen Erhalt von Formatradio und Zeitungsausträgern? Nichts. In Perfektion braucht das hier angelegte System weder Urheber (Kostenfaktor) noch Publikum (es sei denn zur Rechtfertigung). Das Ziel ist Jurassic Print: ältliche Mediendinos vor der grossen, bösen Welt der digitalen Säugetiere beschützen.

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)?

The GoogBox

What’s the point of an Android-powered TV – isn’t television supposed to be kind of dead anyway? Now, let’s be realistic. Dead looks like GM’s Hummer: a broad butted relic from those merry days, when the environment was something to train your four wheel drive in.

Sure, TV as-is gets into some rough spots: economic downturns and big corp ad spending don’t go that well together. Local TV has been an almost exclusive ad playground for local car dealers. Tivos are attacking scheduling and audience flows. But, guess what: people are still watching. Because, addictions are hard to break.

Still, we tend to mix the means of delivering content (broadcasting television) with consuming this content (watching tv). For peak audience content, broadcasting is still hard to beat (just look at the half a billion Dollars big G is supposedly shelling out for streaming YouTube’s vids). But descheduling and instant access, that’s is pretty much how consumer’s want to see their future tv. That’s why the toughest competitor to network tv is not a YouTube channel, but your home network.

I really mean it: if you’re running a tv network, treat home networks as potential affiliates in a different time zone. And that’s how we’re coming back to Android. It’s just a boring operating system, currently huffing and puffing inside some halfway decent smartphones. It’s free (hardware guys like that idea) and the potential trojan horse for one of the most aggressive data driven media companies (like phone book publishers in the 20th century) in the whole world. Which is a bad metaphor, as ye olde Greeks needed their one trick pony to resolve a 10 year long siege. But the Goog needs a whole army of tiny trojans to foster new markets to prevent itself from becoming the one trick pony riders of the contextual text ad.

Now, what’s good for Google isn’t necessarily good for the rest of us. If an 800 pound gorilla waltzes through the jungle, “do no evil” does not prevent massive collateral damage. But especiallly in the realm of TV and TV distribution, some creative destruction might be welcome.
I don’t believe in Android powered TVs as a home media platform. It’s bad practice to hardwire a piece of furniture (displaying device: life expectancy of roughly a decade) with a computing platform (tends to age in hyperspeed). But if my stupid Android-enabled TV talks to my Android-powered smartphone, we might be getting somewhere. Especially, if everything’s linked in the background by one mighty media company.
For developers, the beauty of a concept like Android for TV is easy: the days of the web as the all consuming platform are numbered. We’re entering a data driven world, with lots of devices and platforms, talking to API-enabled services. Look at Twitter as a poster child. Conten/data and presentation layer are not related in any kind of way.

On the other hand, the world of tv distribution and its related hardware is still a cumbersome hodgepodge of everything. It’s the old school of electric media, when radio was a humming thingy called radio, which was sitting in your living room, which you turned on to listen to: radio. Don’t expect anyone anytime soon referring to his tv or whatever device as an Android.

The iPhone of iTV

We’ve seen the future of iTV. And it’s purple. Seriously. Yahoo’s Intel-based Widget Channel might become the iPhone of interactive TV. Not because both are based upon a expensive platforms. But because the Widget Channel leverages formatted internet data onto a TV screen. Web surfing on a tv set is just a poor experience. Visualizing targeted data is something completely different.

It’s just like on the iPhone. I don’t browse the NY Times web site in Safari, but I read Paul Krugman on the iPhone app. Same with the Widget Channel. Mostly, I don’t want to search weather.com. I just need my local forecast now.

Chumby hooking up with Samsung leads into the same direction. Grabbing existing data and displaying them on consumer devices (digital picture frames are just bonsai-sized video displays anyway).

Bootleg Distribution

This sounds smart: MySpace leverages their mass of uploaded bootlegged videos (as long as they are properties of Viacom’s MTV Networks). Every uploaded video (80 000 per day) will be run through Auditude’s “fingerprinting” system. MTV content will get some ad overlays, the 3 parties involved will share the ad revenues. The “benefit” for the 4th party, the uploading MySpacer (a.k.a. the editor) seems a bit weaker: he will not get reprimanded …