Thinking About The Future of TV All Wrong

by Ben Bajarin   |   April 8th, 2013

family wathching flat tv at modern home indoor
 
I’m convinced that most of the commentary from the pundits and speculators around Apple TV and the future of TV in general is all wrong. There are some bits that I think have merit. Thinking about channels as apps for example is on the right path. Letting networks and brands have more control of their viewers is also on the right path. Thinking through how we will interact in active vs. passive ways with our contnet is also on the right path. But at a fundamental level there is something not being emphasized enough in this whole discussion of the future of TV.

TV is a Communal Experience

Right now, for most people, the TV is a communal experience more than it is a personal one. For example most people’s TV screen is in a communal place. It was designed from the beginning to be something that people gathered around and enjoyed together. This is not going to change. By nature of the size of the screen and its location, if more than one person lives in a house, the large TV monitor is a shared experience.

Most of the commentary I read around the future of TV brings with it a bias of an extremely personal revolution rather than a communal one. I get the sense as I read much of the ideas put forth around the future of television that many assume that the TV screen and the entire broadcast experience itself will become more personal. Now, while I think the TV experience will become more personal, I don’t think it is the large TV screen where the revolution will take place.

The large television set is a communal computer not a personal one. Therefore, its evolution will happen within the communal context.

Second, Third, and Fourth Screens

Using a smartphone, tablet, or traditional PC while watching TV is now common place among owners of such screens. These devices have something in common which the TV does not. These screens are highly personal. They are owned and customized and are portals to a very personal computing paradigm. So it is on these screens that I am expecting the coming TV revolution.

As we gather around the TV, it is the most personal screens which we have customized, where it makes the most sense to bring the personalized experience with broadcast content.

Nearly every major network studio has an iPad app. Some have Android apps but not all of them. Not only do the networks have apps but now many individual TV show brands are also beginning to have an app. One only has to look at the Colbert Report app for a shining example of the possibilities when TV shows themselves start creating software.

A Hybrid Entertainment Experience

The key to thinking about the future of TV is to understand that the TV set itself will remain a communal and shared screen. But our personal devices, like tablets and smartphones, will increasingly become the avenues by which what we watch on the big screen becomes personal and even intimate. Of course both these screens will still function as independent entertainment experiences, but the real revolution will come when you use them together.

The real shift is that content companies (like the big networks) will also need to become software companies. It is my belief that the televsion is the laggard in the computing paradigm. It is the screen that is yet to truly be a platform which software developers can take advantage of. When this happens the TV revolution will begin and take us on a path no one yet envisions.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • Rich

    Ben, does thinking of channels as apps mean that you could go to a channel and it would list all the shows on that channel, and you’d be able to watch any of them at any time, get information about the actors in the show, and maybe interact with the show?

    • benbajarin

      Yes and I see multiple layers of it. The first layer could be the Network layer, so ABC for example. You go there and see all the ABC content by way of what’s live, as well as what can be streamed, etc. Then from their you get to the show layer where you can dive into streamed full episodes, clips, extra content, etc., whatever they want to show you.

      The entire guide metaphor changes from linear to non-linear. This will bring along with it many new options on both the TV and the smart phone or tablet or PC which will serve as primary viewing or interacting screens or companions to the big screen as well.

    • steve_wildstrom

      That’s exactly how HBO Go works today. The exact content varies from show to show and the UI varies by device, but watch any episode of any show you want at any time is the heart of it. Of course, you have to already by an HBO cable subscriber, but some day the economics will turn and HBO will sell Go as a freestanding product.

      • lucascott

        HOWEVER to get HBOgo you have to have a cable subscription. You can’t just in app and sign up. And many folks don’t like having to pay as much as $70 a month for stuff they will barely watch to pay for what they want.

        And since HBO withholds from places like iTunes for as much as 2 years, those folks will often torrent the shows as they air. In fact the season premiere of Game of Thrones hit a new record as most torrented show with something like of a million downloads in the first 12 hours.

  • steve_webb

    “Letting networks and brands have more control of their viewers is also on the right path.”

    How do you convince viewers to spend money on this?

    • benbajarin

      Right now they are already spending money on their cable bills and the networks are offering things in this direction for free. This needs to be thought through from both a bundling and an a-la carte model. The reality is broadcast for live events and news etc is not going away. Their needs to be multiple business models at work here.

  • Alfiejr

    yup, the hype about some new revolutionary Apple TV etc is missing what is really happening. the TV revolution is already well underway. it is just developing piecemeal and gradually along multiple parallel paths instead of the single new Gee Whiz product many pundits are looking for.

    Apple’s AirPlay was the most important single innovation, because it completely welds the big screen TV together with portable smartphone/tablet computers. no candybar remote can ever match that UI for convenience/power. the key difference is that the apps are actually running on the portable device, not inside the TV or some in-between STB. now Google, MS, and others are rushing to copy it. “apps as channels/networks” that take full advantage of this capability are widespread and will become the norm by next year. that includes all the streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. most will use an external STB as the connecting “extender,” like AppleTV and XBox, until they are built in to all new TV’s routinely someday at no extra cost (today they are limited to the premium models).

    the other huge innovation is being able to watch any of that same content anywhere, anytime – on any TV, on any computer, on any smartphone/tablet you have. this is also spreading rapidly now, usually delivered via these same apps. and there actually is another gee whiz product for this already, but it has gone largely unnoticed – the inexpensive Slingbox – which gives you world wide access/control to any TV source you have at home, real time or time shifted. it’s invaluable for live TV – sports, news, specials – that still cannot be accessed via apps (or costs extra). and if you have two locations you only need to pay for CATV at one and then “sling” any cable channel to the other. the cablecos are now offering more restricted versions of this too.

    add all this up, and you got a revolution. it’s jut not finished yet.

  • Hydrahead

    I would like to arrange my favorite networks’ icons into folders like I arrange my apps in my iPhone. News stations in this folder, Kids channels in that folder. Vsual, easy, quick access. No need remember the exact number for each channel. Channel surf only when exploring.

  • steve_wildstrom

    What Ben’s piece and the comments make clear is that there are two separate problems in reaching the future of TV. One is getting all the content we now get mostly from cable delivered over the top and, except for news and live sports, mostly in non-linear fashion.

    The other is developing a user interface/user experience to make this all work.

    The first is a business problem that is slowly being solved, although it will take some time yet for the new business models to catch up with what is technically feasible today. The second is a technical challenge that is waiting for Apple–or someone–to crack.

  • mhikl

    Thinking about all the Crummy, Repulsive, Awful Programming let over the aether, I think I would be willing to pay two to six bucks a month per channel, if ad-free. Possibly individual series might go for a dollar a month. ‘Big Bang Theory’ is a favourite of mine. Sheldon and Penny and the gang would be worth that into perpetuity. (The series could be cheekily positioned as “Bang for a Buck a month”.) Those sets of dollars would go straight to the originating networks or series’ creators. Ten good channels, if they could be found, would be half what we pay today for the sludge that poses as information and entertainment. No insult meant to Sludge.

    The other day I downloaded an hour episode from Discovery. For fun I played it on QuickTime and dumped all redundant parts including repeated factoids (we were told some science lady’s credentials seven times in that torturous hour of the tedious), wasted frames on the channel’s moniker, zooming sounds, repeated clips and irrelevant speculation. What was eventually left was a little over seventeen minutes of that hour long show. The adverts had already been evacuated. Even the seventeen minutes was a waste of time. I believe Discovery originates from Bell and surely the company knows no one watches that C.R.A.P. But the channel is like the cheap candy left over at the toe of a Christmas stocking, useful only to make the sock look fuller. What an ingenious way to kill anyone’s interest in science. Might we actually be able to find a real news app that didn’t perpetuate the myth of neighbourly shootings as the norm?

    If this use of apps pulled in more money than the usual advertising and cable charges presently bring in, then maybe the networks would be willing to put more effort into their offerings. It might be that advertising would be involved at the cheaper entry level app, but I wonder if the competition between channels intent on good programming to pull in their dollars might produce a better experience such that most would opt for the more expensive ad-free version.

    Ben, I see brave times ahead in this information and entertainment new world. I can only see Apple working tenaciously on some grand project to get this going. Remember Steve’s famous quip about cracking this nut.

  • lucascott

    The real issue with the future of tv is that the networks are still thinking the same as they were in the days of the family around the house tv with 4 channels to pick from. They need to recognize that online viewing, iTunes etc are just as used as OTA and change their systems.
    Th ratings still only look at a small sample of folks and still decide what is aired instead of online views, iTunes etc being added to the mix. The judgement method should be easy. If a show, using all methods of monetizing, call cover the budget it stays. If not, good bye. Also, the tech is there for a sample of 4-5 times the number of houses. Given that this is about human tastes and not coin tosses etc a larger sample could give much different results.
    Also, viewers watch repeats and see errors so tighten up the quality. Viewers also talk so socialize shows. Add those commentary etc to things like iTunes and stop with this junk of creating box sets later that have stuff folks that bought during the actual seasons can’t have without buying everything again. Pisses folks off and they talk about it. Why leave a negative taste in viewers mouths with that sort of stuff.
    Also,the solution to torrents etc is higher quality, better pricing and quicker availability (internationally even) on legal sources. That will kill 95% of torrents.

    These are the real issues with the future of TV.