Thinking About The Future of TV All Wrong

on April 8, 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.