Monday, February 08, 2016

The Future of Television

I got into a bit of a lather when I heard this interview of Michael Wolff on Innovation Hub (a great podcast BTW). The topic was the future of television and he expressed an inflated prediction that “Television is the new television” and that no changes to the industry are forthcoming or necessary for it to succeed.  It seemed to me that he thinks they can do no wrong. Are you serious? I agree with his argument that the demise of TV has been greatly exaggerated. But the truth is much more nuanced – as it usually is.

First, let’s define what we mean by television.  I can think of three components:  

  • Video-based content that we consume in episodic form in units normally ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • A single-purpose appliance that we use to watch the video-based content and otherwise sits there unused.
  • A set of broadcast and cable companies that provide the video-based content to be received on the appliance.

So how will each of these three components fare going forward?

Video Content

This is where continuation is strongest. We love episodic video and it is not going anywhere.  If anything, it is getting better (Madmen, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, etc. etc.). 

There are still changes coming of course.  Maybe 5-10 years out we might be moving towards headsets a la Oculus Rift. We might be able to change our view of the scene in real time (like we can do to some extent with advanced sports programming).    

We also might go in the opposite direction with some shows – just audio and using our imagination on the video.  That is what podcasts like Serial are after all.  I subscribe to more episodic podcasts than I do video series already.

Another change I see is that the length of episodes will drastically change, in part because of changes to the other two components.  Already, we can get shows that are 5 minutes long and episodes released almost every day on You Tube. We can also get 2 hours once a month (which is how I get my American History TV).

And I can also see producers creating episodes of different lengths and frequencies for different users. One group of users might want an additional side-plot episode in between the weekly main feed. Another group might want a monthly 30-minute summary episode to catch up or to avoid the time commitment. 


Here is where we already see the change. Most of us still have the TV appliance in our living rooms, but we also watch episodic video on our laptops, phones, and tablets. Other form factors will emerge as well unless the VR headset beats them to it.

I can imagine an appliance that hangs on the wall, connected to the Internet, that handles all of our person to person (AKA telephone), media consumption (AKA television), and interactive (AKA computer). And when not in use, it has photos, paintings, or other visual media (AKA art). 

Of course since we multi-task our media, we will still have our phones handy. So we can tweet comments as House of Cards is playing or . . . . (insert your favorite media multi-tasking here).


This is probably where the biggest changes will be. There is no reason to have broadcast providers, cable providers, Internet media providers.  Everyone should focus on what they are best at. Some might be content producers (Disney). Some might make appliances (Samsung). Some might provide cross-industry access (Google). Apple might continue to provide closed eco-systems but that will be the exception.

Most importantly, being forced into silly bundles will slowly but surely fade away.  ESPN can only force me to get and pay for 17 different ESPN channels for so long before I cut the cord (which I have!).

So this is my prediction.  Feel free to share your own or tell me where I am wrong.