Friday, June 27th, 2008...12:40 am
The Internet Will Be Televised
This week I had one of those geeky internet “A HA” moments when I actually believe that I can see into the future of digital media. As I said, geeky…but let me explain.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about hulu.com and how it is fast becoming one of my favorite websites. They have high quality yet diverse content from different kinds of content providers, easy navigation, and many of the social web features that are so addictive and popular.
The other night I finally got around to plugging my laptop into my television to watch an episode of Arrested Development (there making and AD movie!). It was shocking how easy this was to do. My Sony Bravia flat screen television (bought on Black Friday and one of the greatest purchases of my life) comes equipped with a PC outlet. I took the cable from my desktop computer monitor (A new cable is less than $20) connected one end into the television and the other end into my laptop. Typed Fn + F7 and my television became my monitor. Clicked play on hulu.com video and enlarged to full screen and that was it. The video quality was decent although the picture only took up about 60% of my television. Then I went to Hulu HD which contains select online videos streamed in high definition. The quality was amazing – as good as if I was watching HD programming through my cable box (although the picture was only about 75% of screen). The only requirements to watch HD is a decent broadband connection and a decent computer.
I’ve echoed the sentiment of many over the past few years in claiming that the internet will hook directly into your television. For me, watching hulu on my television was the first time I actually experienced this concept. The awesomeness of this blew me away like a 0-2 Joba heater!
Will people really plug there computer into their television anytime soon? If you would have told me you did that before this week I would have said you were a nerd. Apple has created a product, AppleTV that does exactly this. It doesn’t sell that well because it’s a geek product. BUT, it really is that easy. It’s as easy as uploading digital photos from your camera onto your computer or using video chat on a Mac. In my estimation watching content through broadband is no longer a technical issue.
You probably want to know when this adoption will take place with the average joe. It’s simply. As soon as there is a good reason to watch long form entertainment content (consistent broadband speeds and digital distribution deals need to mature as well). I worked on MMOD (streaming of the NCAA basketball tournament) in 2005. It was before watching video on the internet really blow up. In fact, a good amount of customer service was from people who had never used the Internet to watch video before. Their desire to watch the content was great enough to drive change in their behavior. People will realize that watching on your ill flat screen while slumping over on your couch is far superior to sitting at your computer desk or with your laptop on your lap and they will figure it out.
So now you might be wondering why watching internet video on a television screen is so monumental. The reason is that broadband now becomes a direct competitor to television and cable. Cable is linear (one show at a time), has a limited universe of channels (a few hundred), is expensive and is hard to organize unless you know what you want to watch (flipping channels drives me crazy). Broadband has the potential for unlimited on-demand video content that has more customizable pricing and can incorporate a new dimension of entertainment through social and online community integration. For now TV has quality but it seems like the scales tip towards broadband video in just about every other category that matters.
Think about your cable box. It sucks. First, cable is frighteningly expensive. The menu or guide system is kind of slow and very lame. On TV, I know what I want to watch and I go to that channel. Once in awhile I’ll flip through my favorite few channels. Once in a blue moon, I’ll toggle through dozens of channels to find something random to watch. My dad told me that he would watch Fox Business if it was near CNN and CNBC so he could easily click back and forth. That actually makes sense but it shouldn’t. Do websites have arbitrary numbers? DVR is a cool feature but it’s not true on-demand like hulu or any broadband channel for that matter. On DVR, you have to be sure to select exactly what programs you want to record before they air and it’s up to you to figure that all out. I ended up working late tonite and missed the NBA Draft because i didn’t press a red button on my remote this morning. Finally, the cable box is basically just a piece of hardware for changing channels. It doesn’t tell you what your family or friends or community is watching or doing. Its capabilities are very limited. If it was a website it would be the mid 90′s.
I want a cable box that knows what I want to watch and it let’s me watch it whenever I want. Better yet, I want my cable box to make recommendations of what I would love to watch. I want to search for interesting documentaries, political debates or classic movies and watch them when I’m in the mood. If a college basketball games is in double overtime I want my friends to be able to send me an “alert” that pops up on my television and puts that game on. If I’m watching something amazing unfold on my television I want to be able to share the moment with other people who are watching it. If I have a longing to watch a certain episode of 90210, I want to be able to access it immediately. Hmm, it seems like I want my cable box to act a lot like a website!
So if broadband video is only going to become more prominent than what happens? What will you or I be watching in five years and how will we watch it and who will be providing that content to us? Well, I don’t have all the answers just yet but here are a few trends that will help define the future of video.
Convenience – Where is the easiest place to watch, download, time shift, aggregate, share etc. all of the content that you want. iTunes has done this well for music and that is why people shop there – huge selection, easy to add to ipod, all the brands, etc.. What video publisher/aggregator/platform is going to make it easy to watch what I want when I want?
Distribution – How can content producers (both large and small) maximize their audience. It used to be that you just needed to get distribution through cable and then you would build an audience. But now, every content producer can reach the world. That means tons of opportunity but also tons of competition.
Content Is King - The best content will always be the most valuable and watched content. Lost, NFL Football and the Colbert Report are going to kill it however, wherever it goes or is watched. They’ll figure out how to monetize their content correctly and it will be distributed widely. The big media companies that succeed will do so because of the quality of their content.
Targeted Content - With easier distribution, lower cost of barriers and the ability to spread globally there will be a “long tail” effect as many more niche or specialized channels (think websites) will be created. Another  Media company is Saavn. They have obtained the digitial distribution rights for a majority of Bollywood movies and music. The Bollywood audience is out there and Saavn intends to serve them. In the old media model, Bollywood as it’s own content channel might never had been a good fit. In the new media landscape it is genius. I would gladly become a loyal viewer to the Curling Channel, Old School Hip Hop videos, the literature channel and the JOHNNIES network.
Platform Agnostic - Won’t matter to the viewer if they watch on the phone, computer, television. You’ll be getting the “content”. Advertisers will try to be more integrated into the content for this reason so they can attach themselves to the show and not the medium. ESPN has begun to try and sell the content and not the medium and I believe other media companies will follow suit. Once they figure out how to correctly monetize different platforms they won’t care how their content is viewed.
I haven’t yet wrapped my head around what happens to the big cable companies and the economic impact of this paradigm shift and changing behaviors. I do realize that this is a huge factor in the rate of change. Media companies, or advertising agencies can’t prevent the effect of disruptive technologies but they can sure stick their finger in the damn for quite awhile and in many ways prevent innovation. THIS WILL HAPPEN. The movie studios are slow to put their films online, the television networks are being very careful how they release their archived content, etc. Cable providers have been lobbying to charge users based on bandwidth consumption. So maybe one day your cable bill does go away because you’re watching everything online but your bandwidth bill now replaces that cable cost. Or maybe big media companies (the mass market content distributors) stop freely distributing their content and guard it at all costs. Maybe Apple wants to win this space so badly they try and corner the market at the expense of other distribution outlets (kind of like the iPod). I need to think through the big business implications a bit more.
For now get pumped up for the new generation of the idiot box. Never again will you ask aimlessly flick through channels trying to find something decent. TV watching will get a whole lot more efficient and that means just about every other aspect of your life might just become less efficient.