How big is the screen on your TV? Honestly? I know that week after week, in the Best Buy or HH Gregg or (going bankrupt) Circuit City ads, they’re bigger and bigger. I mean like 60 inches. Go into any store, from WalMart to Target or higher-end appliance stores, and you see walls and walls of enormous, high definition screens. There is an entire industry from content creation to manufacture of transmitters and production equipment and receivers, transmission either over the air, satellite, or cable, designed to get pictures from a station or network into your home.
Add to that, the federal government mandated that television stations spend millions of dollars on digital transmitters in an effort to re-claim the analog spectrum, and stations are scrambling to fill all those extra over-the-air channels with SOMETHING, while the economy tanks, advertising revenues dry up, and producers lose their jobs. On February 19th, all of the analog transmitters will theoretically be shut off, and if you don’t have cable or satellite, you’ll have to have a new digital TV or converter box to be able to see over-the-air television.
So why bring this up? Well, when you talk to the forward thinkers in the industry, there’s one word that continues to dominate the conversation. Internet. Content delivery on the Internet. Download to your MP3 player, watch on your laptop … there’s all this content created be seen on 60″ TV’s in glorious HD playing back on a 2″ iPod screen. And you have to wonder how much longer those multi-million dollar transmitters are going to be the main method of delivering those pictures to your living room, or your laptop at Panera Bread or Shelby’s Coffee Shop (which does offer free wi-fi, unlike Starbucks).
More and more, people are consuming television in a way that’s convenient for them. The advent of the DVR has made it more and more difficult for advertisers to get their messages to the consumers. Television used to be a somewhat communal experience. When there were “the big 3” television networks, even if everyone was watching in their individual living rooms, people shared the experience. Now, with hundreds of channels available on the average cable or satellite system, and built-in DVR boxes that will record at the touch of a button … fewer and fewer people watch the same program at the same time any more.
I had a co-worker who enjoyed many of the same programs I did. But so often, one or the other of us would say “I recorded it, I’ll watch it later”. Sometimes weeks later. We’d eventually get around to talking about the shows, but the urgency was gone.
As more and more content migrates to the Internet, and there’s no reason for it not to, that phenomenon will only grow. But in addition to the 500 or so channels available from your local cable or satellite provider, there will be the content created specifically for online delivery, making more and more choices.
Now, the digital transmitter doesn’t care what receives it’s ones and zeros. It could very easily be a laptop computer with a digital TV tuner. Imagine a wi-fi router attached to your cable or satellite box that will essentially narrowcast the entirety of the content of the box to your laptop. A few touches of the touchpad will allow you to set your laptop to record anything coming from the cable or satellite box, or from an over-the-air station via a digital tuner in the computer. Smarter people than me will create software that will allow a seamless interface with your favorite online-only content as well, all recorded and played back at your convenience with or without commercials. And while there will be a way for the content on your laptop to be transmitted back to the 60 inch high-def TV, it will also be available on your lap, on an airplane, on the couch, on the back porch, or transferred to that tiny 2″ screen on your iPod.
I’m not sure how copyright will be protected in this coming world. I’m also not sure how advertisers are going to deliver their message to the audience. While some video providers now place a short commercial before the content is delivered that can’t be skipped, I’m not sure if commercials will be embedded in a program that are not skippable. And after a conversation I had with a person at at Ad Agency today, describing how they target buys based on audience … how will those people know how to reach that audience? It will be a very difficult audience to measure, it would seem. More than narrowcasting, it’s almost monocasting.
While I’m not privy to any such thing, I’m sure that if I can think of it sitting here on my sofa at nearly midnight, the technology is already in development that will turn your laptop into your television, remote, and DVR all in one. (Update: I’d no sooner written about it than I saw an ad for it … a Windows product running on Vista)
The challenge, then, will be for the content creators to offer something compelling, and to be able to promote it in a way that it will draw an audience that will be increasingly fractionalized. My hope is that it leads to BETTER content, but there will also be a lot of just crap to sift through.