Wednesday, February 4, 2009
What TV Is Learning From The Internet
By Cory Treffiletti Many people say the 30-second spot is dead, which may very well be true -- but television is far from dead, and it may actually be starting to learn a thing or two from the Internet that will keep it alive and kicking for many years to come!
Twice in the last two weeks, I've found myself glued to a TV set with other people: once for the presidential inauguration, and once for the Super Bowl. In both instances I was witnessing appointment viewing, the kind of experience that you really can't watch off DVR. These occasions may be few and far between nowadays. Both events were social in nature and available online, but I still chose to be in front of the TV rather than the Web. What does that say for the balance between Internet and television?
What it means to me is that TV is still a crucial component of our society. The water cooler still buzzes more often as a result of what you see on TV than what you see online. If anything, the two media are becoming more and more intertwined, as shows as well as commercial content are shifting consumers to the Web for a payoff that was only alluded to prior on TV. Demonstrating the power of integration, "Lost" still runs an annual alternate reality game to support the show -- and a number of the Super Bowl spots directed users online.
What's piqued my interest is the next generation of Internet Video-Link Television sets from companies such as Sony and Panasonic that integrate online video directly into the set and take advantage of other sources of content. If these sets go one step further and enable some form of interaction beyond just click and view, then they edge directly back into competition with the unique proposition that the Internet offers, vs. the social experience of TV: to be set free from the single viewing room and include the virtual community.
TV watching can be social or it can be solitary, as can Web use. But in the case of TV, the social experience occurs with many people in one room to watch a program -- whereas the Web's social experience is still that of a solitary person interacting virtually with others. Rarely, if ever, do people surf the Web with others in the room in a social atmosphere.
TV has tried to go Internet in the past with products such as WebTV, but it was always hampered by two challenges: the need for a keyboard and the slow speed of connection. The connection speeds are no longer a problem, and Apple has proven that design trumps standards when it comes to such products as a digital music player, so it stands to reason that the "cover flow" or some other iteration will make the TV experience navigable beyond watching and clicking video (we could refer to it as Web-Channel Surfing). The need for a keyboard will probably go away altogether.
One thing TV is learning is how to expand the "social" nature of programming beyond that singular viewing room. It's also learning how to integrate product placement or other video-based ad units and get beyond the 30-second spot.
The 30-second spot may go the way of the woolly mammoth, but TV advertising is here to stay. There are formats like the Flash overlay pioneered by YouTube, and intriguing companies with more innovative ideas such as Keystream and Innovid. TV technology folk benefit because they get to watch the Internet fumble through the test phase of these models to determine which of them they'll integrate into their services. The TV peeps get to let us make the mistakes of targeting and addressability, trudging through some creative challenges until the right model and the most effective methodology emerge. In the meantime, they're still raking in the dollars due to a minor renaissance in programming over the last couple of years (scripted shows are becoming popular once again).
If you fast-forward (to steal a pun from my DVR), you might see that five to seven years from now, TV is adopting these ad formats and limiting the commercial interruptions to one to two per commercial block. When I watch "Fringe" on Fox, typically there are fewer commercials at the beginning of the program than toward the end, which makes for a much more enjoyable experience. That's something stolen directly from the Web and the single commercial breaks of ABC.com, NBC.com and the pre-roll experiences of many sites. It also supports the simple laws of supply and demand. Less supply creates more demand and that increases prices. This won't really take hold until TV prices start to go down, and this year's upfront may (finally) be the time when that happens.
TV is not going to die; it's going to continue to evolve. When my son is born, he'll be familiar with a completely different set of standards than I was familiar with, and he won't even bat an eye. I'll have to tell him all about the days when there were four to six commercials in each break, and how not all TVs were interactive. I can't wait for that day!
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Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
Online Spin for Wednesday, February 4, 2009: