Digital Media, Television

A Guide for Thinking about New TV

When the Internet was first getting popular, and popularized, as a media platform we talked about how it would provide people with new ways to consume or get existing things – that is, newspapers, magazines, music, radio, television, movies. It was hard for us then to imagine how the Internet would, in fact, give us new ways to make and to consume new things – blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, casual and social games, photos on Flickr, and so on. It was hard for us to envision the real revolution that would take place.

And so it is now with so much of the analysis of the revolution that is about to happen with video, and the television (a subject of a post last week). Much – no, most – of that discussion focused on how these new devices and platforms (Apple TV, Google TV, the iPad and the Kindle) will give us access to the existing world of programming we understand and know. Once again, most people may be missing the bigger revolution that is about to occur.

For me, that revolution is about bringing the world of internet video to the television (or the devices that eventually replace the television). That is, the new programming. The forty-eight hours of video uploaded this minute to YouTube. The thousands of sites that offer new types and kinds of programming — stuff we watch and enjoy every day from TED, College Humor, The Onion, and Pitchfork, not to mention Vimeo and and even new types of programming from traditional print giants like the New York Times or Time or the Guardian. And all the new programming that is to come, and that we can’t even envision yet.

And because of the fact there is so much of this new programming, we need new ways to discover it and to watch it. At Showyou, we think this coming world looks like this:

Most of the recent talk has been about the new ways to find traditional programming (the upper left quadrant). But we think the real excitement lays in that upper right quadrant —  new ways to find new programming. That’s where the revolution will happen.

Apple, Television, Video

The Future of Television Is in Your Hands

Everywhere you turn, there is much talk about the disruption of the television itself and resulting future of the television business.*

Some of this talk is about the rumored AppleTV; some of it’s about other connected television devices (like the XBox service launching this week); and some is about how platforms like YouTube are changing the economics of production and distribution.

But the thing that is currently, actually starting to disrupt television arrived 20 months ago. As soon as we got our hands on the iPad in April 2010, it was clear that it was the future of entertainment.

The tablet is doing for video what the iPod did for music, giving us more control than any other device over what we watch, and where and when we watch it.

There are, of course, other digital devices that allow us to watch video, lots of them. Various connected TV devices (Boxee, Roku, AppleTV, the XBox and more) as well as computers and laptops all give us a wide range of choice between the Traditional (the film and television programming we get on Hulu, Netflix, iTunes Store, etc) and the New (the huge tsunami of video programming of all shapes and sizes available on the Internet).

But the iPad does the best job of any device to date providing seamless, easy access to the full breadth of what’s available, from the Traditional via apps like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go and the New via apps like ours.

And unlike laptops and connected TV devices, the tablet frees us up to watch video wherever and whenever we want. This is more than just a bullet point on a slide, or check-box on a marketing matrix — it’s enabling a whole new psychological and sociological framework for how we watch, just as the iPod changed how we listen to music.

Ask iPad users about when and where they watch videos on their tablet and you’ll start to see interesting trends. It’s a quieter, more intimate device than a laptop or TV — it’s at home in your bed, on the couch, a big stuffed chair, or on the train or plane. I talked to one cable network president this summer, and he waxed on about how he and his wife just used the iPad to watch Netflix and Hulu in bed on their iPad at night (and used the TV less as a result).

No surprise, really. In so many ways, watching video on the iPad is just better. Better than TV, even.

Unlike the laptop, we relax a bit more when we use the tablet; we lean back, not forward. No  keyboard beckons us to do something. So we watch, read, browse, play. Video, on a nice screen at arms length, looks great — crisp, clear, personal.

But unlike the TV, we’re not just passive consumers when we use the tablet. The tap of a finger summons a keyboard, or enables us to share or like something, or to tell our friends about it. So we interact, but in just the right amounts mostly.

Anecdotes from families with both kids and iPads in the house are particularly telling. We have a 15-year-old and 13-year-old in our house, and five laptops, one iMac, and two iPads among us. Yes, we’re at one extreme (a bi-product of my work, mainly). Most video-watching in our house now takes place on the laptops and iPads. The TV is rarely on, or used — this is especially true for our kids, who do all their watching now on smaller, more portable screens.

This is particularly striking given we have two Apple TVs, connected to two televisions. The only time these get used are when we all want to watch the same movie. I think this pattern will increasingly be true for most homes as they acquire a tablet or two.

I had thought that Airplay and the AppleTV might have a bigger impact on our habits, that we might use the iPad more as a remote control. That happens, but infrequently. We use Airplay in our house far more often for music, and much less often for video. But still, even with music, using Airplay to reach the stereo is an occasional thing. The iPod, and now the iPhone, is what I use to listen to music most of the time.

So I suspect it will be with video and the iPad and Airplay connecting to the TV. A nice thing to have on occasion, but a sideshow mostly. Watching on the iPad is so much better, so much of the time.

If it were just the anecdotes, you’d be right to treat this all with skepticism. But there is data, too.

With our iPad app, and others, usage peaks during weekends and evenings — just when people typically turn on their TVs. People use their iPads during prime time. This is a big deal —  the web has historically had a tough time breaking into that time slot.

Session lengths with our app are an order of magnitude longer than your average web visit, and are more akin to the time we might spend watching television. Another huge change.

So this new type of device is already changing our habits. It’s liberated video, and us, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want, where we want. That’s a big, fundamental, and disruptive change.

Maybe the AppleTV that is supposedly coming will be so great, so magical, so awesome that I’ll feel compelled to revise this in just a few months. It’s happened before; technology surprises sometimes. I’ll undoubtedly buy one. But unless I can put that TV under my arm, and take it onto the couch in the other room, I kinda doubt it will be as big as folks expect.

*Mark Suster wrote up this nice post recapping a talk he gave on the Future of Television; he argues that cheap(er) production and distribution of video (primarily through YouTube) is now poised to disrupt the television business. Fred Wilson has been blogging about handheld devices as remote controls (something we’ve thought a lot about with Showyou) and how that is changing our consumption patterns.  And of course people have gone crazy trying to decipher Steve Jobs’ remark about the rumored AppleTV (“I finally cracked it”) and what it portends.


It’s about Adding a Cord, Not Cutting One (Reposted from the Vodpod Blog)

I wrote this post for the Vodpod blog a year or so ago, and thought I would repost here as it ties into a number of trends and themes on the blog.

Are people cutting the cord (i.e., getting rid of their cable or satellite TV)?

With Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee (the Boxee box is launching this week) and Netflix streaming coming to a huge array of devices, including most importantly the Wii and Xbox and PS3,  the challenge to the traditional television business is now present and very real.

But that threat isn’t about people cutting the cord. Instead, we’re adding a cord  — to the Internet.

The television business in the U.S. has been one of the one of the most profitable walled gardens, and one with the highest walls. Historically, it’s been difficult to get video programming on to your TV that wasn’t supplied by a cable network or television broadcaster or movie studio.

With our new Internet cord, though, we can get instant, on-demand access to programming on our TVs from places like YouTube, Vimeo, and 1000s of other sites. The popularity of Netflix streaming — which, by some now figure accounts for 20% of all downstream traffic during the 8-10PM prime time window despite the massive limitations of their library — gives us a taste of what’s to come. On the Internet, we have 10,000,000s of clips to choose from. And that’s coming to a TV near you.

The history of cable television shows how this is likely to play out. As new programming sources are added, the amount of time we spent watching television goes up but the share owned by incumbents goes down. The amount of time we spent watching the traditional broadcast networks plunged as hundreds of new channels were added to cable networks. As we begin to watch more programming from the Internet, with it’s almost infinite supply of programming, cable and broadcast television companies have much to fear. (Graphic Source: tvbythenumbers).

For most American households, the television provides a hard-to-resist gravitational pull once we get home from work (source: Nielsen Webinar). Television viewership surges during the “prime time” hours (whereas usage of the web typically peaks in the afternoon, when people are still at work).

As it becomes as easy to watch YouTube as ABC on our televisions, what we watch during prime time will change. And this presents a huge threat to traditional broadcast and cable television, given prime time viewing accounts for 50% or more of total revenues from advertising for many cable and broadcast networks.

Arguing about “cutting the cord” misses point. That may, or may not, happen. But we’re definitely going to be adding a cord as we plug in our Apple TVs and Google TVs. And that will change things forever.


Rewind: On Netflix, Hulu and Kilar Bold Moves

In February, I wrote this post on Jason Kilar’s treatise on video licensing economics (a great 101 if you’re interested in media licensing).

In Kilar’s post, he makes a big stink about rights owners demanding a per user per month fee for their content (something that is standard in cable deals between folks like Comcast and channels like ESPN). I speculated that Kilar was pushing this out of fear — that he was worried about this big pot of money Netflix could spend on simple fixed-fee deals (instead of per-month, per-user fees), an area where Hulu doesn’t have the cash to compete.

Reading Megan McCarthy’s piece tonight on The Atlantic (hat tip @persingerscott) makes me think it was a more nuanced, and much bolder, move — indeed, a smart bit of chess playing by Kilar. As McCardle points out, when media companies push for traditional cable-style per-subscriber per-month license fees (accompanied by hefty guarantees of course) it puts enormous pressure on Netflix’s margins. Kilar (and Hulu) know that.

Whereas similar demands (which most certainly are being made) to Hulu are less painful for them. Hulu’s subscription offering is, at least at this point, non-strategic. It’s a nice to have. The main game for them is advertising. So they can better afford to advocate these stye deals, which in turn are painful for Netflix to digest.

I don’t know, of course. what Kilar was thinking, but it’s all a good reminder that there is a fascinating battle being waged right now for digital media rights, and that even an entrenched digital incumbent like Netflix is struggling to keep pace with the rapidly changing terrain.