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.