About 6 years ago I wrote, “Don’t be fooled by the technology gurus and those who would build a better mousetrap each week, thus disrupting the status quo of Television”. I knew that the TV industry was about to embark on a rough ride into the 2000s. We still see that we don’t always need a fully packed line-up of new TV gadgets, as shown by the recent survey in Poland where they found that users only press approximately seven buttons on the remote control. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we believe that #Millennials are different and that they are the future and what exists is not good enough for them. So we have to continually deliver very sophisticated products year-in-year-out with funky new remotes, with hundreds of Apps right down to Twitter, Google and all that other Social Media access for TV. Whilst all this happens deployments of this new TV tech paradigm struggles to make sense of the new business model requirements. It is easier for to go with the flow of technology leapfrogging of existing TV products before chosen implementations can find their place as a revenue generating business. Next please!
With these aforemention issues it appears that fragmentation and disruptive technology is the future of television. We are all guilty as we march forward born out of the desire to keep businesses rolling along ‘positively’ regardless of whether the customer needs new products or not. Fragmentation in the early 2000’s was mainly about the plethora of different transmission systems, especially when IPTV and WebTV appeared. There was, and still is, too much TV middleware diversification, too many content security options, several application types and a whole swathe of other technologies that CTOs are faced with in the market. It is now 2015 with fragmentation about the only phrase we hear at conferences, seminars or during interviews with TV tech personalities in the trade press. I remember hearing for years (and still do) that the end of the set-top-box is nigh (no its not!). Now it is the death of payTV is nigh as our well-fed #Millenials abandon it for OTT services a go-go. ‘A-La-Carte’ is now happening, and there is apparently a massive cord cutting exercise going on. Blame it all on the #Millenials!
Well, it is not quite as simple as that I don’t think. Yes, we have an enormous fragmentation problem but it is now much more multi-faceted. What we have now is both a technology, as well as a business model fragmentation. This industry runs at a fairly slow pace so most of this all came about even before Millenials had paychecks. The fragmentation is mainly due to the technology surge with much greater broadcasting bandwidth capabilities, DVB-S2, DVB-T 2, DOCSIS 3, larger Internet bandwidth offerings. Add to this cheaper memory, more powerful chipsets, subsidised Internet TV boxes and content available just about anywhere you can think of; even at Starbucks when getting coffee and you see the issues. Now add an even further complex matter to the TV business, which is the fragmentation at content level – NETFLIX, AMAZON, ROKU, HULU etc. It is getting quite messy out there.
The Answer to Everything – ‘Roku’ #LOL!
The term ‘A La Carte’ for television programming has been bandied around for many years. Finally in 2015 we see it start to unfold with Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Google, ESPN, YouTube and others trying to be the unique supplier of TV content directly to consumers. Reminds me of a recent Sam Smith song, “Stay with me, your all I need”. OK to date it is not entirely a clear cut ‘A La Carte’ offer but certainly it is not the linear bouquets and payTV bundles as per the payTV providers traditional business model either. It is disruptive to all of us in the TV business and the viewers’ also unless of course you are a pure OTT provider – the picture is clear for them – divide and conquer!
I was at a Connections Europe conference last year where I heard a TV executive espousing that consumers have been asking for, ‘What They Want – When They Want – Where They Want’. And that this desire has seen the abandoning of traditional payTV services because people cannot achieve this with the present systems on offer. I found that old mantra to be very naïve. The reality of delivering ‘What You Want When You Want, Where You Want’ is quite a technical and not in the least a huge business challenge on an operator by operator, market by market basis. This is especially true outside of the USA where ‘local language, broadcast rights and release windows’ are a sport in themselves. The TV executive was from Roku, and he went on to tell the Connections audience that they, Roku, had the answer to our terrible TV fragmentation problem and customer’s needs. It went a little like this: ‘We have addressed the issue of fragmentation with Roku TV, an OTT device, which allows ‘all content’ to run on a single platform’. Dah! Dah! All Sorted! All I could think at the time was that he had clearly never worked in the TV industry for very long or had apparently over swallowed his corporate marketing pitch. Most of the audience was like all conference audiences, rather passive. I too was shocked at this announcement so much so that I just sat there wondering if the young gentleman understood the complexities of the TV industry or had just chosen to ignore it for an opportunistic product pitch. I hope it was the latter!
I do believe that Apple TV got there first, quite some years ago dear Mr. Roku but they failed to solve the ‘common-platform-for-all-content-in-the-world’ issue. Not even with their worldwide iTunes based deployment platform were they able to conquer the planet like Roku thinks they will. Apple has to default to local language content, no cross border dipping into other iTunes locations and is faced with an inability to provide access to a broad range of international TV content because of the very convoluted licensing issues that abound in the very complex European marketplace. Unfortunately iTunes for video is like iTunes for music; most people clamour for the ‘Top Ten’ i.e. most popular films and naturally the most popular or trending TV Shows. Nothing has changed in 2015 on this front threfore perhaps a sign of things to come for all the other new entrants into this market.
Waiting Is Not An Option – Piracy Is!
An interesting and up until now unexplored issue surrounds the difference between music and video consumption. We know that we can listen to music over and over and even over again, but video content, TV shows, movies this is a different proposition. It is in the main a single viewing experience, rarely repeated. We want NEW, NEW, NEW, and it seems that WE CANNOT WAIT anymore. The masses acting like sheep as they follow the trends around Walking Dead, Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad with their spin-off Let’s Call Saul as if there is nothing else interesting to watch on TV. Well, that is what we are led to believe by the protagonists of this new world of television. I have noticed that business people only mention these recent ‘most popular’ shows during all discussions concerning the future of TV viewing. I have never heard Gardeners World, Living Planet, The Simpsons, The 10 o’clock news ever get a mention, and some of those shows do not have very significant audience sizes! It seems that it has got to the point that we even BINGE voraciously on DVD box-sets (well some tiny percentage do) and then we sit pensively awaiting the next show to come to the market. E.g. Today the announcement of Series 3 of the House of Cards has the populous all of a fluster on Social Media – They cannot wait, and this adds to one of the TV industry’s business issues – that of piracy. The Oscars saw a 317% rise in the piracy of the nominated films this year, which highlights the problems surrounding the management of the new content hype with sophisticated Full HD cameras, large Internet bandwidth and easy access to anything you want on-line.
‘Recency’, yes ‘Recency’- Once Called Most Popular
In the world of Broadcast TV the linear channels are not helping themselves too much either – programming is becoming unusually dull in some sectors. On certain nights in France, I can watch 4 to 5 same-genre shows transmitted one after the other on the same channel. The average viewing time in France is around 3.5Hrs/day/person. Four NCIS shows in a row you are already close to that … as is four episodes of Bones or perhaps one news, one quiz-show, one movie and possibly another programme added to that line-up makes 4 hours easily reached. In this calculation a film could come off a VOD catalogue or a PVR not from a live broadcast. So little time for all that content but hey such a choice! I am trying to make the point that we cannot consume the over-abundance of channels that carry thousands of hours of shows, films etc. Personal tastes are so diverse that any ‘personal’ line-up will be very different. We also seem to believe that everyone actually KNOWS what they want to watch at all times. What if they have not seen a show or film that has been released? How will they know what it is all about? Marketing still works to drive consumer take-up. Television still advertises forthcoming shows on TV, Magazines also carry promotion and billboards/posters on bus shelters too have their place in awareness campaigns.
I would like to explore what happens if it gets to the point that you ONLY pay for what you watch? I have a feeling thet we will arrive at a situation whereupon content quantity and quality will ultimately suffer. It will be impossible to please 100 million people each evening with their 100 million individual viewing packages and maintain a sufficient panorama of content to be able to satisfy all the tastes of all the people all the time. TV programming is a little like running a restaurant. We need to stock up the kitchen ready to serve a public who choose meals randomly from a LIMITED a la carte menu. Done so that you have some control of the purchasing of ingredients and delivery process. Splitting everything up into individual components is pre menu and will if left to the consumer to choose quite frankly only lead to a dog’s dinner of a situation for all. How will the restaurant manage the complexity? Surely the choice would become controlled and limited to avoid waste? I think a consumer would soon get fed up if they had to construct their meals from a set of individual ingredients. We also know that ‘a la carte’ in a Restaurant is much more expensive than a ‘Set Menu’. Imagine that you can only get a full meal by having to pay to go to different restaurants in order to have a satisfying array of meals. An entrance fee per restaurant – fish from one, meat from the other, dessert elsewhere, cheese in another, wine from elsewhere! You would soon look for someone who could supply you a ‘one-stop-shop’ location offering up a choice from a set menu I would imagine. I know I would!
The debate about ‘A La Carte’  and different content suppliers turns around a made up word I heard at Connections Europe for the first time – called ‘recency’ i.e the most recent TV Shows and Movies (Back to my Top Ten argument). Again in all debates on the future of TV is there discussion, mention or consideration regarding other content that is also very heavily consumed such as News, Documentaries, Light Entertainment and many other genres. I believe that we are heading towards disaster as we all clamber for only the ‘Top Ten’. We will see the masses consuming only the ‘Top Ten’ which means all other content will lose funding with – long-tail or back-catalogue dying away.
Conclusion – Let’s Watch it all ‘Unfold’
Of course nobody can tell where this is heading, and I see years of debate ahead. It may be the younger generation who don’t watch TV like their parents, but they eventually become parents and have less time for TV. There is constant scaremongering regarding the new churn-rate which has been christened cord-cutting. The Millennials are the cause of the issue with their refusal to pay for content that they don’t watch; add to this the fact that they don’t want advertising either begs the question – Who will ultimately fund content? The Millenials will of course! But what content? The content that they want, when they want it and where they want it! What is that and how will it be defined? By the Millenials? Who knows?
… A quick aside about a la carte. If the government forced networks and distributors to offer individually priced channels at retail — yes, that could lower the total cost of someone’s bill. But the cost per channel would skyrocket (ESPN could go up to $30 per month, according to one analyst estimate), and consumers would end up paying much more for far less. A broad shift to a la carte would spell doom for many networks.