In 2015, Michael Wolff published a hard-back book “Television is the New Television”, in which he discusses the unexpected triumph of old media in the digital age. At the time, a seeming army of disruptive invaders led by Netflix were seen by many to be heralding the demise of traditional television. By examining many of the major media trends of the last decade, Wolff provided hope that the traditional players were evolving to meet changing viewing habits. This trend holds true not just in his native USA but also around the world. In other words, it is more than possible that television is not dead.
Over the top
As the world embraced new ways of watching television, many faced a future where digital disruption could lead to new broadcast winners delivering over-the-top of traditional networks and infrastructure. Starting with the dot.com boom of last century, we braced for the internet-led downfall of network television. Forward thinking players in the industry joined forces to share services and create platforms to meet Netflix, Google Chrome, Apple TV, Facebook & YouTube head on. Corporate owners of broadcast spectrum, fretted over the disruption of traditional business models, a loss of revenue and were joined by international tax departments keen to police the disruptors.
Viewers were seen as the winners by being allowed to enjoy television on their smartphone, tablet or old-school TV – it’s all television, they say. While the free to air broadcasters continued on, the long anticipated convergence of broadcasting resulted in value-added services often delivered by telecommunications giants. Brands such as AT&T, China Telecom, BT, Vodafone, Singtel, Telefonica, Softbank or Liberty Global looked to bundle quad-play services and rival the BBC, ABC & Fox as TV brands. With our entertainment played from the cloud, we could continue to enjoy a drama or movie at home with family, continue with act two on our smartphone in a taxi to the airport and sometimes finish the finale on-board an international flight. It’s probably just as well, as the second golden age of television is producing an unprecedented volume of material, so much in fact, that there just isn’t time to keep up.
The new golden age of television produced more than 500 new scripted series’ airing this year in the US alone and some say that a glut of premium content has followed. It’s just not humanly possible to keep up to date with everything. Even if we actively participate in sports coverage, laugh and cry along with the dramas and all of the other forms of TV entertainment while preparing meals to reality cooking shows, soon we’ll find that 24 hours in a day is just not enough. Sure, taking our viewing beyond the home onto the bus or train helps and, Netflix encourages us to binge on complete series’. Naturally, the 'golden age’ raises other concerns: Osaka University warns that binge viewers are two and a half times more likely to get a blood clot on the lungs while trapped on their sofa for six episodes end-to-end. They advise pausing the TV every hour to exercise and of course the gym has its own TV.
The Flight to Quality
The more things change, the more they come full-circle. While the fragmentation of the broadcast delivery side of the media business has led to some exciting technology-driven opportunities, something has to give. Eventually viewers apply their own filters and decide what content they chose to watch. Content is still king and trading at a premium; recently when the BBC crafted a new dramatization of Leo Tolstoy’s 147 year old epic novel War and Peace booksellers struggled to meet demand for the 1500 page novel as it returned to the bestseller list. As Tolstoy himself said: “The strongest of all warriors, are these two –Time and Patience” Quality kept them ahead of the disruptors.
A World in a State of Flux
Having advised telecommunications & broadcasting companies across many countries around the world in recent years, I find it interesting to see the parallels. Singapore is not that different from Palo Alto, Sydney or London. In China, I have seen the new middle class rush to embrace cloud based functionality enabling them to jump straight to time shifted, multi-screen TV readily available on their mobile devices. The hill tribes of Papua New Guinea or outer islands of Polynesia have never enjoyed reliable power supply or family TV in their homes until now. Today they are waking to a new dawn of television delivered on mobile devices to provide a wealth of entertainment and education in communities previously passed by – again it’s all TV to them. Whether their obsession is who won the football last night, the effects of Brexit, Trump’s latest gaffe, the banks quest to keep driving up their margins or the progress of a confected romance-reality, people are similarly driven.
Television is the new Television
Most recently we are told that Netflix has become the new-normal. Their stocks have cooled as streaming has gone mainstream, robbing them of sizzle and their momentum. Meanwhile advertising agencies are said to be migrating back to TV as YouTube is falling short of expectations. Facebook and Google are being called upon to be more open and accountable about their viewing data if they are to attract advertisers away from a TV medium which has recalibrated to meet the disruptors head-on. Television is not dead. As Michael Wolff predicted “old media” is enjoying an unexpected triumph in the digital age.