Linear TV ain't dead yet - Media Summit debate heats up

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 22 May 2015

When people discuss the death of TV, they're really discussing the death of the linear experience - but even then there's still life in the old bird yet.

Speaking at today's AdNews Media Summit, UM CEO Mat Baxter told the audience that the winner of the TV war would be the player who adjusted to consumer expectations the most.

"Linear TV has not been a good experience for the consumer," Baxter said.

"The linear experience is not as a good experience as being able to consume content on your own terms. For me, that's the critical thing, ultimately the consumer will alway want that [non-linear] experience.

"I think linear TV has got huge challenges ahead. TV's in the exact same position as newspapers were."

However, Seven West chief digital officer Clive Dickens said that it wasn't the linearity of experience that had people fragmenting away from linear broadcast TV, but rather a fragmentation of platform.

"I also think that we tend to overestimate the desire of consumers to not want to be part of a bigger experience," Dickens said.

"Whether that's on broadcast or online, I wouldn't be surprised to see Netflix do a linear channel. One day they won't be an on-demand business, but they'll be a screen business.

"I do challenge the notion that it's a linear experience that's driving people away."

The notion was explored in a wide-ranging discussion with representatives from TV land and media agency land weighing in on the future of the medium.

MEC CEO Peter Vogel said talk from networks of having the same piece of content across all screens was not the right call.

"We have to think about how the consumer is using the screen, so when you say coinsumers are interested in consuming content accross all screens, I don't think that's right," Vogel said.

"There's a new type of content, and I think the big thing is you'd have to question the notion of having all content accross all screens."

Both Dickens and Nine Entertainment Company sales boss Peter Wiltshire challenged the call though, saying networks were not in the business of simply importing the same piece of content across multiple screens and hoping for the best.

"That's not what we're doing," Dickens said. "We'll take the appropriate story to the appropriate screen. That's why we're investing across all the screens."

Meanwhile, Wiltshire said regulatory hold-ups were hamstringing the TV networks to further evolve their business models.

The TV business is currently urging the Federal Government to consider scrapping the 75% reach rule and cross ownership laws amongst others.

UM's Baxter said from an agency perspective, the fragmentation of the TV marketplace was frustrating.

"It would be much better in Australia, given the size of this market, that we have one united platform that everybody can plug into," Baxter said.

Again, apart from the commercial realities of the situation, Wiltshire said it would never be able to enter into such an arrangement because the regulators would have a field day.

"We can't put our content in a central AVOD (Audio/Video on Demand) platform because the ACCC would have a great deal of trouble with us coming onto the same platform, because how would you control price?"

The regulatory question, Wiltshire said, was especially frustrating given the pace of change in the industry and how it will evolve over the coming years.

"I think we're being taken to a place where the CPM is no longer part of the conversation," Wiltshire said.

You can read more on the Screen Wars in the next print edition of AdNews.

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