OPINION: What does the future hold for TV?

Claire Richmond
By Claire Richmond | 9 October 2013
MEC Sydney trading director Claire Richmond.

I find watching US gridiron a frustrating experience. It goes on for hours and seems to grind to a halt every time someone throws the ball. However, I feel the complete opposite when it comes to the Super Bowl. I would love to be in the US during the Super Bowl, not just for the spectacle of the event but to see all the commercials.

What I love about Super Bowl commercials is how engaged the consumer is – the ads are not perceived as a negative interruption but a welcome addition to the TV watching experience. Unfortunately, the Super Bowl is not a window into the future of TV. It’s free for consumers, it’s best watched live and it is, for the most part, viewed on a TV set.

The future of television comes down to three elements: content, distribution and platform. There are contenders battling it out in each sector, but the winners will be companies that can straddle all three. How this manifests itself – partnerships, capabilities, joint ventures – is still unclear, but all three are necessary to meet the requirements of TV in the future.

We are currently going through a golden age of content, partly thanks to two major US distributors, HBO and AMC, whose programs are drawing significant critical and cult status (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire to name a few).

Distribution of this content is complicated with many model options available: a free-for-consumers but advertiser-funded model (think FTA); a consumer-paid model; or a hybrid model with a bit of both (Foxtel). We have the first and last in Australia with a purely consumer-paid but advertiser-free model surely on the horizon soon (Netflix etc).

The platform of the future may not actually be a TV screen, according to US insights guru Jeff Cole. His insight that university students are not purchasing TV sets suggests for upcoming generations, a TV set will not be a requirement for viewing TV content. And it doesn’t have to be.

Free-to-air networks are broadening their footprint to online streaming and on-demand services, allowing consumers to view their content via a number of devices. Will this diminish their position in the market as their power currently rests heavily with the signal bought from the government? Maybe, but if the platform is broad enough and the networks are nimble in their execution, they may not need to be so reliant on the traditional signal.

So where to from here? Linear TV networks have life in them yet, but speedy innovation and government policy will prove critical to their long-term success. I can’t see a future where Australians have to pay to watch the AFL grand final or the news, but I can see a future where my ‘cloud-like’ paid EPG can follow me around on any device and play or serve whatever I choose. I also think our viewing habits will gravitate to two more segregated groups with our aging population still consuming through traditional methods whilst the younger generation will need to be reached through multiple platform devices.

Advertising will continue to play a critical role in the TV landscape, but hopefully it will perceived more as a complement to the content and less a disruption. My online searches and activity help pinpoint very accurately my interests and tailor commercials to them. This is going the same way for TV.

I love TV and I love commercials. I really hope in the future all my TV experiences are as engaging as the Super Bowl, even if that means I have to pay for it and watch it on a device that is not a traditional TV box.

Claire Richmond
Sydney Trading Director

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