September 10, 2014

If Content is Portable, Where You Consume It Doesn't Matter

My good friend and colleague +Adam Singer lit a thought bubble with his latest rant against the dumb pipe of television, saying the formulaic, reality show centric content there is no longer palatable to generations growing up with many more choices - dominated by the on demand, everything's available alternative of the Internet. The summary, he says... is that who actually watches TV is "the old", backed by data from the Washington Post echoing the same.

The argument that the Internet is supplanting TV is one that can't be denied outright, but I believe it's the wrong discussion. What's happening is that the consumers wield incredible power in terms of deciding what they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and where they want to consume it - thanks to dramatic developments in on demand libraries like Netflix, YouTube and others, content destinations, including the smartphone, tablet, and PC, in addition to the TV, and, yes, the humble DVR, which extended the first volley from the VCR (remember those?) and timeshifted our entertainment to take place whenever we wanted it, not when it first aired.

I agree 100% with Adam that a good chunk of the content that fills TV's many channels is low quality stuff that has no redeeming educational value. Then again, the same could be said for much of the Internet and the many social networks we all participate in. Humans love turning their minds off and being entertained. I prefer to not watch reality shows and soap operas, but I do watch TV for live events, and have a list of serial dramas that I watch with my wife - in addition to late night fare like The Daily Show and Conan O'Brien.

One taking a pro-Internet vs TV stance could say, wait. You can watch The Daily Show or Conan online after they air, just like you watch them on your DVR. Sure. You could also, assuming Major League Baseball lets you, watch streaming games live on your tablet through their app. And you can now watch many of those comedies or dramas the same day or later through various network-led outlets online, or on Hulu, YouTube, Netflix, iTunes or some other place.

And at that point, I think the conversation changes. If you're watching The Daily Show online instead of on TV, you've just changed the destination screen, but are still watching the same content. If you're watching a movie on your tablet instead of on your TV, again, you're watching the same content - and the content producers are still bringing you value, whether you're watching on a 5 inch screen or a 50 inch screen.

As an individual, what I've observed in the last decade or so is that as traditional network television has taken fewer risks with their content, and tapped into a soft pudding of reality shows and 24 hour gab events, the premium cable networks are the ones that have delivered an overwhelming amount of perceived high quality content. From Breaking Bad to Dexter, Homeland, The Killing, Ray Donovan, and others, I'm spending a lot more time watching content on AMC, HBO and Showtime than I do on the stalwarts of ABC, CBS and NBC. And I'm paying them money for the privilege.

The success of shows like Breaking Bad on AMC has seemed to lead quickly to top-notch shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black skipping the TV route altogether and debuting on Netflix. Netflix marries the quality of premium channels with Internet delivery and on demand, which the new generation likes - leading to binge watching instead of scheduled consumption.

But my enjoying those shows instead of reality tripe on network TV doesn't mean the Internet has won. After all, if House of Cards were to be the exact same, only on CBS, I'd still watch it. When I'm making a decision on what to watch, I'm not selecting the show due to any loyalty to a network, a medium or a device. I'm watching it because I want to be informed or entertained. If the only way I can get live sporting events is on my television, that's where I will go. If the only way I can get House of Cards is on Netflix, that's where I will go.

I never bet against the Internet. I have long been a huge advocate of migrating from analog to digital, and bringing content on demand - all of it - to be available any time anywhere. But it's not a contest to consume on one screen instead of another - even if it makes me seem like an old fuddy duddy.

Disclosures: I work at Google, which loves the Internet, and owns YouTube.

No comments:

Post a Comment