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Shift Happens – Why Broadcast Television Is Doomed


A start-up client of mine maintains an interesting page on their intranet that showed when employees typically come and go. The CEO routinely arrives at the office around 8:00AM, the software architect by 10:00AM, and their hotshot Java geek leaves the building at o-dark-thirty.

Technology is shifting time. In the bad old days (say 1998) lives were regimented. Between work and television, most Americans kept static and well matched schedules. Most everyone was at work at nine, home by six, integrated with their couch by eight and using Jay Leno as a nightlight for foreplay around midnight. Lives between people were synchronized out of practice and the necessity of both communing at work and the nature of broadcasting.

Technology has made work life at the start-up asynchronous and may well spell the death of broadcasting as we know it (expect the water cooler phrase “Did you catch blah-blah-blah on TV last night?” to be replaced with “You ought to Hulu blah-blah-blah when you get back to your desk.”) Sorry Jay.

Television is the more rapidly changing market now. Recently, a report surfaced showing that younger folks are much more prone to time shift their television viewing, mainly using DVRs. But they are also abandoning television all together (I dumped Comcast and gave away all my TVs earlier this year). Though real-time TV barely retains majority of viewership (52%) online entertainment occupies eyes more so than even on-demand viewing via cable and satellite companies. Youngsters (who for curmudgeon’s sake we’ll define as anyone not alive when Jimmy Carter was elected) consume only 41% of real-time TV, blowing apart the old image of television addicted children (they are Internet addicted today).

The trend will continue if Apple and Google have anything to do with it. Apple intends to offer reruns of television shows for the standard iTunes 99 cents. Google’s set top boxes (STBs) will allow for apps to be installed that facilitate online streaming (and content giant Sony is interested). Hulu is already popular with people who have abandoned TV but still need an occasional night to mentally vegetate. In short, as technology allowed the aforementioned start-up to radically shift employee office hours, so too is it disconnecting people from broadcast television, which may well suffer the same fate as newspapers – declining viewers, declining advertising revenue, scattered bankruptcies, forced mergers and a public that could not care less.

It is ironic that at the moment in human history when we literally have 999 television channels to chose from that the changing economics of broadcast will wipe most of them off your sets.

The other irony is that of newspaper and magazine fates. These were the original asynchronous media, ones that suffered greatly when television brought synchronized content to the country, then suffered more when the Internet brought better unsynchronized content to the world. Print publications got tackled high and low, and most will not make it. The shuttered Barnes & Nobel store down the street shows the future, as does the corner newsstand that survives only by the good luck of being near the town’s most popular breakfast counter. Newspapers are going online (which includes being in your pocket on your smartphone), magazines are being replaced by web sites, e-readers are eliminating printed books and brick building book stores, and television is devolving into a series of YouTube clones.

There is a real-time marketing lesson in this asynchronous Marketing Memo. People adapt their lives to necessity and preference. Technology changes the former and facilitates the latter. Knowing what people want and how to achieve that with technology is always the game. Fire was once the hot technology (groan) because people had a preference to be warm and not eat raw meat. We also tend to like flexibility in our lives, and being able to shift our activities to when it suits us is a constant goal. If you are in the content business, a primary objective is to facilitate content consumption on whatever technology people prefer and whenever they prefer to watch. Smart phones, slates and pads, and even those dinosaurs called PCs are the new video content targets.

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