TV Producers Are Told to Expect a Must-See Change
Until recently, the fight for at-home viewers was waged among cable providers, satellite companies, and local analog broadcasters. But now there’s an underground movement by tech-savvy viewers who are tired of the triple-digit bill they're being asked to pay every month for television. This was the subject of a recent Los Angeles conference sponsored by a group (PaidContent.org) that tracks consumers’ viewing preferences and the tech activities of broadcasters.
Keynote speaker Jim Louderback of online video service Revision3 stated that the future of digital entertainment will depend on the decisions made by today’s 18-to 34-year-olds. He predicted that the days of paying $100 or more per month for a satellite or cable subscription are coming to an end because many in this key demographic are“cutting the cord” — seeking free or low-cost ways to access the same programming at their convenience.
Louderback noted that the 18-34 demographic is accustomed to having everything in their lives conform to "the Burger King experience” — having what they want, how they want it, and when they want it.
“Consumers want their media to be convenient, and if you can’t make it happen for them, they’ll find a way—including stealing the content,” Louderback said.
Furthermore, this group isn’t obsessed with having the biggest big-screen TV , he added. Instead, they want to do their viewing on the best screen available at the time, no matter where they are.
Cheryl Idell, of Nielsen Ratings, the company behind the rating system used to gauge TV show popularity, indicated that cord-cutting hasn’t really taken hold in significant numbers yet, but she added that the 18-34 group isn’t old enough yet to be the decision makers in many households.
“Maybe we’ll see it in the future, but we’re not seeing it yet,” she said.
Among the other presenters at the one-day conference were officials from Dish Network, Hulu, NBC Universal, Yahoo!, TiVo, Roku, Fox Films, CBS, Boxee and Netflix.
Idell noted that her company sees the value in being able to track not only the viewership of a particular program in its original broadcast timeslot, but also the “watch-later” group. The “live-plus-7” numbers Nielsen provides are a measure of not only the original broadcast numbers, but also the viewers up to seven days after the original broadcast — indicating that Nielsen, at least, realizes the growing shift in viewer habits.
Having established viewer trends toward anytime watching, the conversation turned to vendors such as Apple Computer (with its AppleTV), Roku, Boxee, Netflix, GoogleTV and their peers.
Zander Lurie, vice president of strategic development for CBS Corp., indicated that programming producers are still entrenched in the paradigm of the 1960s: payingproduction costs on a particular TV program to be aired on a certain day, at a certain time, against which they can sell targeted advertising to a particular viewership. Most programmers realize that model is no longer sustainable, he said, but are not yet ready to give their programming away for free to those “Internet viewing solution providers.”
Those representing major broadcast networks at the conference indicated that at some point, they’re going to want to get paid when their programming shows up on some other service, essentially to be viewed for free or close to free.
“We are in a competitive business—we want people to watch 'Hawaii Five-O.' But we do have to have control,” Lurie said. “Are consumers asking for it? Can we get the value that we think we need? And does it cannibalize other revenue streams? That’s what we need to figure out.”
That issue shows the real Achilles' heel of the new world media order. While the ability to provide last night’s 'NCIS' to viewers for free over the Internet might be there today, it’s not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, and so to many potential cord-cutters, paying for a subscription — no matter how small — for the appropriate Internet appliance is untenable.
With manufacturers of Internet appliances unable to provide consistent programming (because the entertainment producers don’t want their programming on those boxes), viewers will be asked for the foreseeable future to remain on the couch in their living room at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night.
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