by Mike Bloxham
For some time now I’ve been pondering scenarios in which the majority of the viewing of content originated for TV is viewed off-schedule.
Obviously I’m not the only or the first to do this. As the number of ways in which we can potentially view programming has multiplied, so have the conversations and questions about the impact of such behavior, and the rate at which it will grow and where it may plateau.
An exercise beyond informed conversation (useful though that is) that has particular appeal is creative scenario planning for different circumstances. Imagine, say, a point in time when the share of all viewing (regardless of platform etc.) that is in some way on-demand (DVR, online, VOD etc.) reaches 30%, 50%, 75%, 100%. How would your business evolve to address the new environment and thrive?
Whether you’re a content business, a distribution business, an advertiser or an agency, such an environment raises any number of challenges that present opportunities for new business models — and for road kill along the way.
While some say that these scenarios are never likely to materialize (at least not beyond the 30% threshold), I am inclined to disagree. The trend is toward more and more on-demand capability, and a gradual — but thus far, slow — increase in take-up if one looks across the board. But the actual percentage we ultimately reach is arguably a secondary issue if one is thinking through the opportunities presented and how to respond. This is where the scenario planning idea comes in.
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I should make it clear that I don’t believe that live TV is going to disappear. There will always be a place for it and it is likely to remain significant. I — like everyone else — just can’t say with any objective confidence exactly how it will net out relative to the forms of on-demand that we currently have and those that have yet to be deployed (after all, pretty much all technology is transitional, so this isn’t about the DVR or any other device or service).
But while scenario planning exercises are good for strategic development, it transpires that the recent announcement from the folks at Time Warner Cable about a project they are calling “Enhanced TV” might just provide us with a glimpse of how things will shake out when the broadcast schedule is much more readily discarded.
The project, which appears to be an attempt to keep viewers using their cable service instead of the Web when looking to catch up on missed programming, allows for the viewing of any program that has aired in the previous three days at any time, and the restarting of a program joined midway through. In due course, it will apparently eventually allow the viewing of programs more than three days old. None of this flexibility is new in itself, of course, but the fact that the service is going to be offered free to cable subscribers without the cost of buying into a distinct DVR-like proposition means it is a potential end-around that can compete seriously with the Web: it’s free and offers what to many will be a better viewing experience on a bigger screen.
The one downside is that there is no mention in the publicity I’ve seen of any ability to fast-forward through ads, but for those primarily motivated by the opportunity to watch at the time of one’s choice rather than ad avoidance, the price tag may make the difference.
In some households (mine included) this may lead to a heated debate about the merits of skipping through ads for a price versus off-schedule programming for free, but in others it will undoubtedly be a slam-dunk.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how this fares in the market and how many people pick it up, the levels and profile of its use, etc. All credit to Time Warner Cable for its innovation. Who’s next?