Tuesday, September 4, 2007/
Think of YouTube as a delivery mechanism, rather than a talent pool, and you’ll get a glimpse of where television is heading.
It’s not what you know
During the past eight months I have become immersed in thinking about and discussing television. Opinions about about where television is going and why. Yesterday, while writing a white paper, I decided that doing a quick Google search for “future of television” might help me find some clear insights. Well, you will never see a more confused mess of conflicting opinion. It almost makes you want to turn off your laptop and watch some TV to forget about it all.
The irony is that television is headed for an enormous change, even a re-invention.
To put it succinctly, the days of large, controlled production efforts are nearing an end. We’re not there yet, and many large productions still bring in the biggest audiences and advertising. But one revealing Google search you’ll enjoy is “television revenues”. There is an obvious market disintegration occuring. Television companies of all kinds are seeing their revenue shifting away from tried-and-true models and toward unexpected pay-per-view and niche audience revenue sources.
The reason for this is that the control mechanisms once wielded by large media companies are disintegrating, too. With every passing day, consumers have more choices. Consumers are learning faster than expected that the internet provides a means to find what you want, to save time, and for many to even get involved in the media cycle themselves.
It’s this last bit – consumer involvement – that is where the biggest changes will occur. While attempts to create “music sharing and creative communities” were mostly a flop, the same is not true of video. YouTube and the myriad clones are proving it is an error to characterise the world of television as consisting of distinct groups of producers (who are talented and trained) and consumers (who are passive and malleable).
Instead, it turns out that there is a untapped pool of talented, and often trained “consumers”. There has also been a huge disconnect between the motives of traditional broadcasters and consumer needs, as pointed out by a recent book, Global Television Marketplace, by Timothy Havens. He makes a clear case that television marketplaces are now driven more by a closed international buying market than by consumer demand or program quality.
If you doubt that user-generated content is the future of television, you are in good company. But phrases like “user-generated content” mask the true underlying phenomenon. It’s not the average guy sitting on the couch that big television needs to worry about. Rather, it’s the group of frustrated writers and producers who are leaving in droves to start their own efforts.
YouTube and new tools such as Mogulus are empowering not only the couch potatoes, but also the trained professionals who are looking for something new. You even see some old media people jumping ship and raising some significant bucks to start efforts like NextNewNetworks.
While traditional TV execs can still hide their heads in the sand for a while, that won’t be true for long. Scoffing at YouTube because of the horrific production values of most submissions ignores the fact that YouTube is not so much a “talent pool” as a delivery mechanism. If you ignore the talent, and look only at the method of distribution, you can see that the first step, making video distribution easy, is already behind us.
The next step is applying the same technological advances to production techniques. If you look at Mogulus you’ll see a glimpse of the future. Not only does Mogulus make it possible to create live TV stations, but it makes it possible for geographically distributed teams to storyboard, plan, and work together on a joint, live TV production. In a couple years, decentralised production tools such as Mogulus will mature, and more and more professionals will start realising that creating globally distributed television is well within their reach. That’s when the biggest changes will occur.
There is a lot of psychology standing in the way right now. Traditional producers believe that “controlled talent and production” are the only methods by which you can create quality content. By contrast, the consumer-generated content crowd rebels against the idea that controlled talent and production are necessary and believes (quite naively) that anybody can produce video shows. Both are wrong. Talent is necessary, but centralised control is not, and we are just on the brink of seeing people open their eyes to this.
In the past six months, my personal experiences with SLCN have made this all too clear. As we produce more and more “consumer-produced shows”, the number of truly talented people approaching us is growing. Among them we are now seeing professionals, often still employed by large broadcasters, who are champing at the bit to produce shows for us. The talent pool we are suddenly finding at our disposal is incredible.
To sort it all out, the tool you really need is an open mind and the realisation that it’s not what you know that you need to think about, it’s what you don’t know.
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