This is a little feature that we're going to do periodically (thanks, Dan and Jane!) where we air our respective viewpoints on happenings in the digital universe. And while we may not always disagree, we think you'll find the differences in our perspectives refreshing, and perhaps a little illuminating.
ANGELA POSTS – Another day, another conference. This week it was The Future of Television, sponsored by Digital Media Wire and held at the Hollywood Roosevelt. Lots of old-media types and new media types, prognosticating about our shared passion: what are we going to tell people to watch? (And how are we going to pay for it? But that’s another post.)
TOM COUNTERPOSTS – I’m an old media guy if that means I still enjoy reading and ripping the newspapers at Peet’s Coffee Shop in the morning. But I’m new media for sure since I discovered Blockbuster was competing with Netflix in mailing your weekly digital dose home. I actually watch more television now than a 12 year old these days, just not much broadcast or cable anymore. These days, my digital entertainment comes in a plain blue wrapper from Blockbuster Total Access.
ANGELA – People are doing a very good job of telling themselves what to watch, and more and more, it seems like it ain’t “old teevee.” Said wise Saul Berman last August in response to a report from the media and entertainment practice he leads at IBM: "The Internet is becoming consumers' primary entertainment source. The TV is increasingly taking a back seat to the cell phone and the personal computer among consumers age 18 to 34. Just as the 'Kool Kids' and 'Gadgetiers' have replaced traditional land-lines with mobile communications, cable and satellite TV subscriptions risk a similar fate of being replaced as the primary source of content access." (Consumers in a Multiscreen World, August 2007)
TOM – I prefer my breaking headlines in quick text. I will do Google News during the day if I think something’s up, but I almost never click on any of those video news clips hanging on the CNBC and CNN sites unless someone is flying a plane into a building. The clips still load way too slow – and they peddle way too many goods before you arrive at what you seek. I note some video news is now putting the commercial at the end. I think that’s the way to go – put a quick five-second sponsorship sting at the front, if you must, but save the hard sell at the end.
ANGELA – So how does old teevee respond to these new viewer behaviors? By continuing to serve up offerings by day-and-date, giving a show a couple of weeks to prove itself, then ripping it down. This week’s casualty: The Return of Jezebel James, which starred indie-film favorite Parker Posey. Three airings, then . . . kaput. For some reason, the programmers seem to think that this is a quality issue. I would respond by saying that it’s not a quality issue. It’s a scheduling issue: We’re presiding over, not the death of old teevee, but the death of the old teevee schedule. Folks seem to want the content still. They just don’t want to watch it when they’re told to. And how does the old-guard hegemony respond? By scheduling more stuff.
TOM – Here’s my best video experience so far. Angela knows the O-Man is my candidate from way back, and that March 18 Philadelphia speech of his is probably the best piece of public oratory since August 28, 1963 when Martin Luther King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But if I can’t be there in person, I just don’t need to hear it live. So on my own schedule, I went to the Obama website seven days later, clicked to where they’ve posted it, and then ran the full-length embedded video. Text and YouTube video box on the same screen. Priceless.
ANGELA – Go, Hillary! But I digress . . . Most programming available on the Internet is not high-quality. It is mostly different, however, because it is customizable to your schedule. We also now live in a country where nearly 25% of TV viewing is done by watching shows pre-recorded on a DVR. (We’ll talk about what this does to advertisers a bit later.) For years, network executives argued that no one would watch shows on a tiny screen. But hits like Desperate Housewives and Lost are generating $15 million in iTunes download revenue (vs. $12 million in advertising revenue on their first broadcast runs). I personally can’t remember the last time I watched the Daily Show in real time, and it’s a show that covers perishable topics.
TOM – The Obama speech ran 40 minutes, and that was the longest I ever watched a video clip on my computer. And it was as raggedy-ass visually as most YouTube videos are. Most of the stuff out there doesn’t run but a minute or two – even the pieces that come from network TV. You dip in, you get the short funny bits, and dash. The genius of web advertising is you can run your commercial against the deconstructed pieces of SNL or The Daily Show that pull an on-line mob – and ignore the pesty rest.
ANGELA – Why doesn’t the industry take a flyer and launch a show like Jezebel James first with Tivo? Use Amazon’s Unbox to download it directly to the appliance? Showtime brilliantly brought me into one of my new favorite miniseries, The Tudors, by running back-to-back episodes on a special channel on DirecTV. I watched a few, set my Tivo, and was hooked. (Although I have yet to watch it when it actually airs.)
TOM – Actually, I’d watch Miss Parker Posey read the phone book on-line if that’s what she chooses to do. But let me tell you what I really want in my digital future if they want me to dump my newspapers. I want to live in my own little Philip K. Dick Minority Report World in which my chosen programming moves along from public flat screen to flat screen as I walk down the hall, into Peet’s Coffee and order my morning Java dose. Remember the billboards pitching customized goods directly to Tom Cruise in the movie?
ANGELA – To date, old teevee has been very reluctant to let go of the schedule, but there are a couple of game-changers afoot that may get them to finally loosen their cold, dead fingers. The first involves CBSSports.com and March Madness on Demand. Although my beloved Blue Devils washed out in their second-round game, the fury continues apace. And CBS, surprisingly, decided to allow anyone (in the U.S.) to watch all the games on broadband. The result? Television ratings for the games were down slightly (4.8 rating/11 share vs. 5.3/12 share from 2007), but online viewing broke records, up 24% over the previous year. As a matter of fact, online viewing for the first round of games exceeded online viewing for the entire 2007 tournament. So, even though I missed the Duke-West Virginia game, I can still find it online and watch the entire travesty while drowning my sorrow in a cold beer, at my convenience.
TOM – Kind of bold to name a sports team after the minions of the Dark Lord at a school smack in the middle of the Bible Belt. Actually, I do watch something on cable after all – the Lakers – but only when they are winning. So I usually show up in front of the tube during the fourth quarter. My own school named its team after an insect, but my Hornets have no sting these days and aren’t even on-line. Maybe if they webcast their games and changed their name to Resident Evil or Rosemary’s Babies, they would win more …
ANGELA – The second game-changer is Hulu. Somehow, I never stay up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live anymore (I actually lost my will to watch it in the early 90’s, for quality reasons), I’m never home when The Simpsons airs, and I love House, but don’t really know where it sits in the old teevee schedule. Now, I don’t need to. I can watch them all on Hulu. And I still count as an audience member, they still serve me advertising (with an as-yet-untapped ability to personalize that old teevee will never, ever have), and most importantly, I’m highly entertained.
TOM – Absolutely right. I’ve spend a couple hours with Hulu so far, and yes, it changes everything. Quality and loading hugely improved. I even watched an entire episode of 30 Rock – the one where Tina doesn’t get the condo and they all sing “Leaving on A Midnight Train” at the end. The best is yet to come, however. Go to the back of the site and check out the HD Gallery. Right now, it’s mostly a cluster of movie clips, but the clips here all run in HD even when you click on Full Screen. It’s probably chewing up most of your memory chips to play out, but it is the absolute future.
ANGELA – Kudos, Hulu guys, for starting to give us all what we want. Keep doing it: You’ll ensure that some HD hedgehog producing in a garage or mama’s basement is not going to totally ace you out of your traditional audience. Embrace the web, Hollywood moguls and mogulettes! You may lose your hegemony … but you’ll capture a place at the digital feast that will last a long, long time.