The slow pace of change in television

By December 1, 2009TV

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Brian Steinberg has a piece up on Adage on the Future of TV – it has some interesting stats showing how fast old TV is declining and some useful thoughts on the future.

The stats:

  • Total viewership across the top four networks in the US is off 42% since 1994 – note this is at least in a part a long tail effect as viewers migrate to smaller channels
  • Only 27% of US households had a digital video recorder at the end of Q12009 – although this is forecast to rise to 42% by 2014 (this stat explains the surprisingly low number of minutes on DVRs)
  • Overall streams at Hulu are up from 146m in September 2008 to 538m in September 2009.

The bottom line is that there are some big changes afoot, but the pace of change is relatively slow when compared with many web businesses.

Jeff Greenhouse of Singularity Design makes a good summary of the future piece in the comments:

Technology is making TV watching more efficient, bringing the actual viewing more closely into alignment with our true desires and maximizing our entertainment. Time-shifting, watching anywhere or anytime, accessing old reruns or rare clips and getting "you might also like" recommendations all give us more of what we want and less of what we don’t.

Advertising has the same potential, with addressable ads (to houses) being just the first step. Ultimately, I never need to see an advertisement for feminine hygiene products. Showing one to me is a waste of an impression, and a decreases the utility I get from TV watching. At the same time, I’d love to see commercials for new restaurants within a 50-mile radius of my home address. If TV technology evolves to be able to swap those two commercials for me, the advertisers win, and I win.

All of the Orwellian implications aside, the real difference right now is that I am actively involved in providing feedback and guidance to the actual TV-watching side of the equation, but I have no input on the advertising side of it. That’s the root of the inefficiency. That’s the challenge to overcome.

And Rose Wesenberg of Luminosity Marketing (you must need a great company name to comment on the Adage blog…) makes the good point that programming budgets will shrink as attention shifts to competing media, and wonders whether increased ad rates from targeting will be enough to offset audience declines.  I suspect not, particularly as DVR penetration and time-shifting increases.  If I’m right TV will be the latest in a long line of markets to face a digitally induced contraction.

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