It started as a trick: in the summer of 2006 I came back from an extended stay to Berkeley. As part of me didn’t want to leave the XXL-mildness of California, I came up with the brilliant idea that I am not really back unless I expose myself again to German television. No sooner thought than done. The small black old school plastic box in my living room stayed switched off. I had stopped watching television. Recently I researched the future of television for an event of the association of private television VPRT, and learnt that this wasn’t really the case. It is more complicated. The truth is, I stopped using a television set, but I continued to watch.
Television sets have been saved a bit by their slow replacement cycle. As analysts Spencer Wang of Credit Suisse said, people only buy a new television set every 7 years while they get a new smartphone every 2 years. However, 2012 will be the year that television will say hello to digitalisation. More and more channels and TV brands have now started to embrace it. They have woken up. Up till now most of them thought of the internet as nothing but a marketing place to promote their TV content. Now we are about to enter a new era and it becomes a distribution channel, too. Welcome to the post-cannibalisation-era!
Yet old media looks a bit nibbled off, and at least partly this is their own fault: they’ve waited to long. Here television has been in a lucky position. Its industry had the possibility to learn from the mistakes of others, mainly the unhappy music industry. Being worried about illegal copying, they denied to enter digital distribution and tried to lock themselves up in the fortress of DRMed CDs. Instead pushing themselves on the new medium with a generous gesture forward, Apple and Steve Jobs did their job. They did it very well, and also took away their control. Afraid of getting iApple-ed, the television industry has learnt their lesson: the safe bet against illegal copying is to make your content widely available, provide it with a realistic price and set up a very easy way to pay for; better even several ways.
Under attack by television-to-go
But as vertical expansion has been stuck in the head of executives, for TV the problems are already beside distribution. On the internet, finding content is the key. So who will be the television guide to find content online? Who will become Google for television? Besides clicker.com, several other companies try to give an answer, among them the social approach of the Berlin based Tweet.tv. In a world of information overload, the TV guide will be the meta-channel users need. Conceptually half portal, half search engine with social add-ons delivering an overview across all brands, friends and followers sounds quite perfect for a key position. Consequently, CBS made a clever move when they bought clicker.com earlier this year unlike television portals which simply dump all their content on their homepage. They just prove that they don’t understand the new medium – zapping already sucked in the real world, and on the internet more is everywhere, so less is more.
Finally there is television-to-go: the iPad and the Kindle Fire tablet have become something like the walkman of television, and Amazon as well as Apple’s iTunes is their content provider. And there is go-to-television: Google has developed the GoogleTV browser that will soon find its place on Sony’s, LG’s and Samsung’s sets. Plus Google’s YouTube has invested 100 million dollars in content production for its channels with Disney among the producers. Apple also approaches the TV set by making use of their creative perspective: Its patents show that they plan to develop a television you can shout and gesticulate at in order to make video editing easier and seamlessly sync all your devices, er, all your Apple devices, of course.
In short, when YouTube reinvents itself “as Internet’s answer to cable TV”as my colleague Janko Roettgers has put it, when digital companies start to produce tablet television devices, when TV sets come with a browser in order to display internet content, then the vertical integration of TV has started to push and shove. As the president of VPRT Doetz demonstrated at the event, an open discussion among private television has not only started started but is thought of as necessary. Surely some scepticism remains, but 2012 will be a decisive year for television. I might even buy one.