Why We Want TV to Be Disrupted So Badly

TV providers aren't technology companies. We know the technology and the experience can be so much better.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

It seems as though the promise of a better television experience easily excites the tech media. I frequently talk to many in the tech press about this topic and I find it fascinating that so many people want the TV experience to be disrupted so badly. It’s as though there’s an air of desperation for TV to be reborn. The question is why?

When I joined my firm Creative Strategies in 2000 to do market research, my first area of focus was on the digital home. I spent many man hours researching the market for HDTVs and the enabling of technologies like home networking and streaming media from PCs to TVs. Around that time, two interesting companies hit the scene: ReplayTV and TiVo.

I was at the Consumer Electronics Show where both companies debuted, and their booths were as packed as any on the show floor. Both offered such a simple premise: pause, rewind and fast forward live TV. In my opinion, these two companies paved the way for the disruption we will eventually see. Why? Because they showed us how much better our TV experience could be, and how crappy the technology was that our current television providers provided us with.

I remember having discussions with executives at both TiVo and ReplayTV during their startup years. In particular, I remember a conversation with Anthony Wood, one of the founders of ReplayTV and the now founder and CEO of Roku. I asked Anthony why the current TV providers didn’t think of this first. His answer, plain and simple, was “because they are not technology companies.” So profoundly true. And the fact that they are not technology companies is the simple reason so many of us in the tech industry want TV to be disrupted. We know the technology and the experience can be so much better.

Bound by Hollywood

Whenever you think about Hollywood as it relates to the tech industry, remember this point: Hollywood is run on fear and greed. Every decision the industry makes has a root in one of these things. This is why being in control of every bit of its content rights is at the forefront. Hollywood’s agenda and the technology industry’s agenda are not the same.

Hollywood legally has the rights to its content and that is not going to change. So for technology companies to have access to that content, they have no choice but to pay for it up front. This is why it’s likely that someone like Roku, Netflix, Apple, or Google will never be able to offer customers the same access to content as your TV provider. TV providers pay for the rights up front; technology companies will not.

Embracing the Second Screen

Ultimately, I believe this disruption will be led by the second screen, specifically by integrating devices like tablets and smartphones into the TV experience. This makes sense when you understand that the TV is generally a shared screen in a communal setting. Therefore, the TV is likely the wrong screen to deliver “personal” or “individualized” experiences. These experiences are fine in the case where only one person is watching the TV, but that’s not every use case.

Smartphones, tablets, and even traditional PCs are more often personal screens, making them the right screens to deliver more personal and individualized experiences. Where this gets exciting, in my opinion, is when the communal and individual TV experiences get integrated together. For example, while watching a football game on the big screen with friends, I can use my tablet or smartphone in conjunction with the game to see elements personalized to me: things like camera angles, replays, relevant fantasy league data or other stats of interest to me — not others in the room.

It is the integration of the big screen with the personal screen that is of the most interest to me in relation to how TV may be disrupted.

The Entertainment Platform

Lastly, the disruption of the TV will empower a new entertainment platform like no other. When you think about devices like smartphones, tablets, and PCs, we understand them to be largely computing platforms. Of course, elements of entertainment take place, but so do levels of creativity and productivity.

What the three platforms I mentioned have in common from a computing perspective is a software development kit (SDK), enabling software developers to write relevant applications for these computing platforms. What excites me about the disruption of the TV is the prospect of an SDK for the TV. It would transform the TV, for the first time ever, into a platform that smart developers can write unique new applications for. We have not yet even scratched the surface of this idea.

Those who have the most to lose when TV gets disrupted need not fear piracy; they should fear the SDK. When developers can take advantage of a platform, the possibilities are endless.

Bajarin is a principal at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to the Big Picture opinion column that appears here every week on TIME Tech.

24 comments
LunaticSX
LunaticSX

GoogleTV had (has) an SDK, and it was integrated into several TVs. Didn't help it. Plenty of other failed platforms have had SDKs, too.

From a technologist's perspective just giving something an SDK might be like waving a magic wand, but that's not how the real world sees it. For example, Google didn't make deals with any content providers for GoogleTV, so it got blocked. From Google's perspective it was "just software." From the content providers perspective it was Google not wanting to play ball, trying to do an end run around and breaking the spirit of what they'd set up to allow people to get some content only in web browsers on computer screens, and potentially threatening their business. So they did some tricks themselves that were "just software."

Titanus
Titanus

I don't understand how cable/sat companies even exist anymore.  The companies that make the content can just put shows online and have people watch directly from them.  This would also allow them to customize the commercials and then sell the metadata from watchers to marketing companies.  PBS has started this with their iPad app and there might be other apps out there that I don't know about but all in all this is the way I would like to see "TV" develop.  I would not need a DVR because I could just go to ABConline and watch the show I like when I have time. 

mrbcool
mrbcool

Sad thing is we the people have the power to make these companies change there policies. The only caveat is  a lot of people are willing or have the will power to turn of the tv or stop tv service for good. If nobody is watching or listening the companies are losing money and will have no choice to abide to customer demands.

Sneraky
Sneraky

TV programming IS expensive and I am sick of paying a portion for all of it regardless of what I consume. I pay for the gas I use and the food I eat, I have stopped paying for TV programming that I don't watch. The CableTV/Satellite model is broken in the eyes of many viewers. The industry needs to accept this and evolve or loose more viewers/money.

jtoeman
jtoeman

Great piece Ben, but I'd question the title/premise - I don't think most TV watchers really *want* TV disrupted.  If TV watchers were so dissatisfied, they'd be watching less, not more, TV... I think this is a "technologists'" perspective, not a consumers' one...

klasseng
klasseng

The answer to the question is "TV and conventional content aggregators (cable, satillite and telco based) are not doing the job that they are hired to do. Consumers are not getting what they want."

One part of that problem is that one persons mindless drivel is another persons engaging show. With the wide range of content choices, many of them catering to small audiences, the overall impression made upon consumers is that the majority of content is mindless drivel.

The second part of the problem is content bundling. I can get close to 100 HD channels from my cable provider. It's bundled groups of content where 3 channels of mindless drivel are bundled with the 2 channels I occasionally want and the one channel I more than occasionally want. Notice that even a single channel only rises to the level of "more than occasionally want". Even single channels are aggregators.

The third part of the problem is that consumers I can't get to see what they want, when they want. Even DVRs are becoming less useful. I've noticed that the schedules have become less reliable. I tried to DVR the last season of "Good Wife", setting the DVR to the regular channel/time. Out of the 22 episodes in the season, I got 13. Other shows ran overtime or otherwise preempted the regular schedule. I resorted to getting the Season Pass from iTunes.

I was busy yesterday and tried to DVR the tennis final. The cable provider didn't show it on the channel I had set the DVR for. Out of luck, can't even get it elsewhere.

The sooner 'on demand' programming is available the better off the consumer will be.

MurphyBelle
MurphyBelle

Streaming Players Club on Facebook..Everything Roku in one place. You Tube, Channels, links, news and hard to find Roku info. From beginners to pros, we have what you are looking for.."FREE"

TravisB
TravisB

Hollywood holds nowhere NEAR the power in this negotiation as the sports leagues.

If Apple or Roku could seal a deal with ESPN and/or the NFL to deliver sports programming that is not tied to a cable/satellite subscription, it would be game over.

Sports is the one thing you can't get (all of) without cable or satellite. You can get an antenna. You can wait for the blu-ray. You can watch other stuff through HuluPlus, iTunes, etc. The only thing keeping cable & satellite isn't Hollywood, it's the NFL and the NCAA.

If you could save $1500-2500 a year by canceling your cable or satellite subscription and turn around and give, say, the NFL $500 and the Big XII (or insert NCAA conference of choice) another $500 for access to the games for an entire year, most of you would do it, because you can find another place to watch the other things.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

"Hollywood is run on fear and greed" is inaccurate.


Everyone is trying to make a living - tech companies included.  Being charitable doesn't pay for the mortgage or education for your children or your car.


Hollywood runs on money.  It takes a lot of money to produce any TV show or movie with any semblence of quality for which people are willing to pay.  It takes numerous salaried people to create a movie. Some movies require hundreds of staff to create.


Hollywood will look around itself and ask, who is willing to pay for the content.  Who is willing to pay for the people to create the content.


Tech companies are unwilling to pay for the content.  They try to lowball Hollywood.


TV Providers are willing and able to pay for the content UP FRONT.


TV Providers win.


Apple realizes this.  Therefore, rather than fight TV Providers, it decided to work with them.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

To reiterate:


TV Providers are becoming Tech Companies and Content Producers too.  They are becoming vertical services that go far deeper and higher than what Apple has done.


Comcast - for example - created its own DVR and TV Boxes, which in future iterations can become gaming and computing boxes and what ever disruption is attempted.  Comcast provides the TV user interface, the streaming internet portal, providers shows on-demand, rentals, has created smartphone and tablet apps.  Comcast also provides the internet, the phone service, and the home security and alarm service.  And Comcast has the money to be also a content producer - owning NBC and NBC-Universal Studios.


Since TV is their life-blood, they aren't willing to sit still and become disrupted.  They are going to take whatever idea anyone else can come up with and do the disruption themselves. For example, where is TIVO now?  It hardly exists.  Comcast came out with its own DVRs and eliminated the need for a TIVO.  AT&T has done the same thing.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

No matter what pundits say about the disruption of television, the fact remains that television content is EXPENSIVE TO CREATE. A movie or television show or sporting event or even reality TV or news show requires numerous people with salaries to produce.  It is time consuming and labor intensive.  It requires very expensive equipment to create.  And when you create stars, you pay even more.  Who is going to pay for the content?  As stated in the article, TV providers are willing to pay for the rights up front.  Tech companies are not.  The huge expense for content is why there will be zero disruption of traditional television content.  

Disruption of television has already occurred:  The console gaming market. People are willing and able to purchase gaming consoles such as the XBox, Playstation, and various Nintendos.  The gaming console has an API.  And the video game industry is equivalent to Hollywood in revenue. And - as the XBox has done - it has expanded to streaming TV and other content, taking up the slack that TV Providers haven't paid for.  Even then, video games are EXPENSIVE TO CREATE and EXPENSIVE TO BUY.
The TV Providers are quickly becoming Tech Companies too.  Comcast created its own DVR, new cable TV user interface, streaming online portal, provide TV shows on-demand, create smartphone and tablet apps,  etc.    Comcast also is a TV Content Producer - owning NBC and NBC-Universal Studios. The TV Providers aren't waiting to be disrupted.   The TV Providers will be doing the disrupting themselves.  In a Dog-Eat-Dog world of television, they are the heavyweight competitors.
This makes the TV Providers formidable opponents to any tech company - keeping up and surpassing what any tech company can do.  After all, they are WILLING and ABLE to pay for the TV content.  Tech Companies are not.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

@mrbcool People don't want change.  They are use to paying what they can afford for TV.  

The only recent complaint has been the canceling of CBS on Time-Warner Cable. This caused a run on Radio Shacks for over-the-air HD antennas to get CBS.

People want their TV the way it is.  It is good for numbing up your mind at the end of the day.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

@Sneraky Only a few people in the US cannot afford Cable TV. Even the poor get basic cable TV. This is why CableTV companies make billions of dollars. People want their TVs.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@jtoeman Yes, I meant to say that actually.  The mass market doesn't think of these things or even ask these types of questions.  They just happily take what hardware and experience their provider gives them.  But I do think there will be things that can tip the scales in ways that get consumers thinking about these things.    But those of us in tech who live and breath this and know it can be better. 

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

@TravisB The sports leagues have very high expenses. They are not going to give their product away for nothing.  Giving product away is what the tech industry wants out of the sports leagues. But that is definitely not going to happen.  The sports leagues will be always expensive. They often run at a lost even then.  So you will never be able to negotiate with the sports leagues unless the consumer pays a high price for their product.

They are like Hollywood.  They are in the same situation as Hollywood.  Everyone else wants their product for free or low cost.  But they cannot give in.  They have too many mouths, workers and stars to feed.

benbajarin
benbajarin

@TravisB Well it is sports and news, basically live will be pretty hard to get streaming in most cases IMO.  I agree sports is a biggie but man is it expensive.   To get sports rights would cost nearly as much to get all access to network content.   

benbajarin
benbajarin

@JamesKatt One of my first startups was a tech company geared at trying to work with hollywood.  Given the 5 lawyers to 1 entertainment exec in the room I encountered, fear and greed pretty much sum it up.  


Thanks for the comment though. 

TravisB
TravisB

@benbajarin @TravisB Really though, would the country be worse off if it's population didn't have access to the current crop of uber-biased 24-hour news channels? Society seemed much better off with local news a few times a day and a half our of national news from the networks.

Streaming sports are definitely a possibility, they're already doing it, but it's tied to your cable/satellite subscription. You can stream all the ESPN networks via Watch ESPN on your mobile device or AppleTV, but you have to have that cable sub.

I understand that sports rights are very expensive, but by breaking them down by conference, it allows the viewers better choice over what they subsidize, and it will give ESPN, FOX et. al. a better value on their product.

I didn't cancel cable to save money (but it's a nice perk). I cancelled it because there was a better way to get what I wanted that allowed me to stop subsidizing the dumbing of America.

JamesKatt
JamesKatt

@benbajarin @JamesKatt That isn't so much greed as the entertainment industry realizing their product is easily stolen.  And their realization that the tech industry wants to lowball them.  Hollywood is protecting its product harder than the music industry did.  They see what happened to the music industry and the book industry when IP isn't protected.

ncbill
ncbill

@benbajarin @TravisB Well, I pre-ordered "Madden 25th Anniversary" for Xbox just to get the NFL Sunday Ticket code inside (I don't have a XBox)

I'll Chrome-cast those games from my phone or computer to my 50" HDTV.

Plus there are already apps like mlb.tv for Roku or other streamers.


So I can't get every game, but I can still get a lot of sports w/o cable.

I also use a TivoHD with an antenna and buy 'cable' shows on a per-episode basis from Amazon Video ('subscribe' and they are automatically pushed down to the Tivo)

benbajarin
benbajarin

@TravisB @benbajarin Of course, and this is exactly the kind of stuff I would expect to happen if devs take advantage of a smart TV SDK. 

It is just a matter as well of when content providers will be ok with more a la carte payments vs subs through a MSO. 

benbajarin
benbajarin

@JamesKatt @benbajarin yep. That's why for me the disruption will not be around content, it can't be because of the issues you aligned.  That's why the only case can be made that the TV becomes a platform devs can take advantage of to create new experiences.