Probably the biggest change in the TV landscape is that viewers are changing, or at least their expectations for the viewing experience. For the first time in the history of the industry, the consumer is in the driver’s seat by their ability to collectively determine which content is popular. This must be driving the executives at cable companies and media production companies crazy.
For most of the history of the industry, the content providers were in charge. For most of the history of TV the studios or cable networks would choose the content and determine when it would be seen. And the process was a huge chess match trying to get the most eyes to product hits. New content that was scheduled opposite an existing hit show were dead on arrival.
Not all consumers fit well with the process of having to watch shows at pre-set times. I am an admitted space cadet and I have never been able to watch a TV show regularly at a pre-set time. And so, when TV shows started showing up on tape and then DVDs, I scrapped television and would just buy the series I was interested in to watch at my leisure. I saved money by not having cable TV, but buying DVDs for shows was expensive and so I would watch only a few old series per year. And I bought movies. Lots and lots of movies. But I was in the minority and I was an early cord cutter due to my personal spacey habits and my willingness to pay a premium price for alternate content.
But then along came new technologies that let people drop out of the treadmill of watching shows at pre-determined times. First came TIVO followed by video-on-demand that let people record and watch shows later. And more lately has come OTT programming on the web. So now, people have an immense amount of content that they can watch at any time. Both my wife and I are the kind of people who like to watch a whole TV series back-to-back and so OTT programming satisfies us for the most part.
And if that is all there was to the change in the industry the cable companies and content providers would not be worried. They would continue to monetize the ability for people to watch their content whenever they wanted to, and in the end their finances would not change too drastically.
But that is not the end game. If you want to see the end game, spend a few days watching how 14-year olds watch video. The way they watch content is the future:
- They rarely watch just one thing at a time, at least for very long. They may watch something on a TV screen, but they will watch their tablet and smart phone at the same time.
- They don’t have long attention spans, regardless of the content and getting them to watch a movie the whole way through is difficult.
- They like to watch content made by themselves and their friends as much as they like professional content.
- They don’t want to watch something end-to-end. They will not go back and watch a Twilight movie they have already seen. Instead they will watch compilations of their favorite scenes from the Twilight movies that they or somebody else has strung together on YouTube.
- They love the 7-second clip content on Vine. No adult can handle Vine for more than a short time. Vine produces memes more than content, but kids find this entertaining.
- They love watching together with other teenagers, be that live together or virtually together.
- They don’t even need cable for the news. Take the example of the Boston marathon bombing. There were hundreds of people in the area going live on the web talking about what was going on there.
- And they don’t want to pay for content. Not so much because they are 14, but because they believe that content ought to be free.
It is the 14-year old girls that are scaring the industry because they presage a new way of interacting with content. These kids are not going to grow up and buy traditional cable subscriptions. They are not even that likely to buy the alternates like Hulu or NetFlix. They are largely happy with free content or short clips of industry content. The cable companies are hoping to snag boys with ESPN and sports content, but they don’t know what in the hell to do with the girls.