Mark Thompson, Director General of the BBC gave a lively speech at the European Internet Foundation Dinner Debate on 9 February. Focussing on how the Internet is transforming the way we watch television, he concludes that things are not happening the way we predicted them 5 to 10 years ago.
The essential prediction many people had in mind for classic linear TV was a model of substitution.Successive forms of traditional media would be superseded by the Internet, a prediction that turned out to be false. As strange as it may seem, in light of the enormous penetration of the web, conventional television viewing is going up. There has been a high amount of innovation in passive linear TV, think of HD, 3D, and Dolby Surround for example. Passive TV has been adapting and innovating with richer service, higher quality and a broader choice. It did not disappear at all, quite the contrary in fact.
Of course TV is not immune to the Internet revolution but it seems that things are moving at different speeds for different media. If we distinguish three main areas in tv broadcasting (information, entertainment and education), then we can identify some of the trends that appear to be going on.
The information component is far ahead. We get it from multiple devices. Often we do not recall if we first received information via our BlackBerry, Ipad, the web, or TV. We live in a cloud of news information. In the area of entertainment the Internet revolution has however been much slower. As mentioned before, the passive TV experience has been getting higher in quality and richer. In addition to that, we now have multichannel TV and asynchronism, i.e. we watch a program when we want it by time shifting it. This has now become the standard expectation of viewers. However, the interactivity levels in entertainment have been lagging behind. Education sits somewhere between the information and entertainment in terms of interactivity.
Another theme is that of globalization and even Europeanization of TV. Barriers for European content around the world are falling down. The same can be seen in other international markets from Australia to Japan and even in the US.
At the same time, convergence is finally beginning to become a reality. Most of the TV sets sold today have Internet capability. However the experience can be much different from the actual web browser based web experience. The BBC amongst others are trying to streamline this to create a more TV like experience of IPTV. The future of TV will therefore be multiple screen and multiple devices. People may watch TV whilst gathering information on a second device.
One thing is sure; people want a richer mix of content. The social space will enrich the TV experience but we are not moving from a TV only world to a strictly social content world. There will be a mix where the social space complements the professional production space. The need for professionally produced content and journalism is as high as ever. Welcome to the hybrid world.