Who Will Define ‘TV’?

When broadcast television entered consumers’ lives in the mid- to late 1930s, it was very limited. There were only a few channels, with limited range, and even more limited content (sometimes just still pictures). Yet as television grew in both scope and popularity, content followed. Soon the airwaves were filled with scheduled video ranging from news to ads to episodic content. In fact, the first “television guide” was a card sent by a New York City station (WNBT, now WNBC, an NBC-owned station) to local television owners. Several years later, published guides were being offered in various cities and, eventually, the iconic TV Guide launched nationally. Now, we have electronic guides built into our set-top boxes (STBs) offering scheduled programming in a grid-like system that became popular in the 1980s. 

The problem is, in that regime, which probably lasted for about the last 70 years, the broadcasters defined “television.” They told consumers when programs were going to be aired, what content was going to be produced, where it was going to be watched, and at what time. But as content has become unshackled from the rigidity of scheduled guides, consumers are waking up to the idea that they can define their own television experience. Sure, some of them still want the comfort of a grid-like schedule (as we see in services like Pluto TV and Hulu Live), but others want everything all at once, bingeing on entire seasons of content over a single weekend. Yes, live content will always be dictated by the time and place of the event, but, all in all, what “TV” means is no longer in the hands of those who create or distribute the content. 

That loss of control presents a significant number of opportunities for the new generation of broadcasters, the OTT platforms that are springing up every day. With powerful data-collection capabilities at their fingertips, these new broadcasters can forge deep relationships with individual viewers. This was something only dreamed about by those who delivered programming via radio waves, satellites, and terrestrial fiber. The rigidity of the STB has given way to a flexible alternative—a video player that can be employed on a variety of digital devices to capture myriad information. The experience and quality data captured during playback allows these broadcasters to make more informed decisions about content, test new features like social integration and interactivity, ensure high quality, and potentially even personalize the ads that are delivered. (Check out Sky’s AdSmart technology, which can provide different ads to different people in the same household watching the same content on different devices.) 

In no short order, viewers are now dictating the shape of the TV experience through their interaction with the broadcast platform. No one is using that social feature or multi-camera angle view? Kill those features (so easy when the platform is built on microservices). Viewers want more of that content? Great—extend it another season and ditch the series that no one watches (and which no advertisers want to buy against).

For the first time in the history of video delivery, the consumer is in charge. Through action and interaction, consumers produce the data that these new broadcasters use to shape the experience so that it’s more amenable to viewers. And the best part? As edge computing becomes more ubiquitous and powerful and as AI gets smarter and faster, the TV experience may be personalized on an individual basis in real time. Why should Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or other OTT platforms look and operate the same way for every viewer? That’s an old-world broadcast mentality, where one size (the cable box and electronic program guide) fits all, where the broadcaster defines the TV experience. Thankfully, that is coming to an end. 

The Age of the Broadcaster is over. It’s the Age of the Viewer now.

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