Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Watching TV (without watching TV)

Just came back from an after-event client/prospecting event in Santa Monica thrown by one of the sponsor-vendors of the Digital Hollywood event here in town this week. Over a succession of drinks (three vodka gimlets for me — and no driving) and way-too-large entrees, we discussed where media — and specifically “television” — might be going.

A little backstory:

In 1980, fresh out of high school, I somehow found my way to Alvin Toffler‘s book “The Third Wave.” Toffler was writing about the epochs of human civilization, and disruption, and niche marketing, and counterintuitive solutions, and, most importantly and on a grand scale, change. Twenty-six years later it’s more obvious than ever what an enormous impact the book had on me (especially having read it after “Nine Chains to the Moon” by R. Buckminster Fuller).

So tonight, as the gentleman charged with overseas ads for Sony programs on foreign-language stations in emerging markets wondered what the future would be, my response was: smaller and smaller niches, and more and more interactivity, with content seeking the correct viewer rather than viewers seeking the correct content, a la Netflix, Amazon, etc. While my train of thought was certainly hurtling down the tracks, fueled by good company and good vodka, I know Toffler was there first — and a long time ago.

Which brings me back to the title of this post. This past week I watched TV several times without watching it once. While I was out of town, I caught up on the show “Jericho” thanks to CBS’s absolutely terrific online viewing portal. (To my eyes, the best one yet; by comparison ABC’s is slow and jumpy and has too many commercials breaks of too long a length.) When I got back, having missed “Battlestar Galactica,” I popped two bucks for the iTunes download. And before leaving, my daughter Emma and I watched “Lost” on ABC.com.

You’ll note the absolute lack of “television” while watching television.

What will be the determinant of what formats and offerings succeed? As best bud Grant put it, “Convenience.” Yes, price will play a role, and content of course, but in an age where commodity prices fall precipitously every day, and where so much “broadcast” content is better than ever before, it’s ease of use — the flexibility that busy people demand — that will rule.

Good news for people who provide convenient good content at a fair price (or free).

Bad news for people who provide so-so content that is inconvenient and over-priced. This should be a wakeup call to all my friends and colleagues in the performing arts: Your work had better be as good as you think it is, and you’d better be thinking about how (or whether) peope can get there, let alone afford the offering.

And now I’m going to bed. To watch the third disk of “Elizabeth R,” from my Netflix queue. (Is there something on a “network schedule?” I guess.)

5 Responses to “Watching TV (without watching TV)”

  1. Paul Crist Says:

    You know what the sad thing is with television and the shows that are broadcast is?

    The quality of the picture is now really really good with the new high definition televisions coming on the market and the quality of the shows has sunken to new lows. Too bad the shows can not match the picture quality.


  2. Paul Crist Says:

    While on the subject of television shows I would like to point out that my brother, Tom will be featured on the Discovery Health Channel’s Skeleton Stories show on Friday, 11/10 at 10pm eastern time. The shows covers an archological investigation of St. Croix island in northern Maine.

  3. Grant Says:

    Thanks for the quote there, Lee.

    Add to the convenience factor in deciding what, where and when one can watch (and how much one is willing to pay), the piss-me-off factor of traditional advertising in non traditional formats.

    The point of convenience must also be balanced with a consumers tolerance for advertising and that in turn is balanced by the content owners need to monetize their content.

    I personally have selected different formats (and have been willing to pay) for content that doesn’t have advertising.

    The reason Lee and I were at this soiree in the first place is I am part-owner of a company that hope to monetize it’s unique content via online distribution. We plan on trying subscription models, pay per view models, inline ad models and sponsorship models. As I said, personally I prefer to pay a little and save myself from any advertising (a la iTunes downloads) – we’ll see what shakes out when we test these different models.

    So what does this mean for our friend at Sony and his advertising future?

    Not good.

    I see advertising taking on more of a sponsorship role a la the TV of the 60’s but being far less prevalent in broadcast (or narrowcast) mediums. The wave of the future of monetizing content (IMHO) is via micro payments that offer consumers cheap programming and almost infinite selections. Imagine 10,000 easy to filter choices from small talent houses where you pay 50c to watch any of them. Once the transaction costs are brought down to pennies (or fractions of a penny) this would make financial sense.

    So the next big wave is content. Providers of good, niche and compelling content will be the big winners. Sure the ‘big guys’ will survive, and the big Alphabetically Broadcast Channels will survive (barely) – but their business models will need to change. And fast.

    Last thought. Live theater will always offer a unique experience. But by it’s necessity to stage in one place at a time, it limits it’s own audience to specific geographical locations. Now I haven’t heard, but I’m sure it’s been down, placing a production online as a pay per view to allow a broader audience to enjoy a theater production. Think of the near future when global distribution isn’t just limited to DVD’s or features.

    Pretty exciting, huh?

  4. Paul Crist Says:

    I like Grant’s take on the future of content, but do not think that live theater would translate well to a braodcast medium.

    Therter is a shared experience, putting it is some type of digital content reduces it to just another form of “television”.


  5. Rodney Hobbs Says:

    Hi Paul,

    You really think the quality of television right now is at an all-time low??? I feel that I must defend TV–there are several really well-done shows on TV right now, especially when you include the original cable series and the original shows on the premium channels.

    But even only considering network TV, the last 3 seasons in particular have done a great job of “winning me back,” so to speak: a list of my faves that I think are worth noting are “Ugly Betty,” “Criminal Minds,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Unit,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” “Heroes,” and I’m sure there are others that I don’t have time to watch. I was shocked to discover that due to the proliferation of “good shows” on right now, my DVR is often too full, and I barely have time to watch all of the shows I want to see. This is markedly different from just four years ago and beyond: back then, I often found myself saying, “There’s nothing on.” Not so of late, so I think TV is actually getting better, as is the quality of the technology.

    Just wanted to put in my two cents.

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