Project Timeline 2005–2010

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What will influence the look of TV in 2018?

I took Andy’s suggestion and have done two matrices, one with the participants’ issues as I saw them, and my own.

According to the Participants

Trends – Most certain, less important

Megatrends – Most certain, most important

Weak signals – Least certain, least important

Wildcards – Most important, least certain

According to Ben Goldsmith

Trends – Most certain, less important

Megatrends – Most certain, most important

Weak signals – Least certain, least important

Wildcards – Most important, least certain

Comments

As screens become ubiquitous (how many mobile phones in 2018 will not have a screen and some sort of video capacity?) and it becomes increasingly possible to view content that used to be confined to broadcast television – Canal Road, Chaser and Summer Heights High and other video made available for download – either online or on a screen other than the TV in the lounge, and at a time other than originally scheduled, we need to think about television as part of a mobile, multimedia experience. The amount of time potentially available for engagement with television grows if people can carry television with them everywhere. This is part of the ‘personalisation’ that is already and will continue profoundly to influence the look of television. Personalisation is principally my ability to get closer to my first-choice viewing preference. The growing availability of archives of media content as digital files, notwithstanding the loss of video’s diversity, is increasing choice – and much of it is free. There will be a role for guides through the mass of information, although this will also be the function of the social network, and the work of the swarm. At the same time though, there is competition for attention from other media, principally the computer, and other pursuits than lean-back viewing, such as content creation. This is the ‘participation’ that is one of the other mega-trends or drivers of media use – UGC and URC (user generated, and user remixed content). This includes home videos posted to YouTube, participation in online games (the Lost example, curated by Brisbane company Hoodlum), blogging, remixing media (http://uk.youtube.com/forbiddenkingdom, ccmixter.org).

Related to participation is the issue of ‘access’: the look of television will be influenced by who has access to it in 2018, and where? The core strength of broadcast television has been its reach – it is available to almost 100% of the population. This will still be the case in 2018. It will be the case at least until analog switchoff (which may not yet fully have happened by 2018). Consumers have principally moved to digital television by default: through technology upgrade (buying a new TV with built in tuner) or through subscription TV (Foxtel’s gradual shift of all analog subscribers to digital over recent years). No compelling case has been built for digital television in and of itself – FTA digital set top boxes are not walking off the shelves. If screens are ubiquitous, and video streams of current FTA and pay TV incumbents or their successors are available (live or archive?) either via digital broadcast which can be recorded and segmented in the home via a TiVo or more human technology to meet the viewer’s immediate or established program preferences, or direct download and transfer to another mobile device, then television becomes potentially much more available. How much inertia will there be in the veg-out consumption of television which has been one of its principal patterns – what one interviewee referred to, crediting Saul Berman, as the ‘massive passives’ who watch whatever happens to be on? It is then in the interests of incumbents to limit the potential competition for such evening behaviour if it is built around the habit (or hearth) of TV viewing. Demographic studies (and personal experience…) suggest this is changing, though clearly there will still be a place for non-participatory engagement with media, like what we now call watching television. But the point is, if we conceive of television as not only shifting from mass media to micro media, but also to multi- and mobile media, then the time potentially available to spend with television actually increases. The issue of access extends from local access to broadcast television signals, broadband and mobile phone reception – still issues here in the country – to access to the global web (only two pipes between here and US…)

Will TV still be perceived as the best value for delivering advertising to large groups of people? IPTV is promising for advertisers in the ability to personalise information, and target advertising to individuals based around information collected from a set-top box relating to program preferences and other snippets of behaviour or attitude. But as we have discussed before, there is the potential for a ‘push-back’, perhaps less likely to come from a ‘slow’ movement (like slow food, slow cities), and more from rising concerns about privacy and security of personal information. That is, if the telcos and the broadcasters could agree on the configuration and connections on the box. If advertisers find other more cost-effective and individualised ways to reach audiences than broadcast TV, or if broadcast television networks cannot find ways to ensure they remain cost-effective while also exploring individualisation (hence C7 and TiVo), then ad dollars will go elsewhere.

The power of incumbency – perhaps not accompanied by stability of ownership – will be maintained at least until analog switchoff, and probably long after. In the case of ABC and SBS, this includes the Commonwealth of Australia, and so this should be an issue of significant public concern and debate. For FTAs, the role of the private equity firms becomes extremely significant in the short term. What do they want from television? Short-term gains, profit. These are still significant (over $800m profit in commercial FTA in 2006-07, according to recent ABS statistics, while payTV still losing money). Television broadcasters will clearly have to change in some respects, but inertia at level of government or among consumers will ensure that television as we know it in 2008 will still be part of the media mix in 2018. The amounts involved (income of FTAs in 2006-07 was over $4.5 billion, with expenditure at $3.7 billion) are colossal, as several participants have observed. This will not disappear overnight, although if one of the networks collapses and/or is broken up (perhaps now a more likely prospect than the addition of a fourth channel), new players will enter if the space remains protected until switchoff at least.

Global economic change could transform television in unexpected ways. The desire for free domestic entertainment that might accompany economic downturn could benefit television – in competition with the family DVD collection. Broadband might be considered a domestic luxury, and commercial FTA television could again become the default option.