A Timeframe for TV’s Future?

Printed today in The Guardian: “The TV industry has as little as two years to create viable digital businesses or face a version of the "iTunes moment” that saw the music business cede the online future to Apple, according to Ashley Highfield.“

With regards to the various threat levels to traditional media, the TV and Film businesses are converging and it’s much more complex to transition online. More than two years will almost for sure be needed. Rocketboom has been around almost five years now and there is almost no difference in terms of non-technicalogical support.

Consider the evolution from print media. News will continue to be created and articles will continue to be consumed but the questions still remain about the business of the industry. The New York Times is literally scrambling and the bloggers are literally clamoring because no one has a viable solution, a hot topic even today in 2009.

From Lofquist, 1994: "Growing competition from the electronic media and a squeeze on leisure time are forcing U.S. printers and publishers to reappraise their traditional markets. Printed products originally issued as books, directories, newsletters, and reference materials increasingly appear in the form of audio books, laser disks, compact disks, software, facsimile, and on-line information”

That was fifteen years ago, WTF has everyone been doing since then?!…you might ask. It takes time for big systems to change. A lot of time. Granted, WTF, it shouldn’t have taken that much time; the heedless leaders over the last fifteen years have clearly run it into the ground, caught in a Catch-22 for relying on advertising as their only business model.

The music industry is changing at a faster clip, more on par with a technological pace because the industry is very different – there were just five record label companies that controlled the entire music industry. Literally only five.

Steve Jobs’ second greatest feat, aside from turning the computer into a tool for people, was usurping the entire music industry into just one company. Apple now single handedly sets the prices for all music. Because people were already used to paying for individual copies of music, this was not a difficult problem to solve for consumers. Apple simply made it easier and more economical to continue on.

TV has its similarities to music, but is often by comparison much more complex. TV is quickly losing it’s secular identity, along with Film and all kinds of additional screen based content to become the business of video in general. TV was once the business of only three companies, the adoption of cable drastically saturated share and today, video is spread out all over the place through a multitude of middle companies that all have various amounts of power and influence over the same primary asset, which is ultimately just the content itself. There is also a very complex array of revenue sources including theater tickets, merchandise, dvd sales, rentals, hardware sales, advertising and monthly cable subscription fees.

In particular, people are used to paying for all this stuff, but they are not used to paying for individual TV shows. And because TV is heavily ad-supported, just like the Newspapers, questions on how the rest of the non-fee based, non-cable TV industry will survive remain to be seen.

Setting aside the considerations above, there is still a very plain and simple reason why the industry probably can not transition in the next two years. Most of the new works that are currently being scoped or are in production, will release in the next three years. The industry that will support these productions is for a large part already in place awaiting. Distribution contracts, promotion contracts and talent contracts with writers, actors and producers are in many cases already set for years. With regards to movies, there are currently over 7200 films officially in-production, many for 2012 and 2013. And the greatest TV show hits of the season will likely not pass up the lucrative renewal contracts to instead go out on their own to find a non-industry and no revenue. It’s a ferocious Catch-22 that could cause the entire industry old and new alike to become stuck for even a decade. It’s hard to tell.

The writers strike of yesteryear gave a lot of the traditional executives and talent a quick chance to do some pondering. Remember the new Hollywood Digerati that was going to stick it to the man? They are all back at work now and again, missing from the conversation. It’s a shame because however the future pans out, the talent will eventually end up with the most power for being the centerpiece and beachhead of any business’ portfolio.

It’s fair to say that the TV and Film industry is doing some pondering and whether it needs to or not, separate or together, it’s very unlikely that it will become overall viable online inside the next two years.