The Internet: It Might Kill TV Someday, But No Day Soon

Categories: Internet TV

Written By

April 9th, 2008

Couch PotatoI was reading a rant by Jeff Jarvis about the newspaper industry.  And it was so funny to me I had to comment on his blog.  One business completely destroyed by the Internet (encyclopedias) hosting a discussion on what to do about the newspaper industry - an industry not completely destroyed by the Internet but shredded in so, so many ways that discussing its future seems pretty pointless to me.  Discussing what's presently happening is already "the future" and it seems like it has been for a while on that front.

The television industry hasn't been hurt like that, and I'm not sure it ever will.  For now, at least in the USA, DVR viewing has a bigger impact on the business.  The Internet will cause some changes, I have no doubt.  But it won't be as devastating and it won't happen so quickly.  It's not going to completely ravage the business.  There won't be the newspaper equivalent of Craig's List and EBay garnering a huge share of the classified advertising business.

In fairness, the one sector of the TV business which has actually been badly hurt by the Internet is national and local news programming.  But the Internet  hurt ALL news businesses because it empowered people to get the information they wanted on their own terms instead of being teased by the sports and weather reports through endless commercials.  A positive development, though not great for news ratings.  As I write this, Bill just posted the news that Katie Couric is rumored to be on her way out at CBS.

Some will say "it's just a bandwidth thing!  It happened so fast with the newspaper business because it was text."  While bandwidth is a constraint, even if 100% of the country had a 10MB connection, I don't think it's the same issue as the newspaper business.

Reading the paper is sort of an active pastime.  Watching television is, for most people a passive one.   There's also another factor: people really like watching TV in their living rooms and can't shake the habit.  This may merely be generational, I'm not sure.  I'm pretty far ahead of the technology curve and one way I've been able to consume huge volumes of video content is by watching it on my iPhone. But I know Bill Gorman has zero interest in watching TV that way.  And if I had my first DVR in 1998, he had his by 1999.  He's an early adopter, too.

My brother is not an early adopter, but when I offered him an iPod plugged into a 7" video display so he could catch up on The Wire and Entourage - he was completely uninterested.  I made similar offers to several others who aren't the technology enthusiast I am with similar results.

Since the dawn of time, or at least since the late 1970s people have been on (and off) the bandwagon for  "interactive TV", but most people want passive TV, and I really know very few who want to interact with their content in any regular fashion.  I'm not talking about shopping for cars via the on-demand (though this certainly isn't setting the world on fire, I can see people doing it), I'm talking about people not wanting to interact with CSI and Grey's Anatomy while they're watching it.  They just want to, uh, watch it.

I think TV plus new technology can equal big business.  I know people who send SMS messages to each other while American Idol is on, and certainly the voting process for American Idol is interactive should you wish to interact - which many do.  The Internet plays a role there as well as I'm sure many people are watching the blogs and sending instant messages while shows like Idol are on to discuss it.  But that's probably more of the exception than the rule.

For me, Interactive TV is  while I'm watching a baseball game I can look at ESPN.com and watch other scores, or if I'm using the laptop instead of the iPhone beam over the Oakland A's or another game from my media server in the other room and watch two games at once.  But yeah, mostly Interactive TV is people checking their fantasy league online while watching NFL games, and that doesn't seem to have hurt the NFL's Nielsen ratings very much at all.

Cable networks have hurt the traditional TV model much more than the Internet, and that has  in some ways been staved off by broadcast networks owning cable networks (NBC/Universal for example owns USA, SciFi and Bravo networks, among others).  Compared to the impact the Internet had on the newspaper industry one might argue the Internet has had no real negative impact on television at all.  I suspect that's why you rarely if ever hear any television executives whining about illegal torrent downloads in the way the music industry whines about MP3.  To that end, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) is much more vocal, but they have more at stake. 

I'm talking about the TV business and not the movie business and while it won't surprise me if someone from HBO starts whining about Entourage being everywhere illegally on the Internet someday, for now Showtime seemingly gives away the first couple of episodes of every series as a marketing promotion.  That the first few episodes of Jericho season two "leaked out" early on the Internet was thought by some a deliberate marketing ploy to garner buzz.  Sadly, as we know, Internet buzz does not in any way correlate with Nielsen ratings.

I do believe that Internet TV will grow, with services along the lines of Hulu, and the Adobe media player being useful, and though Bill G. loves it, I'm not really sure about primetimerewind.tv (I'm just kidding about Bill G. loving it...I think).   

IPTV may wind up being a big deal someday, but unless it gets in the living room, and on your bigscreen, it won't be that big of a deal.   

Love it or hate it, TV, with millions of people on their butts watching it, is sticking around for a while.  And even when that evil genius Steve Jobs converts his little hobby, AppleTV into something useful - like a high definition set-top box with a built in DVR and a broadband connection to the Internet, and even when he starts selling HBO and other content a la carte over it - for most people, that box will be in their living rooms, on their big screen with their butts on their couches and recliners.

 
  • http://www.textually.org/tv Emily

    There's a huge market beyond the US, Asia and Europe, who avidly consume US TV series on video sharing sites. For us, watching TV online is the only option.

    As for interactive TV, I think the killer ap will be shopping – during a sports game (for NFL T-shirts, caps) or for the fabulous clothes worn on some of the series (i.e Lipstick Jungle – NBC offers on their official website, clips of an episode with the option to “buy now” what the women are wearing.

  • http://www.textually.org/tv Emily

    There’s a huge market beyond the US, Asia and Europe, who avidly consume US TV series on video sharing sites. For us, watching TV online is the only option.

    As for interactive TV, I think the killer ap will be shopping – during a sports game (for NFL T-shirts, caps) or for the fabulous clothes worn on some of the series (i.e Lipstick Jungle – NBC offers on their official website, clips of an episode with the option to “buy now” what the women are wearing.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I agree! About an hour after I wrote the above, I wrote something showcasing the Internet web site traffic for MiniNova.org, a torrent site providing many (ok, ALL) US TV shows, among other things for download. The web traffic is overwhelmingly outside of the US.

    I've seen those sort of shopping links on cwtv.com as well. It doesn't bother me on the Web, but it would bother me if it took up screen space on the big screen. That doesn't mean they'll care if it bothers me.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I agree! About an hour after I wrote the above, I wrote something showcasing the Internet web site traffic for MiniNova.org, a torrent site providing many (ok, ALL) US TV shows, among other things for download. The web traffic is overwhelmingly outside of the US.

    I’ve seen those sort of shopping links on cwtv.com as well. It doesn’t bother me on the Web, but it would bother me if it took up screen space on the big screen. That doesn’t mean they’ll care if it bothers me.

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