Digital Working Hard to Become Television

By In Terms of ROI Archives
Cover image for  article: Digital Working Hard to Become Television

Way back in the Mad Men days when I was a pup, I differed from my colleagues in my degree of curiosity about how all this was going to change. I could see the roots of massive change in the experiments with cable and satellite, and the online services then purely an infant BTB medium. In 1972 HBO was in operation, preceded by Bob Block's earlier similar service in Los Angeles. By 1976 Turner went up on the bird and I was consulting for QUBE, one of the earliest set top box data and interactive TV plays. Fast forward to now.

The one blind spot that I had during all that time – which is now looking like a sighted spot – is that I always assumed video was going to forever from then on be the most popular and powerful form of the program, ad, and message content, no matter how it got distributed. During the early days of digital display, I tried to be helpful but never expected digital print to be the superpower that it has become in its own right. Good for it and for the fine journalism it still leads.

Yet today it is coming out the way I expected all along. The ad and eCom dollars (and an ever-increasing proportion of social) are sloshing back into the sight-sound-motion-emotion classy medium of video – and today the hottest forms are Addressable. Especially the ones that are easy to buy ("programmatic") – OTT and CTV. In the prior article I reported that Comcast, Dish, and many other MVPDs and networks are now working out how to make MVPD Addressable easier to buy at vast scale.

This is indeed a watershed moment for the future of television and its inevitable new designation as video. Today, we all think of it as television if it comes off of the TV networks (in some rarer cases the stations), and think of it as video if it involves funny cats, or just about any subject that creativity can make interesting for substantial groups of people, yet the slick Hollywood veneer is absent. As McLuhan pointed out, that veneer itself is what people want, more so than the infinite modulations in which it manifests.

Another more historical showbiz way of saying it is that showmanship and showomanship is what the public wants.

Why is that? Aristotle identified the six elements of great theater: Character, Theme, Plot, Setting, Spectacle, and Dialogue (including music which at the time was largely voice). Although in a nominal way all of these things pertain to a cat video (which may have captions and/or music or even sound), the implementation of the six elements is executed at a level that serves well to provide laughter, fascination, surprise for a few minutes, and allows cat lovers to kvell (Yiddish term for satisfaction and pride in the accomplishments of one's loved ones).

However, the awe-inspiring aspects of great drama, comedy, performance, athletics, music, art, "his and her story" is what the human race most highly prizes in the sphere of entertainment. Until television, you had to go out of the home and pay goodly sums of money to enjoy these things. This is the greatness of television, all too easy to take for granted so many years after it became part of the backbone of our lives.

Now that television has been invaded by digital, digital is working hard to become television as fast as it can, knowing the truth of my words above. In the long term, YouTube will be a place to go for television, long-form television 30 minutes and longer, with a minority of its usage the short-forms it's known for today. My humble prediction.

Next week, I will simplify the complexity of advanced TV.

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