New Media vs. Old: A False Dilemma - Evan Shapiro

By Thought Leaders Archives

False Dilemma: A term of logic, wherein only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there are more choices available.

More and more, I find myself betwixt oppositional forces on the front lines of the media business. New media proponents claim that the only future for the television business is one where all content is available in an on demand environment, untethered from cable bundles; while Big Media traditionalists rail against OTT interlopers, claiming that collaboration with digital programmers is akin to sleeping with the enemy.

Many students in my NYU Television Industry Class equate watching TV, live on an actual television, to using a buggy whip. Many cannot foresee a need for a cable subscription in their future; they're perfectly happy to cobble together television service from various SVOD packages or – gulp – pirate sites like BitTorrent. For sports or major TV events, they go to a bar or visit a friend. I would love to say this view is limited to the young, but after years of economic downturn and rising entertainment costs, this anarchic position is shared across demographic lines.

On the other hand, many in the media industry look at the current programming landscape and see battle lines. They envision the future as a choice between the coalition of Big Media and MVPDs and the Rebel Alliance of SVOD providers and online renegades. Sure, they'll make deals with them, for now, but they see a day of reckoning on the horizon.

Call me naïve, but I find myself taking neither side in this fight. When I think of the future of Television, I do not see an 'Exclusive Or'. I do not believe that TV will not be "one or the other, neither nor both."

Despite slower growth for Pay TV in recent years, there are 94.5 million Pay TV Homes in the United States; and traditional television now accounts for 42% of all advertising in America. The most popular content on OTT sites were all created by linear networks and the cable subscription fees they generate. What's more, TV viewership has never been higher. Yes, it is far more fragmented across genre, time and space, but don't be fooled by the hoopla – Pay TV and Linear networks ain't goin' anywhere.

On the other hand, with increased choice, command and control, the television consumers of tomorrow will most definitely not be satisfied with the status quo. When the College Class of 2016 graduates, they will have a smorgasbord of options available for watching their favorite television shows, and the technology to access them almost at will. Netflix and Hulu are just the beginning. More than a third of all content on Xbox and Playstation are TV shows or movies and Amazon has shown recently that it is serious about the TV business. Simply put, there is truly no use fighting this trend. Consumers want the flexibility these services provide, and these operators now generate serious revenues for programmers – more than replacing the dying DVD market and helping supplement increased creation of more and better content.

Cable Channels – using the fees from Pay TV providers like Comcast, Direct TV, Time Warner and AT&T – have gotten unbelievably good at creating programming for targeted, niche audiences. This has helped create the best, most satisfying content in the history of the medium. And, with TV Everywhere, cable will soon be able to transport that content with their subscribers, wherever they go.

But increased competition means that the traditionalists need to continue to adapt. Let's face it, some consumers will want more… or different than what traditional media can provide. And that's ok too. Choice and control have become the most cherished rights of TV ownership, and they are the heart of the new media model. Big media can emulate them or buy them up, but if the past has taught us anything, it is that there will always be a new disrupter waiting to emerge.

These disrupters satisfy the needs of many consumers… but not all.

Deloitte Technology's Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2012 recently coined the phrase "Choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore." According to Deloitte, in the future some consumers will supplement Pay TV, some will shave to save and some will cut the cord completely. They predict that by 2020, approximately 4-5 million homes will cut the cord completely and 5-6 million will 'shave,' becoming "cord savers." While this is a tenfold increase over current day, it is not the apocalypse many predict.

Generally, I agree with this vision. They show a world in which MVPDs and OTTs coexist – a Pax Scaena, if you will. Despite every new technology thrown at it, TV has never been replaced – it has evolved. Inevitably, the economy will improve; eventually, millenials will mature and replace their throw pillows with actual couches; and, as always, TV will adapt to fit the needs and wants of the consumers it serves.

TV has never been an 'Exclusive Or' medium. Broadcast & Cable; TV & VHS; Live & On Demand; Live & DVR; TV & Internet… TV has found a way to coexist – and thrive – with each and every threat it's ever faced. I see no evidence it will not do the same in the future. If you're looking for the future of TV, embrace the power of AND.

As president of IFC, Evan Shapiro oversees the strategic and creative direction of the network, a distinct cable destination known for its indie perspective on what's worth watching and doing in alternative culture. Named to the position in June 2008, he has had a tremendous impact in strategically evolving the IFC brand in response to the rapidly changing programming delivery technologies and industry trends. Evan can be reached at Esshapiro@ifcsun.com.

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