Forgive the apocalyptic headline, but when two columns cross my desk the same day warning broadcast executives to wake up or face extinction, I pay attention. Technology-driven threats to the broadcast business model aren’t new, but these columns suggest a bazillion-channel future is closer than many may think, leaving little time to prepare.
Let’s begin with the Internet-connected TV sets that were all the rage at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. True, there were several competing systems on display, but that doesn’t mean broadcasters should dismiss them, says Arthur Greenwald at TVNewscheck, because those systems could soon converge.
If so, they’ll arrive in one massive wave that could completely disrupt the way people watch TV — and threaten the way broadcasters do business…Today’s smart TVs are precocious toddlers, little more than key word matches within a single program guide. But they’ll soon skip a grade and display much more sophisticated selections.
When a broadcast channel is just one of dozens of icons on the screen, how hard will it be to find? And when promos don’t reach viewers, how hard will it be to sustain expensive programming?
Now, consider the aggressive push by YouTube to launch 100 channels of original, specialty programs available only online. Those channels won’t just be watched on computer screens and tablets. Thanks to connected TVs at set-top boxes, they’ll be watched on big screens, too. So broadcast execs should worry, says consultant Will Richmond.
YouTube – and the many others who are pursuing original online programming – are still in their early days. But when combined with changes in viewer behavior, the proliferation of connected and mobile viewing devices and the firming up of online video monetization models, I’m betting that these efforts, particularly those led by YouTube, are going to be a highly disruptive force to the traditional TV ecosystem.
Broadcasters have been counting on mobile digital TV to change the game in their favor. When users can get high-quality streaming video for free on multiple devices, the thinking goes, they’ll be less interested in paying for “over the top” services that require an Internet connection. But mobile TV has been at the starting gate for a couple of years, while connected TVs and set-top boxes are selling now.
[Update: Just hours after this post was published, The Huffington Post announced plans to launch a live streaming video network this summer, described as “never-ending talk show.”]
What are broadcast executives doing to prepare for this disruptive future?