Tom Goodwin looks forward to the day when he can go home, say “Curb Your Enthusiasm, season five, the one with the funny bird,” and it’s just going to play.
There’s no deciding which remote to pick up, no wanting to watch a show on a platform you don’t have, no not being able to go back and stream a live cable event that was available for free anyway.
“I’m looking forward to the time when it all unravels,” Goodwin said. “I’m optimistic about getting to a place where all the complexities are removed.”
The future of television is digital and streamlined, according to the LinkedIn power user and executive vice president of innovation at Zenith USA. He develops insights into emerging technology, behaviors and platforms, focusing on unleashing their power to help clients capitalize on new opportunities.
Goodwin will speak at PromaxBDA Europe, taking place March 12-13 in Rome, about where television is heading while sharing new ways to think about content, monetization and growth.
What is Television?
“The concern that TV is dying is not true,” Goodwin said. “The idea of turning on a TV set and watching a 30-minute show at a certain time is dying.”
Not so long ago, society lived in an analog world where every device did one thing and there was no confusion about what that thing was: a radio played radio stations; a CD player played CDs.
“You didn’t turn on the television and print ads would come out of it,” he said.
Yet today, the blending of mediums is now second nature in an ever-growing digital world. Is watching Wimbledon on an iPhone TV? Is streaming a show over the Internet TV?
The short answer is yes.
The constraints that came with traditional television are being lifted. Episodes of Black Mirror, for example, range from 40 minutes, to an hour and 40 minutes; they’re just as long or as short as they need to be to tell the story.
When you realize the definition of TV means some kind of quality video production that’s longer than five minutes but shorter than two hours, “you realize the future of TV is amazing, but it feels quite different,” he says.
And also, “you end up realizing most of the things we worry about in the world of TV are actually distracting.”
‘We Tend to Prefer What’s Easiest’
The emergence of new players—not just streamers such as Netflix or Hulu, but companies with no foundation in television that are creating platforms, such as Facebook Watch and Snapchat Discover—“are probably not as big a threat as we think they are,” according to Goodwin.
“Facebook Watch seems like a side project rather than the future of Facebook,” he said. “Snap hasn’t really invested in the type of content they need to get people to change their behaviors. They remain sort of fringe, really.”
Even emerging technology such as virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and new forms of storytelling such as branching narratives, are exciting but, “I don’t think it’s going to be particularly transformative,” he said.
The technology offers a different form of storytelling from traditional TV, but its not necessarily better.
“I’m not convinced we all want to walk around the world with glasses that project things into our eyes,” he said.
He’s also not convinced everyone is going to run out and buy a VR headset, when they can have a similar experience with their phones. It may not be as good, but it takes less effort.
“We tend to prefer what’s easiest,” he said.
For instance, if you want to buy a piece of name-brand luggage, you don’t care which store it comes from as long as it’s simple to purchase and the right quality.
The same holds true for television. Viewers care about the quality of the show, not what network or channel it’s on. That shift in habit makes financial sense for mergers between major entertainment conglomerates to compete with players such as Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon that are spending millions on original content.
“It’s going to be hard for niche stations to survive,” he said.
Investing in What to Watch, Where to Watch
But the industry has also been full of bundling and unbundling over the years, and despite so much talk about the changing television landscape, it’s not moving all that fast.
Slowly Netflix gets bigger; slowly Amazon dabbles with buying sports rights. But there hasn’t been a paradigm shift.
“The reality is, it’s still quite hard for me to watch most of the shows I want to watch online,” Goodwin said.
So then, what is changing? What’s the next step?
Goodwin says it comes down to navigation: how we choose what to watch. In a digital world, we’ll be able to go to the TV, type in “golf” and see many different shows from many different providers and platforms. We may get “suggested shows” based on our past preferences, or what our friends are talking about on social media at the moment.
When it comes to how networks should move forward, there’s a good reason why ancient Greek tragedies never get old. Television companies need to focus on strong storytelling, while clearing the way for that content to appear in as many places and on as many platforms as possible.
Companies need to be making decisions and securing rights that leave room for a wide range of distribution options down the line, Goodwin said.
“We will end up in a future,” he said, “where this works out much better than it is now.”