Sunday, February 03, 2008


Among the marketing buzzwords enjoying their trial run at NATPE last week was the "untethered viewer". It describes the reality that the audience is no longer chained to the "laid back" modality of lounging on the couch to watch television, but has the option to "lean forward" in the posture they adopt at a computer or mobile screen in feeding their entertainment needs.

In marketing terms "laid back" means receptive to whatever flows over you, "lean forward" means you must feel engaged or you'll move on.

So far, nobody has developed any hard and fast rules for when and how to best engage the unthethered viewer. Indeed, it seems that more than ever the audience is shifting from a relationship of habitual viewing to one of individual choice.

In other words, give them whatever you've got, but they'll be the ones who make the final decision. In many ways, that's always been the case. But in the past, networks and advertisers have had much more control over what viewers were offered and encouraged to accept. That may go a long way in explaining how Tony Danza and Jim Belushi have had careers.

And while the powers that be in film and television struggle to figure out how they can survive in this inevitable trade of analog dollars for digital pennies, a new generation of competitors and content providers are arriving on the scene.

Tomorrow will see the official debut of the MySpaceTV network. In Beta for some time, it currently features channels such as "BBC Worldwide", "Transmissions" (a music channel) and even one from Toronto independent Gay filmmaker Bruce La Bruce.

But with the launch, several new and original programs from new and original content providers will arrive, offering channels from Sci-fi to Home Renovation. MySpace original programming like "Quarterlife" and "Roommates" will now compete with several new shows made exclusively for the internet and financed by MySpace or individual sponsors.

A similar jump in online program offerings is arriving at YahooTV, where the current success story is "Real Food". A series originally turned down by the Food network, it now enjoys audience numbers comparable with that TV net's average, while still only being available on YahooTV.

But these household names are not the only new networks out there.

Joost TV continues to enjoy enormous success, particularly in Europe, making new channels and broadcast space available to all comers. AnyTV and TVU continue to expand their slate of terrestrial channels either unavailable in other jurisdictions or only available as part of an expensive local cable or satellite package.

And there are many more launching in the next 3-6 months, all with different levels of revenue sharing and available sponsorship for participating content providers.

Like the "Come to Jesus" moment that email providers had in realizing that they could make more money from facilitating the flow of communication than from controlling it; the online nets know content must be free and easily accessible for them to prosper.

I hope this isn't news to all those recent empire builders at CTV, Rogers and CanWest. But it's now patently obvious that the pre-packaged specialty channel gravy train is pulling into its terminal station. That business model will be dead in two years, if not sooner -- and certainly long before any IOU's to Wall Street investment banks are cleared off the books.

I just don't need a subscription to BBC Canada, HGTV or even TSN to access their content anymore, let alone fork out additional money to pay for it.

As noted in the post below, a simple $200 device that'll be worth half that by next Christmas will bring anything on Yahoo, MySpaceTV or any of these other channels right into my wide-screen, Dolby home theatre with little, if any, loss of quality.

And my "untethered" options are increasing.

At NATPE, I saw mobile phones with the standard two inch screen nobody wants to see anything on except pictures of their sweetie. But push a button and the phone "projects" the mobile broadcast you're receiving (or content you've placed on a smartcard) onto any nearby whitespace up to four feet square. In other words, lay the phone on the bar and watch any game you want on the cocktail waitress's ass if that's your idea of a good time.

And in today's London Times -- email that can be projected directly to a contact lens, readable in standard page format. That guy smiling across the boardroom table at you might be appreciating your latest sales report or just surfing internet porn, who's to know?

To be sure, this new trend back to "free television" will come with a whole new set of Gatekeepers. Advertising Agencies in NY are already encouraging those with innovative show ideas to come to them before pitching to traditional networks. In other words, if your series makes sense to Coca-Cola when it didn't to CBS, there's a chance it'll still get on the air -- or at least find a life online.

As an anecdotal idea of just how revolutionary this shift in advertising focus is becoming, Ogilvy and Mather CEO Shelley Lazarus shares the following story...

They were approached by Six Flags Amusement Parks with a $10 Million print and radio campaign designed to sell 45,000 park passes for the following summer. But the Six Flags people also wanted to find out if it made sense to advertise online. As a test and at no cost to their client because the service is free, O&M listed the passes on Craigslist in five cities and sold all 45,000 in five hours!

Any chance Six Flags will be shelling out for whatever time CITY-TV has available on an upcoming "Star Trek" re-run? Hardly.

Now, there are some who may find this vision of the future unsettling, but I don't believe you should. Those with story ideas that can find an audience will still prosper. Those who have persistently stood between the audience and its entertainment or only doled out what was "good for us" will move on to corner fresh water market futures or whatever other easy money scheme is next.

The rest of us are "untethered" both creatively and as consumers. For while the average dog doesn't mind being on a leash, once off their chain and over the fence, they're the happiest animals you've ever seen.

Bear hug the future. It's gonna be so much fun!

1 comment:

Chris said...

Jim: Excellent insights, and I especially like the positive angle you put on the current (and constantly evolving) digital distrib. realm... never before has indie producers of strong content had such a clear path to an audience, get RID of the middleman (which in the "old" model of typical tv broadcast meant tedious, soul-sucking and creativity sucking relations with producers and broadcasters that HAD to get their fingers into the content)... go straight to target audience. the trick currently is- how to make a penny on that, as an indie creator. if you check out, i have an animated short there, a clay piece, called "Marcel-The Bug Zapper." and in theory (according to the legal agreement i've entered into) there are a number of ways i can make $ for my content. that little character, that short, and the idea of creating MORE in this series, grew specifically out of wanting to distribute digitally. it's designed to function as a small format piece. animation is especially positioned to grow huge with digital distrib- it's fun to watch (potentially), huge eye-candy factor, and can (when done well) "get in and get out" in terms of creating a very tight little package of fun. the question remains- as soon as someone posts this animated film i made on youtube, the world can watch it for free... so what goof would PAY to download it??? i constantly come back to this: why the hell pay for it when you watch it for free? what's an indie filmmaker/animator to do? how to position oneself? exciting times, for sure...

then there's who, when i wrote to find out why i hadn't received any $ for a film they are carrying (search for "magic projector" if you want to see it) i receive ABSOLUTE silence. what kind of business runs like that? simple answer- a digital distribution business, that's who. exciting times, but dangerous too... very few laws, even fewer repercussions for ripping off artists... if revver was SERIOUS about profit sharing, they'd write me back... wouldn't they? sigh.

sorry for ranting about a million things at once, BUT... (ok, end of rant).