In my book, Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV (Focal Press; 1st edition, 2006), I spend some quality time explaining why (at some point in the near future) cable operators will need to open up their walled gardens and let their subscribers access files from the public Internet with their set-top boxes. Peter Grant’s article in the June 29 issue of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Cable Takes On Web Video” details the first cracks in the cable company walls. This makes me something of a successful soothsayer–though that is not my full-time job.
Both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are working quickly to deal with the reality of Web-based broadband content providers. Their solutions don’t go quite as far as one would ultimately predict, but the future path is fairly obvious. Within a short period of time, people will be able to watch content from the Internet in a convenient, emotionally satisfying, “lean-backward” way. This is opposed to the “download it to something, burn it to something or route it somewhere and watch it on your computer at your desk (or on your TV if you’ve spent the time and energy to set up a media center PC and an A/B switch)” mode. Sure you can do it now, but most people can’t. And, truth be told, even the people who can won’t bother very often; it’s just too time-consuming.
However, if all I had to do was search and click with my remote, I would be very happy to watch my Google Video shows or YouTube clips on my TV set. In fact, this is where I would prefer to watch them.
There are some pesky little problems to deal with, though. How one monetizes a video download or video stream is truly unclear. Remember, creating value and creating wealth are two totally different things. There’s lots of value in the video one might find on the Web. Value, after all, is in the mind of the viewer. However, there is not much wealth that one can access from these very same videos. What people will watch is different from what people will pay to watch. And, as we have said a hundred times before, no one knows what anyone’s tolerance for on-demand advertising is.
So here we are, faced with the future as I have posited that it would be. But, we are no closer to understanding who gets paid or how; what people will watch or how they will find it–and, most importantly, if anybody cares.
I think that we are now firmly in the middle of the transition from network to networked TV and, to that end, we are seeing a very special kind of transition creative. Short clips that people program for themselves are required by the current distribution systems. As soon as the cable industry truly opens up its walled gardens, helps consumers find what they want to watch from the vast Long Tail, and delivers the experience leaning-backward, we are going to see a great deal of this interim content disappear. Before this transition began, short films had trouble finding audience–and so it will be again. Expect to see long format content front and center after this technological transition. It really can’t go any other way. And, expect to see the Internet coming to you in living color right from your set-top box in the very near future.