Jun 7, 2012

TV 3.0 Summit at the Paley Center

One of the signs of a really good conference is that you actually walk away with the feeling that you've learned something. Which I why I'm glad I went over the Paley Center yesterday for the TV 3.0 Summit sponsored by The Media Council and Broadcasting and Cable.

The TV industry is reeling from all the digital changes. Not necessarily in a bad way, but everything is happening pretty fast and furious and, as Discovery CEO David Zaslav noted in his interview with CNBC's Becky Quick, no one really knows what's coming next.

One of the themes was a recent article by Henry Blodgett proclaiming the death of the television industry. Irwin Gottlieb, Chairman and CEO of WPP's Group M had the most blunt assessment as he told CNN's Erin Burnett, "with all due respect to him... he's totally wrong. One should never do 'sample-of-one' research"

Gottlieb's analysis was spot on: Blodgett's analysis was based on his own NASCAR Blindness. He looked at how he, his family and his peers consumed media and extrapolated that to the general public.

"The average family income in the U.S. is $38,000 a year," Gottlieb reminded Burnett. "We've all been to lunches where the bill was close to that." Punch lines aside, Gottlieb made an excellent point about how the average American has a completely different relationship with technology than the media types who make up most TV insider's inner circles.

This point was echoed by TiVo CEO Tom Rogers and by Zaslav, who noted that in order to avoid the fate imagined by Blodgett, "operators and programmers need to be paranoid, and continue to study all the new data on viewer behavior."

Another issue that kept surfacing was the rapid growth of TV in emerging nations like Brazil, India and China. Gottlieb explained that in India and China, consumers were bypassing both smartphones and TV sets and moving directly to tablets; Zaslav pointed out that Discovery's greatest growth was in Brazil, where early investment ensured that the network now has more than a dozen channels. (Zaslav also noted that Discovery's content was unique and translated well overseas.)

The third issue that speakers and interviewers focused on was the effect of OTT services like Netflix and Amazon. Zaslav explained that in his days as NBC's cable chief, conventional wisdom was that syndicating a show while it was still on-air would hurt ratings. In practice, he found the opposite to be true: syndication drove awareness, which in turn drove tune-in. The same holds true for OTT: Discovery has a deal with OTT services to provide them with content that is at least 18 months old. Given the timeless appeal of many of the broadcaster's properties, (e.g. Animal Planet) viewers often discover the program via Netflix and then go on to watch current episodes as they air.

Quick's interview with TiVo's Thompson was the only disappointment: Thompson danced around a lot of TiVo's early problems, blaming them on cable operators distaste for "broadcasters" (he and other top execs came from the broadcast, rather than cable industry) and not on any realization that consumers wanted simplicity and "free" more than they wanted a very sophisticated UX that many could not be bothered to master. The quintessential moment came when Thompson claimed that the TV was "the most expensive screen in the house," a surprising claim at a time where the $400 HDTV is often the least expensive screen in the house, behind the $600 iPad and $1000 laptop.

In a session more notable for its format (speakers had 5 minutes to give their pitch to Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan who played the role of a VC, and the audience then voted on the best pitch) several social TV apps presented themselves to an audience that seemed unaware of their existence. (An audience member admitted that he never knew Shazam was available for television until then, which gave me my own personal moment of NASCAR Blindness, wondering how a TV exec could have missed all the buzz about Shazam during the Super Bowl.)

Jason Forbes from Zeebox USA rolled out the term "app hospital" to play up how so many apps don't get used, and John West presented an interesting concept called The Whistle, a sports network aimed at kids 6 - 14. If you've ever had to sit through a Cialis commercial with an 8 year old, trying to figure out how what the best distraction would be during the part where they talk about "erections lasting more than 4 hours" so you don't have to field questions about what that meant, you'll understand the genius of that proposition.

And on a final note, the food served after the seminar was really good.

Something else you don't stumble upon very often.

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