In the broad curve of technological change, the music industry has, for better and for worse, always been a few years ahead of the television industry. And while the very different business models between the two industries translates to very different disruption models, if you want to see where the future of television will net out, you need to look no further than Spotify.
Spotify provides the answer to the question as to how we’re going to be watching TV: will everything be on demand, with viewers sifting through a huge catalog of shows to find something to watch that night. Or will there still be linear TV, where all the viewer is required to do is hit the “on” button and sink back on the couch.
The answer, judging from the success of Spotify and similar services, is both.
Spotify works because it solves all of the various use case scenarios its audience might have.
If you feel like listening to a specific song, Spotify lets you do that, even providing alternate and cover versions.
Feel like listening to a playlist you’ve made yourself, the latter-day version of the mixtape? You can do that too.
Have a friend with really great taste in music and want to listen to their playlists? All you need to do is subscribe— the latter day version of the gifted mixtape.
And finally, if you just want someone else to take over the controls, Spotify provides a variety of curated “radio stations” either through the app or via third party providers like SoundCloud and Rolling Stone.
How does this translate for television?
So if we look at how this plays out in television, we’ll soon see a very similar array of options.
1. Video on Demand (VoD)
If there’s a particular show or movie you want to watch, you’ll be able to do a quick search and call it up. This will also allow for binge viewing, as you’ll be able to watch an entire season at once or just the 4 episodes that you missed. VOD viewing can be a quick half hour surgical strike, or a long evening of catch-up— whatever suits your mood.
Viewers will have their own playlists of TV series they are in the midst of watching, movies they’ve flagged for future viewing and/or repeats of their favorite shows. These will function like music playlists - one show plays right after the next, so there’s no need to go back to the program guide after every episode.
3. Curated Playlists
These can be from friends or from professional curators and may be around a specific topic: best crime dramas, best of CSI, best of 90s sitcoms— the possibilities are endless. Viewers can watch the entire playlist at once or just work their way through the list one at a time.
4. Linear Stations
These will function similar to the “radio” stations on music services today and will in large part be curated by today’s cable and broadcast networks. They will have original, first-run content that’s aired at a specific day and time. Users will be able to personalize them by, say, emphasizing certain types of content (e.g. comedies), but some version of prime time will remain in effect because there’s still a lot of love for a shared communal live viewing experience beyond just news and sports.
5. Personalized Linear Stations
These will be the oft-cited “Pandora for TV” - the viewer inputs some of the shows or types of shows they like and an algorithm puts together a personalized linear station for them, a combination of live broadcast, VoD and non-broadcast video from alternative providers. Users will be able to set up linear stations for short-form content, long-form content or both.
6. Personalized Accounts
While Spotify’s pay service is still in its nascency, we can see the outlines of how a system works where users are charged according to the number of devices they wish to access and the number of individual users they want on each account. This is the wave of the future and while it may not result in any significant financial savings for consumers, it will (finally) enable the roll out of true TV Everywhere.
As with the current music services, how you watch will vary depending on your mood, your time commitment. even your personality. There are people who love the randomness of Pandora, others who want to control their entire listening experience and every variation in between. TV will work the same way and truth is, many of us are already watching it this way: bingeing on series via VOD or streaming services like Amazon, watching live sporting events or NBC’s Thursday night line-up, supplementing our pay TV subscriptions with Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services.
Personalization and Monetization
Personalization will be the buzzword as everyone will have their own TV service that travels with them no matter what device they’re watching on. Though here again, there may be playlists or stations viewers associate with their mobile phones or tablets, given the environment they’re in when they watch on their phone (out of home, on a train, etc.) Recommendations will be key in this new world too, as viewers are looking for new shows to add to existing playlists, new playlists to add to their rotation and new shows on linear channels that become “appointment TV” for them.
Monetization will be key to enabling this new world and the solution is likely to come in two forms: (a) dynamically inserted ad units that run using algorithms that take into account time of day, location, what show is being watched and the user’s prior behavior and (b) straight-up fees which will enable a viewer to watch an entire series without commercial interruption or to access special super-premium content that’s above and beyond the usual fare.
The operators who run these multi-platform systems will differentiate themselves the same way the music services currently do: variations in the interface and user experience. To wit, the hand-curated playlists on the Beat Music service is something that could easily be adapted to television and give whoever offered them a competitive advantage.
The future of television isn’t far off, but unlike the music industry, it’s not going to change overnight. There are too many legal restrictions, too many complicated rights issues, too much legacy equipment in the field to see the sort of rapid metamorphosis we’ve seen in other media industries.
It will change though and the challenge now is to actually build it.