Thursday, March 8, 2007

Internet is the future of TV

 A version of this piece was published in Marketing in 2007

I grew up with TV.  Double Deckers, Grange Hill, Banana Splits, TOTP – these were the media franchises we engaged with, and acted out in the playground.  We never gave a thought to what went on behind the screen – the technology of how it was delivered, and we certainly never felt wonder at the brilliance of the innovations that delivered it to us.

But my parents didn’t grow up with TV.  My Dad was 18 when the coronation brought the first TV to their house, and its tiny monochrome screen introduced the family to a new world.  My parents’ generation was there as television developed, and recognised its advances – definition improving, the introduction of colour, live pictures from the moon.

They regarded TV as technology in a way I never did – to me it was just there, and my mates and I watched it.  And now I’m repeating the pattern.

When I look at iPods, instant messenging, Skype, internet video, I see technology.  I work hard to understand its social and business implications, but I have to teach myself to use it.

My children on the other hand have grown up with it.  My son’s frustration that he can’t rewind the TV – his indignation that people schedule programmes at times other than when he wants to sit down and watch – has to be seen to be believed.  He’s grown up with the CBeebies website, and Homechoice video on demand.  He listens to story CDs ripped onto an MP3 player in the car, and DVDs for treats. 

He doesn’t see anything special in any of this.  To him, the technology is transparent, and he knows intuitively how to use it. 

Older kids spend hours at their PCs on messenger – if you ask them what they’re doing, it’s not “using the computer” but “talking to my friends”.  They listen to the radio over the web, and watching TV over the internet on their PC is second nature.

So when the BBC announced a deal with YouTube last week to open three channels on the site it wasn’t just a logical development, it was an essential part of the BBC’s drive into the online platform.

The YouTube deal is billed as a promotional platform for BBC content, with two entertainment channels showing clips of TV programmes and ‘making of’ material, and linking back to the BBC’s websites and other content.  But it’s more than this; the ad-funded news channel launching later this year is a serious commercial venture into a new platform on a global stage.

This is particularly significant when you consider the BBC’s iPlayer platform slated to launch in the autumn, carrying catch-up TV content downloadable to your PC.  The BBC’s ambition for this is to sign other broadcasters to their platform – using the BBC to kick penetration, just as they did with Freeview.

The BBC was the critical success factor in the growth of Freeview.  They brought attractive content, marketing muscle and most importantly a vision to a moribund platform with two previous failed owners. 

Nobody could describe the internet video market as moribund.  But what it lacks in leadership it makes up for in contenders – Google, MSN, Yahoo and more recently, Joost are all jostling for position, knowing that audiences will not typically download more than one software platform to watch TV on their PC. 

There’s likely to be a significant first-mover advantage in this market, and the BBC’s move is the first serious one in this country.  If it can sign other broadcasters and get to market quickly enough, its impact could be felt rapidly as young audiences desert broadcast TV in even greater numbers.  When there’s a real benefit, these software platforms can spread incredibly rapidly – Skype took three years to go from first beta test to 100 million users, and Napster a year to get 40 million.

All of which means, if you’re in the business of targeting young people on TV, you might want to watch this space…