Soon after the iPad was released, @bondigeek tweeted from 10,000 feet in the air that he was streaming movies on Netflix through the airline’s in-flight Wi-Fi service. In that moment, it seemed as if science fiction had become reality.
Technology is evolving faster every day, fueling disruption in every industry from music to publishing and now television. The once amorphous future of TV is quickly taking shape, though differently than anyone anticipated.
One thing is certain: Similar to the music industry, the future of TV will see exponentially more content available to consumers, and will be produced, distributed and monetized much differently than in the past. These shifts will create a new playing field with consumers ultimately emerging as the winners. The topic is so far-reaching that I’ll focus here only on the opportunities for marketers.
While the TV stalwarts scramble to make sense of it all, and emerging players like Boxee and Roku cut their slice of the pie, two things are clear: 1) the amount of content we consume will continue to increase and 2) the way we consume it will continue to broaden.
Just a few years ago, there was widespread debate about whether consumers would watch lengthy content on their mobile devices. Now many consumers are downloading full-length movies and TV shows to their smartphones and consuming content on the go.
As more screens and platforms are added to the mix, marketers are perfectly situated to rethink how they engage with consumers and how they enhance the viewing experience instead of interrupt it. This is especially important as the 30-second spot continues to lose relevancy and effectiveness.
The experience of watching TV is already shifting from a lean-back to a lean-forward activity, driven largely by consumers who — while viewing — also surf the Web or text and chat. By harnessing the exploding trends in utility-driven marketing and interactive TV viewing, marketers can give value to consumers, particularly in the areas of commerce and social (e.g., co-viewing and gaming).
TV is not impervious to the ubiquity of social media. Granted, the social TV space is nascent, but brands have begun experimenting with some success. While the most famous example may be last year’s partnership between Facebook Connect and CNN’s Barack Obama’s inauguration, many players are innovating in this space and creating a conduit for viewers to interact during programming.
Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities is occurring during live events. It’s easy to foresee a day when the Oscar red-carpet preview will be sponsored by a brand like L’Oreal, inviting people to comment on and rate fashions in real time. Young viewers enjoy watching TV in the company of friends online and off.
There are ripe opportunities for brands to set the bar in the social space, especially leveraging Web and mobile channels, and platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
MTV, for example, was an early pioneer, investing in platforms like Backchannel, which turn TV watching into a gaming experience. During episodes of MTV’s The Hills, viewers could join chat rooms to write and rate comments. Comments that receive positive ratings accumulate points and the one with the most points wins. We’ll see more brands involved in social interactivity formats like this, including apps like Bazaar Labs’ Miso — an app considered to be the Foursquare for movies and TV — or NBA’s Airplay, which lets viewers play a fantasy-style game in real time with other fans.
Another area gaining momentum is TV commerce. Most of us are already accustomed to surfing the Web while watching TV, whether it’s on our laptops or mobile devices, so it’s an easy leap to understand the impact that television commerce will have on the way we shop. With the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen, we’ll be able to buy products directly from video content. Imagine reserving airline tickets directly from an ad or buying clothes worn by the characters of Gossip Girl within the episode.
Already, the remote control is being converted into a tool for making purchases.
The Home Shopping Network employs Shop by Remote that lets viewers make purchases quickly and easily. This type of utility is redefining the way we currently think of product placement or product integration by creating useful opt-in tools for consumers and a new revenue stream for brands.
On the other side of TV’s transformation, broadcast, Internet and user-generated content will continue to converge. Marketers are equipped to take advantage of this convergence by creating experiences that enhance viewing content without intruding.
With future technological developments coupled with a slew of new players entering the game, brands should keep one thing at the forefront of their minds: Simple is best. Though marketers have the opportunity across devices to expand and deepen the content experience for consumers, the barrier to entry must be low and the ease of use high to entice consumers to engage and interact. Now is the time to innovate and experiment. The space is wide open for the taking.
Bob Greenberg is chairman, CEO and global CCO of R/GA.