Television is dead! Long live television!
This, the ancient cry of royal succession, is entirely appropriate to herald what's happening right now—literally before our eyes—to the medium of television. TV has ruled our lives and lifestyles, our news and entertainment, our politics and (through advertising) our economics since network broadcasting began in 1949. And now its sovereignty is over.
"Linear TV has been on an amazing 50-year run, [but] Internet TV is starting to grow," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said earlier this month, in announcing superb earnings for the streaming TV pioneer. "Clearly over the next 20 years, Internet TV is going to replace linear TV."
Far be it for me to disagree. For what are the Digital Content NewFronts but an example of the revolution that is roiling television's half-century hegemony? Well, pssst, buddy, let me let you in on a little secret: The princeling that's replacing television … is television.
Like the British monarchy or any long-lived royal line, TV has proved remarkably resilient and adaptable during its history. From black-and-white to color, from broadcasting to cable, from 15-minute newscasts to 24-hour news networks, from The Beverly Hillbillies to Mad Men, from wait-until-reruns to on-demand, television has been, is and probably will remain a near-perfect evocation of Darwinism, evolving rapidly to meet changes in technology, consumer interests and marketing needs.
True, the changes television is undergoing now are breathtaking, in volume and speed. Prime time has become an anachronism. Today, Emmy-winning, high-quality shows, once the domain only of a specific time and device, are available across multiple devices at any hour of the day. We rarely sit down together as families and friends to watch a TV show after dinner. We watch the programming we love, on our own, several times a day, wherever we happen to be. And that family and friends with whom we hashed it over? That would be our social graph—an ever-present (and ever-growing) real-time feedback loop.
The once-unmatchable power of the 30-second spot is also on the decline. So is the assumption that a bigger screen is always better, and the reliance on audience-size estimates based solely on samples. What we have to do now is identify the new standards that will take television, in its new digital form, into the future.
We need new standards for content discovery. Consumers, as well as media buyers, are navigating so much choice, so much inventory, it's stymieing. Sony's Vue has announced 50 "cable" channels. Dish Network has a "dish-free" network of streaming channels focusing on international. Apple TV has its own lineup. Nearly every program is available on demand through cable providers and online through their own networks' websites. Netflix and Hulu, the original premium content providers, are starting to feel like old friends.
We need new technologies to rely on. Consumers wonder what connected devices to buy—Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast or a new TV?—just as the advertising industry works to develop the technologies required to reach large audiences across these myriad devices and platforms. IAB is leading the charge on advertising interoperability and other standards, having recently applied our video technical standards to mobile, through the Video Addendum to Mraid (mobile rich media ad interface definitions).
And then, of course, there's the advertising. New ad solutions are needed and are on the rise. (Geico has quite creatively signaled the need for new ad formats with its hilarious "unskippable" preroll spot.) Chipotle's The Scarecrow, an animated short with 5 million views in the first week and now 14 million views total, elevated the art and purpose of branded content—and won the IAB MIXX Awards' coveted Best in Show in the process. Meanwhile, Google is pioneering personalized TV ads that account for a person's viewing history and when they're watching the show. But only innovation and time will tell what advertising concepts stick.
Soon, though, new dominant traits will surface. Eras of rapid advancement only last as long as the market can withstand the fragmentation and upheaval. At the fourth annual NewFronts (which kick off today), advertisers have the opportunity to talk directly with media creators to devise the business-building solutions that the video advertising industry will rely on for years to come.
There are a lot of unknowns. But three things are certain: Consumers want access to great content. Brands want to deeply engage with their consumers. And television will no doubt evolve to survive.
Randall Rothenberg is president and CEO of Interactive Advertising Bureau. You can find him on Twitter @r2rothenberg.