The Death of Traditional Television Will Take Longer than the Death of Print

ignitionlogoAnd it’s probably because broadcast is too unaware of its own impending demise …

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget kicked off the IGNITION conference this morning with a stunningly simple PowerPoint slide. Side by side, he showed that the market values of old and new media were roughly equivalent, in the neighborhood of $290 billion – $289 billion for new media and $296 billion for old.

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Television was mainstreamed back in the 1950s, so if you grew up in front of the black-and-white tube, you’re probably too old to give a damn about Twitter’s supposed $4 billion valuation. Newspapers go back even further, and the folks who grew up with no viable alternative are probably dead by now. Yet, in a short amount of time, old media and new are neck and neck … and it looks like there will be winners and losers rather than a rising tide.

The “death of print” isn’t news to anyone at this point, except in North Korea, where it seems to be doing fine [LINK: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-johansmeyer/death-of-print-not-in-nor_b_789784.html]. Though some niche print publications will endure well into the future, the days of the daily newspaper are certainly waning, and large, national magazines have certainly felt the heat, too. Eric Hippeau, CEO of The Huffington Post, told the crowd at IGNITION, “I could never get my 24-year-old daughter to read a newspaper.”

But, what about television?

Later, Silicon Alley Insider writer Dan Frommer popped a slide onto the screen showing that television advertising is a $140 billion business, with online video ads registering barely more than 1 percent of that ($1.5 billion). So, it seems a bit premature to call the death of television.

Of course, there’s more to online media than video ads. And, there’s plenty of bullish buzz out there about the future of online video coming at the expense of the old TV type. Avner Ronen, CEO of Boxee, sees room for online and cable television to coexist, though he suggests the future involves stealing some market share from the television market in a transition that will take a decade.

All of this makes sense … just as it made sense back in 1999, when talking sock puppets graced television screens and companies boasted of “stories” rather than business. I remember more than a decade ago the predictions that your television would become the center of your media universe, with traditional television (along with print) likely to become a casualty.

Yet, nothing seemed happened to television.

The newspaper business has fallen off profoundly, a result of higher production costs and alternatives for advertisers (especially individuals who would normally list in the classifieds). Television, however, hasn’t suffered the same fate. Sure, there’s pressure on this form of media, which isn’t immune to online competition – it just hasn’t risen to the same level as that felt by the print folks.

It’s not that the television sector is doing anything different or revolutionary, frankly. Rather, it’s the user experience that has kept the model going. Couch potatoes aren’t the most dynamic people, and asking them to give up time in front of the tube is certainly a stretch. As long as there’s a contingent willing to sit back and push the buttons on a remote over and over, settling into a quasi-hypnotic state while keeping a media sector alive, television will show some degree of resistance to a newspaper-style demise.

There are signs that the decade-long shift mentioned by Ronen may already be in the works. Jim Lanzone, CEO of Clicker, shared the stage with Ronen at the IGNITION conference today [LINK: http://www.businessinsider.com/ignition/2010] and noted that less than half of people under age 35 use television as their primary way to view TV shows, indicating that there’s a generational change afoot.