Whoops

For the last 5 days I\’ve been in Banff (Canada) at the nextMEDIA festival – an event for “New Media” practitioners and those would would like to be.

This event very deliberately intersects with the beginning of the Banff TV Festival, one of the world\’s largest television festivals, where producers get together with distributors and strike deals,

Almost everybody I spoke to was very generous with their time and experience, and it\’s been exciting to be here.

However, last night I had a fascinating run-in with two representatives of a major US cable TV provider. We were getting along famously, chatting about the various people they know and introductions we should make. And then I said one stupid thing and everything came to a screeching halt.

I had already mentioned that I\’m making content for the online world, and that this content would be free to download. “How are you going to get an audience?” they asked. “Oh, well I\’m just going to SEO the thing, talk to various communities that may form the audience for it. It won\’t cost much to make so even a moderate but highly engaged audience would be fine.”

them: “Oh, really.”

me: “Yeah.”

them: “So, you don\’t watch TV?”

me: “Not really, I mostly get my entertainment from gaming or the Internet. And some DVDs”

them: “Oh, DVDs are dying! Forget about it! And as for the Internet, ha! There\’s no revenue model.”

me: “Doesn\’t matter. Internet will replace most TV, eventually. It kind-of has to. It does everything that TV does but better.”

At this point, I realised I\’d stepped in it completely. I tried to back track but couldn\’t.

them: “So how long do you think TV has left?”

I could have said 20 years. I could have said “Oh, it\’ll be around forever in some form or other” (which is my actual opinion, and would have sufficed perfectly). I could even have said “TV will win, the Internet sucks, there will be bandwidth gridlock”.

But no. I said:

“Oh, I give it five years”.

KA-BOOOOOM.

Now before my eyes they danced through every excuse the TV industry makes for its own relevance and unique benefits. I did my best to keep up but I realised quickly it was a lost cause.

“You\’re the fringe, you\’re an outlier, you don\’t count!”

(well, I can only speak from anecdotal evidence as I don\’t run a cable company, but literally none of my friends watch television – they play games and download stuff from the internet. And eventually this generation will grow up and become mainstream consumers.)

“People WANT to sit on their couches and watch TV – most people don\’t want choice, they want to be fat, stupid and happy”

(putting aside how condescending and unrealistic this is, and the fact that until now people have had few other entertainment options, there\’s no reason why an internet-connected device can\’t provide this kind of experience)

“Do you have kids? You won\’t get it until you have kids. Then you\’ll watch a whole lot of TV.”

(This struck me as bizarre, frankly. if I have kids I\’ll probably watch even less TV than I do now – because I\’ll be interacting with my family. My own family barely watched TV growing up, maybe half an hour a day. I spent most of my time drawing, painting, riding my bike, playing soccer or programming my Commodore 64. My parents spent their time fixing the house, shopping, playing music or sports. There\’s nothing about having a family that requires you to watch TV instead of use the Internet or do anything else.)

“The cable industry pours $22 billion per year into making content. Where is that money going to come from now? Who is going to pay for that?”

(well, maybe the money won\’t come from anywhere and those people will be out of work, which sucks but it\’s happened before. But I suspect consumers will be happy to pay just as much to be entertained, it just won\’t get taxed by distribution agents like cable companies. Which means even more great content than before!)

“You can\’t make cheap content – what about the Unions? It costs $2 million per episode to make {X}”

(well, I\’m sorry but you\’re still competing with local theater companies, kids on YouTube, parents filming local sports. The quality of these might suck right now, but they have improved dramatically and will continue to do so. These people aren\’t members of the union. They\’re just making great content their friends will care about. And hey, hopefully they\’ll get paid if it\’s good enough too!)

And so on and so on. Argument, counter-argument. But the fact is, they now simply hated me.

An ironic aspect to all of this is that I really really want to help content creators keep getting paid well for making great content. And I want to create Internet alternatives to cable and terrestrial broadcast that enable those experiences to transition as painlessly as possible to the online world.

Yes, I\’m naive. In fact, I\’m happy to be wrong. I just wish I could have these debates without people exploding. I\’m not here to destroy your industry!


Afterthought:

I was told by a friend the other day that before the invention of the printing press it used to cost something like a million dollars to buy one copy of the bible. There was a whole industry around it too – churches with their bible bolted to the rostrum, the holy manuscript revered for its rarity and value as much as the content. Monks holed up in mountaintop monasteries spending years delicately painting illuminated manuscripts. It was one of the few books that existed at all, and few could read it. When the printing press came along, I\’m sure it really sucked for the monks who wrote Bibles for a living, and probably even made life somewhat difficult for priests who wanted to be the only people you could come to for Bible-related information. But I think that few would argue that the printing press has been, overall, a bad thing.

It certainly created more industries than it destroyed.

2 Replies to “Whoops”

  1. TV people have probably had this conversation a bunch of times, and they have been defending their media against the internet for a decade now – but don’t mistake TV for a dead place. There’s a lot happening on TV these days, and the fact that it’s popular shouldn’t, by itself, prove that it’s all low-quality / evil / damaging.

    I watch TV. (Zuzannah does too). In a lot of ways it meets a lot my entertainment needs. If you combine it with DVDs and the internet/gaming you can get perfectly good blob-time from it. There’s a lot to like on TV (also a lot to dislike), and don’t assume that just because something is popular that it’s necessarily shit. I do actually like watching Biggest Loser. You might not. I do. (I am however hanging out for a PVR, so I can pick and choose a bit better…)

    I think you were lucky to have active parents – and lucky to live in a place surrounded by other active parents (ie the tennis club actually had members) – and lucky to live in places where activity is simple. For the increasing number of people living in apartments and houses without backyards it can be incredibly hard to provide ANYTHING for kids to do.

    Personally I would love to disconnect our telly, because I know that we would survive just fine without it. As a parent I can tell you the TV is sometimes a life-saver. The phrase “Just… FUCK off, Daddy’s hungover.” isn’t terribly PC, so much as “Why don’t you see if there’s a cartoon on?”

    As far as the internet taking over the telly I think that won’t happen. You’re mistaking the populace we have for one that wants to have an input into their own entertainment. They don’t want to take responsibility (certainly this happens to me. Sometimes I just want to zone out). The only way that the internet could seriously start to impact on TV is if there came along a massive everywhere-everything-always-already type of thing (eg YouTube but not shit) that ticked all the right boxes for ease-of-entry and just-enough-reward.

    TV is perfect for that. All you gotta do is push the button. Maybe push the button another couple times to find a better show. Then sit. After 10 minutes of a 30 minute show you’ll be engaged at least enough that you won’t feel the urge to look away. That’s what TV does so well – and the internet barely does that. Or rather, there’s a couple of sites: fmylife.com, failblog.com, facebook.com, the newspaper… maybe youtube for a while… then that’s it. After that you have to use your imagination. And imagination is expensive compared to Push The Button.

    It occurs to me that DVDs are very close to being that easy-entry medium that replaces telly for a lot of people. Instead of waiting months for your five shows to have their season finished, you just watch all of Dexter, then all of House, then all of Lost In Austen. Currently me and Beth have restarted Buffy (and, yes, it is still awesome). All you have to do with a DVD is put it in the machine and hit ‘go’. There’s a cost to DVDs, but for a lot of people it’s worth it.

    —-

    I think the big mistake these TV guys were making was believing, just like a unionist, that they have a Right to a revenue stream just because they HAVE a revenue stream. Sure, they have a Right to be treated properly… but… buggy whips. The plain fact of the matter is that there is another medium coming along which consumes some of their demand. Adapt. Or get fucked. But choose.

  2. FIBER TO THE HOME BIZNATCHES!

    Seriously though, I think you ARE fringe in a lot of ways. As are most of your friends. Your upbringing was a fortunate accident.

    It’s always interesting when you come across these people who take on the values of their employer as personal values an can’t separate between what’s rationally correct and what’s best for their companies.

    I’ve never had it myself, but I’ve known intelligent friends, who fully understood the evil that all banks are, get a job at a bank, and then within a year it’s all “you deserve to pay that extra charge because you didn’t read the 1200 page product disclosure. Buyer beware jackass”