TV Is Dead. Long Live TV!

Who says TV is dead? And why are we wasting so much energy lamenting the end of the :30 spot?

Rub your eyes, then take another look. It’s all still there. I’m reminded of the adage, “Every time you close a door, you open a window.”

Fact is, the dead medium formerly known as television is on a time-shifting comeback. It’s coming back in a different form, on a smaller screen, and courtesy of existing new content creators.

Ever true to the lure of branding, I have a brand-spanking new name for this trend, one that I hope will forever endear me to fanatical fans of Elmer Fudd: FweeTV (pronounce: fwE) That’s “free” as in “liberated,” and “we” as in consumer-generated media. Write that down!

Small-Screen Interactions

Two interactions inform my perspective. The first took place two months ago while on a Delta flight from Cincinnati to Los Angeles. The guy next to me was watching what looked suspiciously like TV on this new device called the Sony PSP. The screen was small but surprisingly clear, and the viewer was so engaged, it bordered on rude. I was fascinated and ended up peeping over this guy’s shoulder in observational awe for more than two hours.

The second interaction took place two weeks ago. I gave into temptation and bought the new video iPod. I purchased the lower-cost 30GB version. With minimal hassle, I promptly hot-synched 2,448 songs, over 3,000 photos, and a handful of videos to this device, including an episode of “Desperate Housewives,” U2’s “Original of the Species,” and, of course, the irresistible FatBoy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” featuring dancing madman Christopher Walken.

As with the Sony device, I was stunned by video iPod’ resolution clarity. It’s far better than I ever imagined. I’m almost beginning to feel as if I’ve been let astray by “bigger is better” and “HDTV or bust” propaganda. Small is just fine, thank you.

I’ve since used and tested the video player in just about every context: at the office, at home, on a plane, in a subway, in a taxi, in the bathroom, in my tool room, and beyond. Notwithstanding some missed expectations (once again) on battery life, the concept of MP3 players with a taste of television (a concept already furiously coming to mobile phones) is the real deal. Oh, and did I forget to mention, every head turns when I whip out the device?

Then there’s the “we” part of the TV equation, reflected in the iPod’s capability to integrate my growing film library of iMovies and even those digital-camera-generated :30 QuickTime clips. This is what I’ve often referred to as consumer-generated multimedia (CGM2). I remain convinced this will be the number one marketing story of 2006.

Though synching home movies to the iPod wasn’t nearly as intuitive or simple as paid content, this feature will be a monster hit. As a new parent who already generously posts videos to a parenting blog, you can bet the bebés I’ll be showing hundreds of variations of “Desperate Padres and Madres” everywhere I go.

The Bigger Implications for the Marketing World

Don’t confuse this for an iPod commercial. Apple’s breakthrough, once again, isn’t simply about selling iPods but in cultivating a new cultural mindset around content distribution that will benefit all portable device players. iPods are easing our transition (with real, tangible benefits as bait) to a new, hugely consequential habit change. Barely a month after Apple announced that select ABC shows, such as “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” would be distributed for $1.99 via the iPod, CBS and NBC made a similar announcements for on-demand TV show distribution across a broader venue of content capture devices.

Make no mistake, TV is reinventing itself. I’ve had an almost impossible time putting a lid on the marketing ideas coming out of my head. It’s time for brands, agencies, PR firms, media planners, and others to pull out their whiteboards and brainstorm their futures in this fast-evolving environment.

A few opportunities for marketers to think about:

  • How-to lessons. The portability and convenience of FweeTV will allow us to easily watch (vs. read) instructional guides about how to use or maximize value from products. Regular TV just can’t follow me wherever I go, and most TVs still don’t have DVR “stop-pause” functionalities. Imagine the power of brands that finally make it really easy, with step-by-step directions. This is great for tech products in particular, but even works for things like how to change a diaper. Imagine a whole slew of on-demand videos, such as this.
  • CGM2 programming. As with podcasts, we’re going to see an explosion of CGM2 programming. Brands can play a big role in facilitating this future by encouraging the creation of videos about their brand experiences. Consumers will likely keep them on portable devices as badges of honor, especially if the brand confers some measure of credibility to the advertising.
  • Value-for-value “attention swaps.” Remember the early days of television, when big companies sponsored the content? Smart brands will take steps to subsidize the cost of content downloads via sponsorship, not unlike how Pepsi once gave away 100 million songs via iTunes. Would a top brand pay $1.99 for an hour’s worth of credit in the eyes of a “Desperate Housewives” watcher? Many would, and I predict there will be a feeding frenzy to sponsor or subsidize such shows. Also, would you watch an ad, movie preview, or new show concept in exchange for five free songs of your choosing?
  • Agency creative renaissance. Agencies will face enormous competition from consumers for the creation of the most relevant, interesting content. This will actually help drive a new renaissance in ad creative.
  • Device preload. Some ambitious brands will just outright give away FweeTV devices preloaded with brand- or company-sponsored content. Luxury brands such as Lexus, The Ritz-Carlton, and Infiniti will be among the first to exploit this as a powerful, sustaining, relationship marketing tool.

None of this will be easy, but 2006 will be all about FweeTV, powered by on-demand content and CGM2.

Are you ready for the small screen?

Next: tackling measurement.

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