What I Saw at the Internet Revolution

In an effort to gather everyone for dinner the other night, I informed my three-year-old daughter, Ava, I was going to turn off the (non-TiVo-enabled) TV she was watching.

“Why can’t you pause it?” she whined, clearly upset she would miss the end of the show. I smiled my “Well, kid, in my day” smile and hustled her off to the table.

But I got to thinking. Ava’s generation has never known when TV couldn’t be paused one way or another. Whether through a DVR or on-demand technology, the idea of a non-pausable (or fast-forwardable or time-shifted) TV will be as quaint a memory to them as black-and-white TVs are to us Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers.

So I had to shake my head in amusement when I read the news this week that ABC, ESPN, and Cox Communications have agreed to disable the fast-forward option on their VOD (define) channels. It’s stupid. Really stupid. Earth to broadcasters! You’ve lost. Get over it!

You’re done. You’re toast. Your whole business model is already dead. The corpse just doesn’t yet smell bad enough for you to flee the room. Like the music and film industries, and all others based on controlling the means of distribution, you’re history. Technology has marched on while you stood at the gates fighting the last doomed battle.

Sound harsh? Perhaps, but the truth always stings a little. Take a look around. Three year olds who assume they should be able to pause live TV get it. Kids who check TiVo and network Web sites for video clips of shows they’re not old enough to stay up for get it. Kids who turn to the Web first when the want to find out what’s cool get it. Adults who turn to the Internet as their primary source of product information get it. The 84 percent of consumers who watch streaming video get it. And all of us who have made the Internet the number-one daytime medium and number-two home medium get it.

“Oh!” you say. “But that’s the Internet. People are still watching TV.”

They are, but not the way they once did. We’ve moved beyond the land of four broadcast channels (which, according to a 2006 Burst Media study, only 25 percent of us can even name anymore) to an ever-expanding media landscape of hundreds of channels.

We’ve got DVRs in ever-increasing numbers. Over half of cable subscribers used VOD in 2006, up 41 percent from 2005. More and more services are bridging the gap between the Internet and TV, such as Xbox Live and Apple TV’s link to iTunes video. And though most of the video being watched on the Internet right now is pretty short, recent information indicates people are warming up to longer-form video.

I’m not saying people don’t want to watch the kind of programming we’re used to on TV, or that TV spots can’t be effective. What I’m saying (and Ava was implying) is people won’t go back to a world in which they don’t have total control over their media experiences, a world in which commercials are crammed down their throats. Now they have choices we didn’t have in the pre-Web, pre-digital-video era. Attempts to take away those choices are doomed to fail.

“But can’t monopolistic cable companies like Cox decide to take that control away from us because it’s bad for advertisers?” you may ask. No way. They may think they can — and they may even do it for a while — but they’ll fail because broadband has created a channel for programming that they can’t control.

New services such as white-hot Joost can basically bypass the cable companies by delivering enhanced (and somewhat advertiser- and consumer-friendly) programming over the Web. Others are sure to follow.

What’s an advertiser to do? If you’re like a lot of older creative directors and account people I know, you can cry into your expense-account Bordeaux and whine about the good old days.

Or you can wake up. It’s time to develop new thinking and new paradigms for advertising that takes advantage of consumer control with enhanced content, long-form product information, links to the Web, attention rewards, and commercials that are even entertaining or useful enough to watch.

What a concept.

The revolution is over. The consumer is in control. Get over it, people.

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