A generational shift is unfolding in the way we consume content. It’s a fundamental change in consumer behavior that will impact businesses across all industries. Will the inevitable disruption of internet TV be similar to the downslide of print media?

Printing Press

The first wave of commercialization on the Internet had a tremendous impact on our lives and has disrupted most — if not all — industry value chains. The print industry was in the eye of the storm, with decline in readers and advertising budgets forcing many major magazines and newspapers to shut down, while the survivors continue to scramble to deal with the disruption. The primary reasons for the debacle of the print industry were:

  • High fixed cost structures left incumbents unable to match the niche segmentation requirement and accountability benefits of online advertising
  • Professional publishers denied consumers’ appetite for short form and user-generated content
  • High debt loads on the legacy businesses created an inability to cannibalize core revenues

Content was still in demand, of course, but consumers were increasingly turning to blogs and websites for access to on-demand, personalized information. Soon websites from iVillage, WebMD and CNET to the Huffington Post became household names, not to mention lucrative business models and attractive acquisition targets for the likes of AOL.

But print media is only one example of the inevitable generational shift that is unfolding in the way we consume content. It is more than a trend; it is a fundamental change in consumer behavior that will impact businesses across all industries. The next frontier is TV. But will the disruption in the TV world be similar or different than the downslide of print media?

2010 Forrester study showed that for the first time, Americans now spend as much time on the Internet as they do in front of the TV. Is it inevitable that like print media, consumers will turn to the Internet for their TV and video content and eventually drain the profits from TV’s ad-driven business model? According to Pew’s annual State of the Media report, local TV news is still the No. 1 news source for the majority of people, and it still leads in revenues. The Web came in second. While safe for now, the TV industry is on high alert, dragging its feet, but substantially better prepared to protect its turf than its print brethren were.

It is now widely accepted by the major industry stakeholders, content owners, MSOs, CE manufacturers and new startups that the following trends are unavoidable:

  • Consumers will demand linear and on demand, short-form and user generated videos, to be viewed anytime, anywhere and on multiple devices. I believe that companies that build models to meet that demand will win. Those that deny it will go on life support.
  • TV rooms in homes will have multiple screens running simultaneously, presenting a much better form factor to interface with the TV set than the traditional remote control. Most new TV-viewing devices will be Internet connected in 10 years.
  • A substantial percentage of programming will have on demand, time shifted and interactive capabilities. New formats of programming with embedded interactive applications will emerge, and social TV will take off.
  • Advertising will be targeted and personalized, at the individual and household levels, using legacy data from the settop box as well as ongoing rich data being generated every day, unless regulators step in to over restrict that. Smart marketers are already challenging the convention of TV time buying by demanding the same accountability that they are getting in their online buys.

This is going to be a much tougher fight than the last round of disruption, and here’s why:

  • The stakes are enormous. Both in capitalizing on new opportunities (e.g., building high margin, recurring service revenues for the CE manufacturers), as well as protecting legacy lucrative revenues (e.g., CATV subscriptions).
  • Content owners are positioned to benefit. The distribution fight emerging between the MSOs, IPTV service providers and over-the-top newcomers is poised to benefit content owners. While they might facilitate the newcomers’ emergence, make no mistake, they will ultimately require payment for viewing their content. The more competition emerges among the distributors of content, the better the programmers’ negotiating position will be. They also stand to potentially build direct relationships with consumers through the interactive programming features. This will strengthen their position even further, particularly as they start generating direct billing (e.g., the iTunes model). While quality content will continue to be king, its owners are nevertheless worried about piracy and the loss of viewing time to free content. Content owners with the most to lose, however, are those with low ratings and viewers today, heavily relying on the sacred “bundling” distribution structure of the CATV industry. On-demand viewing will severely challenge the bundling model.
  • MSOs are frienemies. The MSOs are everyone’s “friend wannabe” and simultaneously “enemy No. 1.” Today, they hold the key to the house through the coax cable. In addition, they have many weapons in storage, including the historical viewing habits data, the connectivity business that will continue to thrive as the over-the-top vendors grow, and most importantly, the substantial checks they send to the programmers every month. But whereby the old print industry went on the defensive of their legacy business in the 90s, and ultimately lost to consumer preferences, the MSOs are pursuing a dual strategy of protecting their turf while simultaneously aggressively pursuing new opportunities such as buying and owning traditional content (Comcast-NBC) as well as emerging interactive content (Comcast-Daily Candy), using set-top data for targetable advertising, and promoting TV everywhere with tiered pricing. In other words, they are hedging their bets across the board in the event their tight grip is loosened.
  • TV Manufacturers See Opportunity with Embedded Software. TV manufacturers have been fighting low margin business models for decades and finally see an opportunity to build recurring, more profitable business models by bundling Internet services onto the devices. But if the PC industry provides any guidance, one can conclude that this strategy will be very tough to pull off unless they actually decide to own and operate the content and service companies. Contrary to the MSOs, this will be a fundamental culture shock for the CE industry.
  • New Entrants Ignition for the Entire Disruption. These new entrants range from companies (i.) providing the physical bridge between the Internet and the TV set to (ii.) those providing navigation portals, (iii.) to those offering overlay services to enable interactivity, consumption and payment, and  (iv.) to those who will own and provide the content. These include tech giants as well as startups that VCs like me are looking to back. The TV industry is historically known for having an extremely high barrier to entry, but tech giants including Google, Apple and Netflix have positioned themselves to pose real threats to industry incumbents. Netflix, once an unknown upstart, successfully displaced well-known players such as Blockbuster in an already crowded and established market. The company launched in a downturn economy, stayed dormant for some time and then transformed into one of the emerging on-demand media giants. It is a fixture in the mail, online and through mobile channels. Netflix now has as many subscribers in the U.S. as Comcast does.

The question is not if a market disruption is looming. It is. The question is who will lead the charge and end up on top? Will the MSOs be able to innovate and keep consumers tuning in on their terms? Will the digital media houses continue successfully on their transition into the market? Or will smaller players find a way to fill the gap and create the next generation dynasty?

My bet is on companies that will embrace rather than fight the trends, control at least one end of the value chain (content or consumer interface) and build sticky or proprietary assets such as viewing data and recommendation engines, billing or storage of personal content. Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, we’ll all be tuning in (on multiple devices) to find out.

Habib Kairouz is a managing partner of Rho Capital Partners and Rho Ventures as well as a member of the Investment Committees of Rho Canada and Rho Fund Investors.

Image courtesy of Flickr user -Kj.

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  1. IMHO, the bigger question is when will all the players in the various parts of the TV ecosystem acknowledge that “video viewing” can no longer be assumed as a group event — where family or friends cluster around the TV set together. Much of the consumption now is solo viewing, which drives the demand for greater personalization of the experience.

    My point: the industry has been lacking meaningful ethnographic research that highlights the shifts in viewing habits — and therefore no analysis of the impact that the apparent trends are having on legacy assumptions about the traditional business models.

    I don’t believe that the key players can make intelligent decisions about platforms, formats or content priorities until they’re armed with this insight. High-level demographic data and limited user persona profile segmentation simply isn’t enough.

    1. I agree that large corporations need data in order to make long term decisions, but if an anecdotal baseball bat whops you up the side of the head, wouldn’t you think that might get your attention?

      We see how the music industry has imploded, we remember Ken Olsen’s (DEC founder) declaration that no one needed a PC at home and we laugh at Bill Gates’ assertion that 64K was enough for a PC. Are these ‘experts’ that stupid not to recognize the coming tsunami?

      Unlike Fukushima, they have more than 30 minutes warning, but like Fukushima, they will have their world irreparably changed sure as day turns into night.

      Check out my <a href="http://the-asterisk.blogspot.com/2011/09/is-tv-in-for-heck-of-ride.html&quot;.blog post reply to this article.

    2. I believe that group viewing is due a revival. I believe that current networks worldwide have targeted individual groups so heavily in the past twenty years, that viewers have had to splinter.

      Three years ago I identified that there were no shows in prime time anywhere in the world that were aimed at a young family. Where the parents and their young children could all sit and enjoy together. There was childrens programming, adults programming, and “Reality TV” which is mainly adults programming, but sometimes has child friendly content.

      There are no shows like The Muppet Show any longer. Where the parents have more artistic/adult content mixed in with bad jokes and slapstick for the children.

      It is impossible to claim that the audience no longer wants this sort of content, when no one has created it for 20 years. Before the Harry Potter fad, people were claiming that children no longer wanted to read. The problem with their theory was that no one had created written content aimed at tweens in over a decade.

  2. TV Devo is a scam site. You have been promoting this site in the comments sections on many blogs. Please stop.

    1. Mo, Thanks. That account has been spamming/astroturfing for some time. I marked the comment as spam.

    2. Thanks for standing up to the TV Devo Scam artists promotion tactic.

  3. IT is weird to talk about dying industries like print when many newspapers still make a FAR bigger profit than gigaom (and most crappy blogs like you that make nothing in profit.)

    1. The list of successfully pay-walled information sources is short. And any newspaper will tell you what the web has done to their print business. Now Amazon is selling more ebooks than paper ones and tablet consumption is taking off like gangbusters. Of course there will always be a need for proper journalism, paid products and services, physical print material, etc. It just isn’t, and never will be, the same as it used to be.

      And TV is a prime candidate to be next. They hid behind huge infrastructure costs that are just largely unneeded now. The cost of bandwidth for distribution and consumption is always headed downward, and the technology required to produce and distribute is absurdly cheap.

      And I hope they’re right. Few things would be better than to see the old, crap-tastic way that industry works get raised to the ground. No more bundling crap. No more hostage hw charges. No more content subsidizing by the right-holders. Etc. The consumers have gotten the shaft for decades and there’s no reason it can’t change now.

      1. What do you mean the infrastructure costs are “largely unneeded now”?

        The infrastructure required to deliver IPTV at the same level of service is much larger and more expensive than the infrastructure required for broadcast. The base infrastructure requirements are basically similar, but in broadcasting each incremental viewer is free, not so with IPTV.

  4. This is WHY gigaom loses money and why you are not a real writer but a blogger trying to supplement your welfare check…

    NONE of what you claim is “widely accepted” is actually widely accepted. Not even closely.

    1. There’s no call to act like a dick.

    2. Actually.. it IS widely accepted that newspapers and magazines are in a steady decline.

    3. “Widely accepted” isn’t actually relevant: the numbers show newspapers and magazines are in steady decline: subscriber bases are smaller, there are fewer newspapers and magazines in existence, revenue is down as is profitability. A better description would be “widely proven”. The decline of print isn’t about belief, it is about proof and fact. Whether some people “accept it” or not is irrelevant: print media is in trouble.

  5. Comparing the print and video markets is, at least in the context of this post, like comparing apples and oranges. The problems with print (specifically, newspapers and magazines) weren’t the three reasons in the post. Rather, they were:

    1) Print publications put their contents on the web for free, thus undermining the value of their publications,

    2) Services like craigslist undermined the newspapers’ biggest profit generator, classified advertising, and

    3) The Great Recession dramatically slashed display advertising spending in newspapers and magazines; ad spending still hasn’t returned to its pre-2008 level.

    Compare that with television: Most commercial television programming is free (either over-the-air, or included with consumers’ cable, satellite or IPTV subscriptions). So, it’s not the content that costs consumers money–it’s the cost of access to the content, through cable operators, etc., that consumers want to control by going online.

    So, who controls access to the content? The content producers/distributors, such as the television networks and movie studios, ultimately do, but the service providers are by far the producer/distributors biggest customers, and thus can largely dictate who gets access to the content, when, how and at what price. Until an Internet distributor, such as Apple or Netflix, is willing to put so much money into the pockets of producer/distributors that it compensates them for the loss of revenue from the cable, satellite and IPTV service providers, the service providers will control Internet content distribution.

    1. Print publications put their content on the web because they figured it was eyeballs on their websites or no eyeballs at all. The key for both industries is sourcing quality content as cheaply as they can and distributing it in ways people prefer. Print sources are pretty good at this now. TV and content companies are absolutely terrible at it, because they have to be if they’re going to maintain the status quo. Sound familiar?

      You’re absolutely right about the ebay/craigslist/[jobsites]/online advertising bit. The flip side for TV is that ad revenue for eyeballs on interstitial ads is going to go the way of the dodo. It amazes me that people still pay through the nose, primarily for content they don’t want, mediocre selection, through a device they hate, at a time that’s inconvenient, with multiple, long ad breaks during the few short shows they DO watch.

      All I can come up with is that consumers are still learning, and companies are throwing band-aids like DVR’s at them to stave off disaster. In the meantime, the media device makers and all the online content distribution companies are pecking away at better and better offerings. And I don’t know how content creation will be funded in the future… but the current situation is untenable. Maybe direct sales revenue will work, or pay-walled distribution… I don’t know.

      I don’t really understand your 3rd though, as I can’t imagine you meant that, during a recession, TV ads pick up where print ads decline. If anything, I’d say recessions hurt TV companies worse. I know a number of folks who looked at their $100+/mo bills and thought, “uh, I’m effectively paying $16 per episode for the few shows I watch”.

    2. First, let me say that I think that there is a lot of good insight presented in this article. I don’t agree with all of it, but there’s plenty of solid material to chew on (as witnessed by most of these comments).
      Len, I want to respond to your second point about craigslist. From my perspective, the impact of the Internet is all about disintermediation. (I hate the jargony word, but it really describes the situation.) Print on demand, blogs, CD Baby, even Amazon are all run-away examples of how Internet entities have peeled off a small (or large) part of an existing industry. Craigslist has decimated the local newspaper’s classified section because it does it so much better and for so much less.
      And I think that is absolutely relevant to the points made in the article. Hulu and Netflix are eliminating middlemen to deliver more of what consumers want and less of what they don’t. That’s a recipe for success. True, it has not been proven yet that they have a sustainable model and there are many danger points ahead, but traditional TV distribution will ignore the consumer demands at its peril.
      In the future, there will be no “linear programming”. We will have access to what we want to watch, when and where we want to watch it, and the Internet will be the driving force that makes this happen.
      Alfred Poor
      HDTV Almanac

  6. Question: Does Habib Kairou own any shares in companies that will “disrupt” traditional television? Sure seems like something worth mentioning one way or another in an article like this.

  7. Lance T. Paterson Sunday, September 25, 2011

    Just 2c from a guy who works a bit more frontline in assuring delivery…

    It does seem that while the Net does have the access to all the right content these days (well, unless you’re Netflix – their recent moves are an object lesson in how to successfully sabotage your own business model), there’s one rather prosaic issue that could keep this industry change at bay.


    There are still many places in the USA and Europe, let alone developing markets, where local physical infrastructure still does not permit enough speed for regular surfing, let alone internet TV. We’re not talking about the backwoods either: many major metroplexes still suffer from poorly-maintained exchanges and other last-mile problems.

    More to the point, should a more corporately-friendly (ie: Republican) administration decide to change the FCC’s position on Network Neutrality, users could at best find themselves firmly guided towards their provider’s own-brand VoD service. At worst bandwidth fees or blackouts for video delivery could knock out new competitors and put a heavy profit tax on established players.

    I have looked at one or two experimental technologies that could help, including improved compression systems that could cut the amount of bandwidth video uses by a factor of 10. However, until ways can be established that guarantee ALL users get that last-mile delivery as reliably as turning on their TV, there’s still work to do.

  8. “A 2010 Forrester study showed that for the first time, Americans now spend as much time on the Internet as they do in front of the TV.”

    Which means they are just as stupid as ever…..

    1. One of the most sane comments on the blog :-) ROTFL.

  9. Another reason for the debacle of print is that it was too slow in getting information out. The idea of waiting a week to read a “news” magazine is laughable now. Waiting merely 24 hours is now a joke as well.

    [As for Jonatha's rude remark, what rock have you been living under? Newspapers are dying out. The Internet took away their biggest source of revenue (classifed ads ... i.e., Craig's List). Their readership is all gray and literally dying off. And it is only a matter of time before environmentalists start attacking them for being a waste of trees and start burning newspaper dispensers in the middle of the night and boycotting/protesting against businesses that advertise in them.]

    There will ALWAYS be group viewing events. They’re called sports. They can easily make the transition to online TV because they can have commercial breaks since they’re live events. But here’s the kicker: sports team owners don’t need middlemen to do online TV. Sports team owners can distribute their games directly to viewers. Once sports team owners realize they can cut out the middleman (broadcast and cable TV networks), that will be the day online TV really takes off. The sports team owners can stream their games live, sell ads, and produce the whole thing themselves. It only takes the NFL, NBA, or MLB to realize this for them to do the shift. Each league pooling their MASSIVE financial resources to do everything in-house for their league members. Taverns will have NO problem hooking up their TVs to a streaming feed and will love to do so as it will get sports fans that don’t have Internet-connected TVs to come in and see the game on a big screen TV. But that edge for taverns will only last a fleeting moment as sports fans will lead the way of getting online TV streaming onto their home TV sets so they can watch their favorite sports team play. And all the money that the cable and broadcast TV networks pocketed from these sports games will instead go into the sports team owners’ pockets.

    What reality TV is today to the current TV industry, live events will be to the online TV industry. With live events, you can still have commercial breaks. TV news is perfectly designed for this. A live 24/7 online TV news service can operate just like how FNC, CNN, and MSNBC operate today. And they can do this not just with covering live news events but live discussion panels and live interviews.

    I think the biggest problem with online drama is that it isn’t live. It tries to be like current TV in being pre-recorded and I think that is the biggest mistake it is currently making. During TV’s “Golden Age”, a lot of the drama shows were done live. Expect that sort of programming to get a rebirth on online TV. By doing so, dramas once again become group viewing events.

    Lastly, I think it is foolish to think that the current Big Boys of the TV industry will make the transition to becoming the Big Boys of online TV. That’s just not how new industries commonly emerge. If that was the case, IBM would be the biggest sellers of personal computers. Yes, that is how it happened with radio to TV but that’s because both required government-sanctioned monopolies and that gave radio station owners clout to get the limited TV licenses. The internet doesn’t give out monopolies. It destroys them.

  10. I hate watching traditional TV from cable because of all the advertisements and the junk they now scatter across the screen as often as they want. It ruins it for me. I realized that I can rent or buy HD episodes from Amazon or iTunes. The HD quality is about as good as BluRay. There are no commercials or network logos and I don’t have to wait for the whole thing to come out on BluRay. The cost is about the same as buying a whole season on BluRay. If you wait until the TV show has been shown entirely, you can buy a whole season. This may sound expensive, but if you are used to paying about $100 or more a month for cable and you stop getting cable, it isn’t bad. You can still find lots of free stuff online or rent or borrow DVDs.

    1. Mix in a good OTA antenna and you’ve got quite the setup. Critics deride it as a “dog’s breakfast,” but it’s the savvy way to go.

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