Quo vadis television?
The fact that the border between television and the Internet is becoming more and more blurred and the two are now much closer has been visible for some time. The convergence of media happens right before our eyes and televisions only start to learn how to find their place in the new reality that is rapidly changing.
On our home field we can see some spectacular examples of using the Internet for the purpose of legal content distribution more and more frequently as, for instance, (finally!) TVN Player. It is one of the most interesting and significant events on our market. On the other hand, the recent speech of Eric Schmidt, the ex-head of Google, during MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival went virtually unnoticed, even if it demonstrates the direction chosen by one of the greatest technological companies of our times. For the first time during the most prestigious part of the event, MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, the speaker wasn’t the representative of the TV world. This is the place where the most famous TV-related names talk about trends, issues and challenges for the industry. In 1989 it was Rupert Murdoch, today, faced with the group of TV specialists and professionals, it was one of the most influential people from the Internet world. The speech was exceptionally inspiring and encouraging to think about the future of television. What do the changes announced by the speaker mean for the TV market and, finally, what will be their influence on the media consumers?
Schmidt reminded us that everything that we have known about TV so far, will disappear in the near future. The business model that has been functioning for the last few decades will consign to history and we should reconcile with that. Why? Not because these changes are forced by Google or some other technological company but mainly because consumers want it to be that way. They use smartphones more and more often and they explore YouTube. They use this platform to share their own, individually created video clips, and there are more of those than all of such materials ever created by television.
Is the TV industry prepared for this kind of change? It seems that everybody is working hard on it – technologies are developed, all of the stations try to distribute their content on bigger and bigger mount of screens. In Schmidt’s speech there one thread crops up many times, and it is connected not only with technology itself but with values and the attitude towards changes. The ex-head of Google points at a main issue connected with lawmaking, the approach to copyright and privacy posing a question of whether Facebook would be still able to function, if it was constrained by similar limitations which ale well-known from today’s TV. And if the excess of regulations (more and more
troublesome in Poland!) would not force the TV industry to give way to companies which are not constrained by such laws or which intentionally ignore such regulations. In the long run not only innovative solutions, less regulations and the pro-development attitude would result in the creation of new projects that are important for the future of the media. There are two ways in which it can end up – one is that the forefathers in the field (in a way similar to that of the founder of Facebook) will take the risk and they would interpret the questions connected with regulations that are too strict more freely, the second – that the solutions would appear where the regulations are not present.
And we don’t talk about allowing to break copyright or to invade someone’s privacy. It is rather the question of the consumers having the right to decide how much of the music made in Poland they would like to find on the radio or if the want to be “followed” by the mechanisms that can identify their interests and allow to display ads fitting their expectations more precisely. The attempts to limit the freedom of speech, to block various kinds of content or (as it happened somewhere in Germany) forbidding the Facebook “Like it!” are just instances of how various countries try to cope with the new, complex reality. In his speech Eric Schmidt rose various different questions along with the described legal and legislator issues. His speech was, above all a manifestation of strength and – however may it sound like – advantage that the tycoon has over the majority of traditional media on the technology market. What is left to the foregoing media power brokers? Google proposes that they should focus on the fields over which Google itself will never compete about, that is producing high-quality TV content. The rest, according to the Google ex-head, will anyway be taken over by those who will operate rapidly and skillfully as far as providing technologies facilitating content distribution. Today it is Google with another leader, namely YouTube. Tomorrow, there could be other companies, completely unknown to us now – of course if the lawmaking organs wouldn’t put constraints on companies or people who know how to create them.
However we look at the matter, it is difficult to disagree with the main thesis about the direction in which today’s television heads. According to Schmidt it has three paths: mobile, geolocation and social media. And, supposing that geolocation seems to be a strong trend mainly in the US, the latter two are visible in Poland now. So far the reach of such operations doesn’t allow is much weaker than that of TV. But when we look at the data concerning the amount of smartphones send and their decreasing prices, it turns out that in the near future they will gain such popularity as that of TV sets, with the same, or even better, potential. Better, because they will allow to share our thoughts or watching habits regarding kinds of TV content with our friends. Social media are the trend which will lead us to the opportunity to create our ideal, dreamy, individualized TV channels with all the programmes of the kind and content matching our interests, which can be then shared with our friends. Is that vision far from becoming reality? It appears that it isn’t, since social networking and video streaming gain enormous popularity on the Internet.