While speaking at IGNITION 2011 just ahead of the holiday season, Mark Cuban offered some interesting thoughts on the future of TV. His main thesis? Television, as we know it, will never be replaced by online video. Or, as Mr. Cuban put it, “the future of TV is... TV.”
Given his role as founder of HDNet, it’s not surprising that Cuban is partial to linear viewing and live TV. Television—which he describes as “the best alternative to boredom”—is all about what happens in the living room. People want to plop down on the couch, grab the remote and be entertained. For this, Cuban argues, TV will remain forever king.
Here’s the thing: we don’t disagree. We’d be the first to assert that people will always want a lean back experience. And only a fool would doubt that television is an immensely powerful tool for attracting large, live audiences (another one of Cuban’s pro-TV arguments). But there are a few places in the interview where Cuban plainly overlooks the ways in which online video will make TV better than ever before. Here’s a quick review:
Mark Cuban on the time value of consumption...
Cuban says he favors TV over online video because “there is a time value to consumption.” Seven million views over a 30-minute window during a live event broadcast on TV is more compelling, he argues, than 7 million views that accrue over a month for an online video. “The value of that [live TV] consumption is higher,” Cuban said.
Fair enough. But it’s important to note that live online video events can—and will—attract large audiences, too. The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, for instance, attracted about 3 million online viewers—without breaking the Internet. These audiences will continue to grow. And with Web-based delivery of video, programmers have instant access to a global audience.
What’s more, online video enables content providers to engage with viewers in new ways. Viewers can vote, share and comment in real time. The future of live TV is much more than unclickable hashtag banners on the TV screen during “American Idol.” Cuban must know that online video technologies can help TV deliver a richer, more engaging viewing experience, especially for live events.
On content discovery...
Cuban argues "[t]here is no chance ... that online video is going to replace it [TV] because the discovery process is too much work." At present, we agree. There is an inordinate amount of online video content, including movies, shows, video lessons and (yes) clips of cats wearing hats. Viewers have an unprecedented level of choice, but the process of sorting through those choices at present remains daunting.
However, online video technologies (like Ooyala’s) also offer an unprecedented level of insight into viewer behavior and preferences. From the kind of shows you like to watch, to the devices you normally watch them on, to what your friends are watching, online video analytics hold enormous promise for solving the content discovery challenges at the individual level. It’s TV, personalized.
Imagine a future where data-driven analytics and social electronic programming guides (EPGs) recommend content that’s tailored for particular viewer tastes. Viewers will have a one-to-one relationship with their favorite TV content online, rather than the one-to-many dynamic present in traditional television. More than a movement from broadcasting to narrow-casting, online TV is more like micro-casting.
And while TV is still the “best alternative to being bored,” online media is making great strides in the fight against boredom—both in the living room and beyond. Tablets are taking lean back video to new places: the train, the kitchen table, the passenger seat. And viewers are finding that a seamless TV experience across devices is much more fulfilling than one constrained to a single screen.
So, yes, we agree with Mark Cuban. Viewers want a good lean back experience. But rather than thinking “TV or online video,” we tend to think of “TV and online video.” That’s why we’re constantly dreaming up ways online video technologies—like custom analytics, content recommendation algorithms and Social TV experiences—can improve traditional TV, not replace it.
At the end of the day, after all, we all want to be entertained.