As we watch, so to speak, the television industry is undergoing wrenching change. Since it is driven by advertising dollars, the new competition from the Internet was the first agent of change.
But the true upheaval may arrive in the form of home-made content like YouTube. Certainly Google thinks so as it shelled out $1.8B for the barely year-old company a few weeks ago. This is changing not only the way we watch video, but what we want to watch.
Lots of people can now watch themselves on sort-of TV, which is pretty fun in itself. The bonus is that others want to watch them, too. Third-millennium humanity has demonstrated an interest in sifting through millions of pieces of crap produced by total strangers to discover a few gems – some accidentally entertaining ("Boom Goes the Dynamite"), some breakout performances from the previously obscure ("Treadmill Dance"), and some explorations of a new art form crackling with genius (Ze Frank, Ask a Ninja, and the guys behind Loneygirl15.)
Throw in the uploaded TV commercials, such as Nike's Ronaldinho spot showing the Brazilian soccer star miraculously volleying against the crossbar. Add to that some professional content either stolen from or surrendered by Hollywood. Altogether, this stuff constitutes a bottomless reservoir of short-form video content for others to siphon off if they choose. Which they do, millions of times a day, from pages all over the Internet. That's the demand side of the equation – monkey see, monkey use – foreshadowing the future of media, already in progress.
Forget "exploding TV." The name for this thing is Monkeyvision. [More - and be sure to watch the clip of the young sports announcer]
Is this just another advertising wrong turn that will fade as the public moves on to the next hot idea and settles back to watch the NFL again? With every day, fewer observers think so.
TV advertising has been losing its impact for years: McKinsey projects that by 2010 it will be barely one-third as effective as it was in 1990, thanks to rising costs, falling viewership, ever-proliferating ad clutter, and viewers' TiVo-fueled power to zip through commercials. Big national advertisers like General Motors, which has an annual TV ad budget of $2.9 billion – only Procter & Gamble's is bigger – are demanding something different, and the rise of Web video offers just that. Internet advertising of any sort promises powers that marketers have long lusted after: the ability to target people who might actually be interested in what they're selling and to engage those people in conversation. Web video can be as emotionally involving as TV, and when used in consumer-generated campaigns, as crowdsourcing efforts like Chevy's have come to be known, online clips come with a bonus – people see them less as advertising than as peer recommendation, which countless studies have shown to be far more influential. [More]
All of these possibilities are predicated by the widespread availability of broadband. While I am not big on government mandates, we in rural America should at least ask our representatives when and whether we will be allowed to come to this party. A change this big in or communications infrastructure will impact our lives as much if not more than urban America. (Find out what broadband choices you might have here)
Right now it is no large loss, but if the vast majority of Americans begin to choose Internet delivery of video or the two media blend into one, as some cable companies are trying, one more disadvantage to living in rural America will be added to our struggling little towns and isolated rural residents.
Not to mention our increasingly few farms.