TV OF TOMORROW 2017:  What TV Viewers Need To Know About How Technology Is Making Content More Accessible and Profitable

Hosted at the Golden Gate Club in San Francisco on June 28th and 29th, the annual TV Of Tomorrow (TVOT) conference presented 35 panels over its two-day event.  [Link:]  TVOT turned the spotlight on the state of the TV industry and its intersection points with developing technology/software, commercial advertising, monetization, and consumer demands.  TVOT is one of the smallest and most exclusive events offering direct access to companies who are controlling the future of online content. 

Whether it is watching TV shows or YouTube videos, all online content is only accessible and viewable through the established tech pipelines.  The days of watching content on traditional cable or via satellite are dwindling as the modern viewer is using alternative ways to access content — whether that is by smart phone, tablets, smart TV’s, OTT (over-the-top boxes), or any device that can display an image (e.g. smart watches, Google glasses, car/airplane displays, video game consoles or even gas station pumps).  Hollywood may create content, but accessing that content is controlled by the tech world — and who profits from sharing and displaying that content has become a $100 billion industry. 

Hollywood studios get advertising dollars and licensing money for their shows, but the tech world is simultaneously securing billions of dollars by providing the devices and software used to watch or access that content.

In addition, the advertising world is no longer limited to just buying 30-second commercial ad slots during broadcasts anymore; instead, the advertising industry has found lucrative ways to embed their products into shows and create ancillary markets to siphon-off revenue, which ranges from sponsoring TV shows to providing TV show-related or themed products, or purchasing/acquiring viewer data to use or sell to companies looking to target specific audiences for products and services.

Accumulation of consumer data (viewing habits and how it influences buying behavior) is big business.  Advertisers are no longer guessing at how buying a 30-second ad will influence consumers buying its products. Advertisers can now see a direct correlation of a person watching an advertisement and then purchasing that item — all by tracking the consumer’s exposure to an ad either by broadcast or online viewing.  While there is still some uncertainty in broadcast data and correlation to buying habits, online exposure to advertising is immediately trackable.  Each computer, phone, tablet, smart TV or OTT device provides real-time data about what a person is watching or doing online and where they go next to purchase or search for a product or service.  So advertisers and companies are eagerly buying/acquiring data from every source they can get — even better, the advertiser can control the environment in which a consumer is accessing content.  Thus, advertising and marketing companies are investing in and utilizing the technology and software used to watch TV shows and access content online. 

Every TV viewer and online consumer needs to know that it is not just about 30-second commercials and print ads anymore.  Every second they are watching a video or TV show creates data (information) about that person that can be used to manipulate or persuade a person to buy a product or use a service.  An example would be the character of Don Draper from the AMC drama series MAD MEN. In the show’s final episode, viewers saw Don Draper coming up with a classic Coca-Cola ad campaign.  But imagine if Don Draper had access to information regarding consumers who were within a specific age range, ethnic background and geographic location.  He could then use targeted-ads with actors that fit that a specific profile by age, gender, ethnic background and then have that actor seen in a specific city or town that is most similar to a specific type of consumer to increase the likelihood of that kind of viewer buying Coca-Cola after seeing the commercial ad.  Targeted-advertising to a specific audience is worth more than gold — it can lead to hundreds of millions, if not billions, of product revenue.  With that kind of data, Don Draper would not have just created a popular slogan to sell a product, he would have ensured that ad reached the targeted-audience yielding a higher profit for his client. 

The TV of Tomorrow (TVOT) conference provided a unique opportunity to find out what technology and software programs are being created and utilized to guarantee the maximum number of eyeballs receive content and specific targeted-advertising, while simultaneously siphoning data on the consumer who is watching or interacting with content.  Nothing you do is invisible anymore.  Someone out there is always watching and collecting data about you.  It is not the government that is watching and collecting data; it is the companies looking to exploit consumer data for corporate sales and bottom-lines.

The 35 panels hosted at the TVOT conference this year included: 

“How to Mobilize a Content Team”
“The Future of Video Advertising”
“Set-Top Box Data: What Have You Done With It Lately?”
“The Measure of All Things: Understanding the Evolution of TV Measurement”
“Audience-Based Buying and Measurement”
“Moving Pictures: Speeding to the Intersection of Future Mobility and Video”
“Blockchain Technology for Programmatic OTT Advertising”
“The Death of the Remote and Rise of the Conversational UI (User Interface)”
“Navigating the New Distribution Environment”
“AR2: Augmented Reality and Augmented Revenue”
“Keynote with Jennifer Dorian, Turner Broadcasting”
“Keynote with Chris Ripley, Sinclair Broadcast Group”
“Keynote with Aaron Radin, NBCU”
“Keynote with Rikard Steiber, HTC Viveport”
“Max Headroom: The Modern Marketing Executive”
“Tackling TV Sports”
“VR Creator-Technologist Roundtable”
“Live Streaming: Going With the Flow”
“News Programming in the Age of Social Media”
“Pay-TV Embraces OTT”
“Understanding the OTT Content Ecosystem: SVOD, Skinny Bundles and Beyond”
“OTT TV Infrastructure Roundtable”
“OTT and Consumer Empowerment”
“Addressable TV: Beyond the 1-2%”
“New Formats for New Audiences: Understanding Social-Video Programming”
“Keynote with The Young Turks”
“Keynote with Chef John, Food Wishes”
“Keynote with Sam Matheny, NAB”
“TV Worth Watching in a Multiplatform Age”
“World-Building Showrunners: Creating and Promoting Genre Content in the Multiplatform Age”
“Marketing to Social-Video Natives”
“ATSC 3.0 and the Future of Broadcast TV”
“Beyond the Daydream: A 360-Degree View of the Consumer Reality of VR”
“Content Delivery, UX and the TV of Tomorrow”

[Interactive link to detailed descriptions of each panel:]

While it was not possible at attend all the presentations, as many overlapped, I did make it to 20 out of the 35 panels.  The experience was eye-opening and informative.  It made it much more clear how my own TV viewing habits were being targeted and exploited.

The good news is that there are also great benefits from the symbiotic relationship between the viewer/consumer and the corporations providing access to content and the advertisers using consumer data to market corporate products and services; namely, (1) better access, (2) competitive rates for that access, (3) a more user-friendly and optimized user experience, and (4) advertising that is more appealing to the consumer.

Everyone wants a better online or viewing experience.  A viewer wants to watch what they want, when they want, and via the device of their choice.  Consumers want, similarly, ads that are not intrusive or irrelevant to their needs and desires.  For example, a 20-year old viewer/consumer may want to hear about the latest virtual reality devices, but a 50-year old viewer/consumer may want to hear about the latest smart-house devices to aid in their everyday living environment.  Each age group, demographic, and geographic audience wants something different — something that suits their specific wants, needs and desires; and the modern tech world and advertising world just wants to give them that — and they are using every available means to determine what that is.  Companies strive to sell products and offer services that consumers want or need, and it is a win-win for everyone, if they can.  So accessing and obtaining viewer/user/consumer data makes that possible.

So what did TVOT offer that explained how these mutual goals are to be attained in the coming year or that are being made available now for exploitation and use? 

The TV of Tomorrow panels illustrated what technology (smart TV, OTT set boxes, VR devices, video consoles, and even cars) are available and how to best use those devices to make content (TV shows and online videos) accessible on those cross-platform devices.  A viewer does not want to just start watching a video on their smartphone while out-and-about and then arrive home and not be able to access that TV show or video on another device.  They want all their devices to seamlessly work together to access content and have that experience be uninterrupted across numerous devices. For example, if you are watching ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK on Netflix on your smartphone on your way home, you want to stop it and pick up watching where you left off on your smart TV or iPad (tablet) once you get home.  Viewers want to access content across many devices and platforms seamlessly and without interruption.  Unfortunately, currently, very few devices or platforms are truly seamless and easy to use.  Yet that is the goal of today’s tech and software companies. They want to deliver your TV shows or any other online content on any device seamlessly.  But creating devices and user-interfaces (whether it is through Netflix, YouTube, or by Roku or Amazon Fire, etc.) that work with and communicate with each other is the present challenge.

How many of us can actually say that our phones, tablets, TV sets and computers all work together?  There is still the cumbersome problem of too many remotes to use the television set with the DVR or OTT boxes, let alone adding a video game console or a DVD player into the mix.  Home entertainment systems are not seamless and are encumbered by all the necessary cords, connection cables, and remotes.  Adding a home computer or tablet or other device into the mix just creates a headache of devices that may or may not work together.  Is it any wonder that consumers are opting to simply use a tablet to watch whatever they want online then?  But even online content has its own set of barriers. A consumer must connect to wifi or a hardline for internet access, then use websites or apps to locate the content they wish to view.  Websites and apps may then require passwords or logins to get access to whatever the viewer wants to watch.  Getting online and accessing a TV show or other content (videos/games) to watch or interact with is never that easy either.  Plus, other than Netflix, most video or online viewing portals (TV show apps, YouTube) do not recall where you may have left off viewing on another device.  This means a viewer has to find the website or app to access the show/content, then login, and then restart to figure out where they left off on another device.   

Cord-cutting sounds appealing, unless you have encountered the issues surrounding online access.  For one, it requires online access through an internet service.  While it is true that a viewer can cut-the-cord by discontinuing cable or satellite service, but then the viewer has to buy internet access or use a cellular data plan through their phone carrier — and both can be just as costly as using a cable or satellite service.  The added burden on a cord-cutter is navigating the various websites and user interface (UI) platforms to access online content.  One can go to the websites for Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, or any of the traditional TV networks and channels (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW) to watch TV shows or download those sites’ related apps to access through a smartphone, tablet or smart TV, but the real-world challenge of having an internet service or cellular data plan with the necessary bandwidth to stream video content is a major hurdle.  Assuming this is met, then there are login requirements, which may require a monthly fee to access (such as HBO GO, CBS All Access, Netflix, Hulu, etc.) or the user is required to input their associated cable/satellite account password to unlock access to view the online available content.  For example, PBS and Spike TV websites require that a user enter their cable or Dish/DirecTV account password to be able to view content on the PBS or Spike TV website.  In addition, not every content-provider provides access to their content online.  For example, Hallmark has a website and an app, but none of its current movies are available for online viewing.  Similarly, other smaller networks and content-providers do not put up all their catalogue of past and present TV shows online.  So assuming all the content airing on broadcast and cable will be accessible online is false. Only a limited and select amount of TV shows are currently available for online viewing.  Studios and networks just have not gotten around to uploading their shows to the net — and some studios/networks are licensing that exclusive content to alternate platforms, such as making it available through Netflix, Amazon or Hulu for a limited time. 

With all of these practical constraints to access to content, it is essential to find out what the tech world offers to make online content more accessible to consumers.  TV of Tomorrow’s conference was the perfect preview into what is coming on the tech forefront that consumers will want and need:

I learned how Turner has licensed foreign-language and indie films to broadcast on its Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel and can be accessed online for a nominal monthly fee. I learned how TCM is also offering ancillary products and services to supplement its entertainment package for its viewers, including TV show-themed cruises and specialty wines based on its films and shows. 

I learned how Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired Tribune and expanded its market-share from 39% to 72% of all available TV viewers and that it plans to offer an alternative to online viewing using cellular data packages by offering Sinclair’s new technology product ATSC 3.0, which will offer internet access via computer chips embedded in cellphones.

I learned that the news industry is shifting rapidly to meet the demand for information across multiple platforms and how it has morphed into being a social media magnet.  News content and delivery is everywhere.  It is also increasing the demand for curation.  For example, The Young Turks (TYT) expanded in the past 15 years from being a living room podcast to having 30 channels on YouTube with 8 billion views and which recently hired 13 investigative news reporters (this year) in order to gather even more news content for its viewers.

I learned that online content “curation” is a booming business that everyone is jumping into and that the future of the internet depends on viewers and consumers being able to find what they are searching for.  Guaranteeing audiences find what they are looking for is a necessity — and highly profitable for those creating friendly, easy to use and navigate user-interfaces.

I learned that ad-blockers have forced the advertising industry to step up its game in reaching consumers.  For example, marketers cannot rely on click-able ads, which can be easily blocked, so they have turned to more “native” methods to incorporate advertising seamlessly into the online experience. Advertisers are finally listening to consumers who say that there are too many annoying ads on the internet.  So marketers are adapting and finding new ways to reach consumers in a way that appeals and makes the consumer want to watch an advertisement. 

I learned that the tech industry is concerned with making compatibility and integration of multiplatforms and devices a priority.  It is a race to see who will deliver the one product that will satisfy the needs of consumers to get online when in the car, at work, at home, or on-the-go.  Whether it is designing cars to be mobile living rooms as autonomous vehicles take over on the road way or designing smart-homes with holographic capabilities, there is a race going on to create the most useful and appealing internet accessible devices and platforms.

I learned that VR (virtual reality) is not just about video games.  VR is about seeing and experiencing the world around us in a new way. For example, if you want to take a trip to Paris, VR has paired with Google Earth so you can see what it feels like to walk the streets of Paris without leaving the comfort of your home.  Or if you want to go deep sea diving, you can be visually-immersed in the deep sea experience without worrying about shark attacks. VR is making world exploration accessible from the classroom or the living room.  VR also provides training and teaching tools through visual experience without having to be there in-person. VR is even being used for visits to the doctor to save time and limit exposure.

I learned that just having exclusive or valuable content is not enough.  Today’s viewers want an experience and they crave a community to express themselves in during the viewing experience.  Thus, streaming and live-streaming is enhanced and more desirable when it is communal or can be shared. 

I learned that merely gathering data regarding consumers and viewers is not enough, that data must be culled and distilled into useful bits of information.  Advertisers and marketers are challenged to not only measure a consumer’s response, but to analyze it in order to determine human behavior.

I learned that scalability (ability to monetize and derive value) is essential to all these businesses.  Whether it is creating tech hardware, user interface or software, or determining advertising audiences, the ability to attain economic value (profit) is key.  In the rapidly developing arena of the internet, social media, and the various platforms available to interact on the net, unless money can be made from it, it is not performing a peak value.

I learned that “personalization” is the buzz-word for all these industries.  Each wants to offer a personalize experienced that will draw in viewers/users and keeps them coming back — and willing to pay for that privilege to use the the tools and guaranteed access every month.

In the end, for all these industries, there are pivotal challenges to be addressed as each moves forward:

(1) competition
(2) finding talent/staff to create and maintain products
(3) huge amounts of data to operate and to cull for relevant information
(4) audience/consumer reaction to product and accessibility
(5) need to focus on story/content to draw and retain audience/consumer
(6) educating audience/consumer on use and purposes
(7) physical space needed and limitations
(8) tools and technology needed

Fortunately, the tech industry and advertising industry are aware of these hurdles and are taking steps to address each.  After all, it is their goal is to figure out what you love and deliver that to you.  If they can do that, they have succeeded.

TVOT provided an invaluable opportunity to learn about a multitude of intersecting businesses during its 2-day conference.  It was access to the most successful business minds involved with content-delivery, curation, and monetization. The TV of tomorrow is here today. Every day we are seeing new ways to access and interact with online content.  It is an exciting time to be part of this rapidly evolving universe, and as a consumer, it is amazing.  What our money can buy and access within a few keystrokes is on the verge of being unlimited.  I am grateful that TVOT provided this opportunity to see and learn from those who are shaping the world of content on the internet.  (For a further discussion of some of the panels showcased at TVOT, look for our continuing series over the next few months.)