I’m not a futurist, but as an indie writer with a tech background and a serious thing for video games, it’s difficult for me not to think about the consumptive future of story-telling.
That’s a made-up term I just invented, but the concept is simple enough: the vast majority of consumable entertainment—movies, books, video games, and television–manifests itself as story-telling. And, thanks to the internet, media is now in the early stages of ubiquity, which is to say:
If you have a computer and an internet connection, all story-telling, in any form, will be made available to you.
There is nothing original in this statement—I won’t even take credit for it, because I’m sure it’s just me putting words to a standard and accepted form of groupthink.
But I didn’t think I’d see the physical manifestation of it so soon, and in the form of paradigmatic shifts that, I believe, we will be seeing in 2-3 years.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
I’m stringing a lot of words together, here. And while I could point to the growth of downloadable music, digital literature, cloud computing, or MMORPG gaming as the beginning of true consumable ubiquity, what triggered the theme of this post for me was much more plebian: television.
To wit, at the end of 2013, I received Apple TV for Christmas and loved it (albeit as much for its ability to mirror my iDevices as its entertainment value).
(For those of you who don’t know, Apple TV is one of several competing WiFi devices that is specifically wired to allow your TV to access web-only programming on the internet. This was a natural outgrowth of putting extra or backlist content on the web for fans of shows, but now many major channels have made this kind of programming part of their oeuvre. While many of these “channels” are little more than poorly produced web broadcasts you could watch on your PC, others are the actual TV productions made digital or are original TV productions themselves.)
My parents, on the other hand, didn’t have an iDevices, but were taken with the idea of demand-based content ever since Direct TV got into a pissing match with The Weather Channel and dropped them from their offerings. My parents switched to DiSH to get TWC, but in the meantime I introduced them to Roku, a device similar to Apple TV, though it’s been around since 2004 and has many more web-television partnerships (and therefore channels).
Okay, where are you going with this?
Over the course of about five months, I began to spend more time on Apple TV than on network or cable television except for those rare things like sporting events I couldn’t get otherwise.
(A critical point to mention about all of the internet-TV devices is that they don’t cost a thing after the initial hardware outlay. There is no subscription price unless you choose to plug in premium services that already charge [HBO, Hulu Plus, Netflix, etc.]).
And that’s when the magic happened: I’d changed from a passive receiver of television story-telling to a demanding consumer of entertainment—I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it now. It suddenly became clear to me (and I’m trying not to overstate this, but…) that I was probably watching the twilight years of television as we know it.
Here’s what I’m saying: internet television is not just better television—in fact, it’s not even television—it’s on-demand storytelling. As such, it’s as different as a radio is to your iPhone, or a newspaper to your Kindle. When you want information on the internet, you don’t wait to stumble across a site that might have your answer, you go out and Google it.
And that will be the new paradigm of televised entertainment.
That entertainment may—and probably will—be produced the same way it is today, but that is content creation, not delivery. The delivery mechanism(s) will be totally disrupted. And television as we know it will be gone.
One Dozen Predictions
With all that in mind, here are my predictions for the television industry and the nascent consumer-driven, on-demand story-telling industry:
- If you own and love your Apple TV, Roku box, Google Chromecast, or Amazon Fire TV, enjoy the free ride while you can, because content providers are not going to stand for their content to be spun out to an insatiable public for the one-time cost of a little black box, the profits of which only go to the device manufacturer. Today’s very free and mostly commercial-free internet content will become monetized very, very soon.
- However—and this is a good thing—expect higher quality indie content to hit YouTube and related free-form “channels” soon after monetization takes the rosy blush off of internet TV for some users, much like cheap, well-written indie books fill the gap left open by Big Five publishers who insist on charging $29.95 for hardcover and $9.99 for digital books.
- An all-out war between and amongst the major device and internet players (Apple, Amazon, and Google) and the media conglomerates (networks plus many others) should be just around the corner as each camp tries to stake out who owns the territory of the entertainment future. Lines will be completely blurred between content creators, distributors, and gatekeepers…and they’ll all believe that they should be the one to control the ON/OFF switch.
- DirectTV, DiSH, and basic cable providers will begin to see massive user defection from their services in the next 2-3 years to internet-tv as competition heats up between the major players and the offerings become more robust and diverse. Cable services will become fully obsolete in 5 years. These are the middle-men of the entertainment industry that will be made redundant (as brick and mortar bookstores have become) and their services no longer needed.
- The major TV networks will continue to function more as content producers that will then feed their story-telling into subscription models for use by all of the internet-tv device users.
- Network television broadcasting will continue to exist for legacy reasons and to fill the kind of third-rider function (like C-Span does today) for several decades.
- The more courageous television personalities will begin leaving their respective networks, sacrificing big money deals to begin offering their services on a sub-contracted subscription model, much like major authors can afford to leave their publishers today because independent publishing is now a viable marketplace. Expect to see your favorite talking heads push their own programming for $.99 – $5.99 per show soon.
- Television manufacturers will soon begin integrating internet devices directly into the sets and/or TVs will be indistinguishable from computer monitors. This is close to the case today, except that the powers that rest behind the internet devices are going to have a tremendous say in whose device gets put in what model. It will be interesting to see if manufacturers will insist on remaining agnostic or will try to gain some kind of advantage by inking deals with Apple, Amazon, or Google (I fear for Roku, but…)
- Expect Roku to be bought by a major tech or entertainment player that wants to get in the game, but has not put the money, time, or R&D into creating its own intenet-tv platform, bringing the total playing field to 4 (or 3, if one of the existing players makes a move). Sounds a lot like another historical trio of media giants to me—CBS, ABC, NBC for the 21st century?
- Since internet is global and broadcast television is not, potential buyers, programming, and channels could come from anywhere and produce content to and from anyone. It’s the internet on your tv, after all.
- When I say story-telling industry, I mean it. When TV becomes fully web-integrated, there’s very little technical barrier to making batteries of movie-book-tv-game media packages that are launched, synchronized, and supportive of one another, since they’re going to essentially inhabit the same platform.Watching Lord of the Rings but want to decide the outcome of the Battle of Helm’s Deep yourself? Just switch from the movie to the book on your Kindle compatible TV reader (or listen to the digital audiobook) to get in the mood, then fire up the cloud-based roleplaying game, and wrap it up by tuning into an indie-produced web mini-series endorsed by the Tolkien Estate and produced in Croatia.
- I think that one thing people can’t do without is the ability to veg out in front of their TV with nothing much on their minds except the desire to be entertained. To meet that well-established need, I see two non-competing models springing up very quickly in the nascent internet-TV era:First, new generations of internet-tv devices will feature robust playlist functionality that let users put together their own 24 hour “channel” of anything from anywhere (plus the ability to pick randomly), exactly like you create a music playlist of your favorite tunes today.Second, Back to the Future! Old style network TV complete with talking heads, gossip shows, re-runs, and new content, but sent via streaming to your box. Users will pay a subscription fee for the channel, lock, stock, and barrel, but because the best content is charging ala carte, so to keep costs down, the overall programming quality will be low, so expect a LOT of Jerry Springer-type shows.
I imagine everything I’ve said here has been predicted already in Wired or Fast Company, but I promise you these predictions are my own (I’m afraid I’m too lazy to go find out if I’m unwittingly rehashing what’s already been said)…and if I can come up with them independently, then the media companies certainly have.
It’ll be a brave new world for story-telling soon.