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|Rethinking The Television Household: A Call To Action|
|by Mark Lieberman, Yesterday, 3:00 PM|
Last week’s revelation by Nielsen that the total number of television households had dropped rocked the industry, and rightfully so. It also prompted me to wonder what a television household is these days anyway.
Let’s start at the beginning, with the most obvious question. What is television? The word’s etymology is a Greek-Latin mashup of “far” and “sight.” The dictionaries delve deeper: according to Merriam-Webster, TV is “an electronic system of transmitting transient images of fixed or moving objects together with sound over a wire or through space by apparatus that converts light and sound into electrical waves and reconverts them into visible light rays and audible sound.”Break that down, and you get transmitting electronic moving images with sound. There’s nothing in there about the size of those images, the quality of the audio, the location of the device or how the content is delivered. Sounds to me like the traditional definition of “television” might be a little challenged.
The real question is, does it matter where viewers get those moving images with sound? To advertisers, at least, it doesn’t. They just want to reach the right eyeballs to sell their products or build their brands.
They just need to know that their message is being delivered, whatever platform it’s on. And as we all know, consumers today can view content on any number of platforms. There’s the big (television) screen, formerly known as the small screen, on which we not only receive broadcast programming, but also Internet content, platform-specific apps, video on demand, games and anything that we capture on the DVR. The second screen – your desktop or laptop – might be in the same room as your first screen, but might not. Again, it’s a venue for programming and therefore advertising. The third screen, once the PDA, now the smartphone, serves as another platform for content consumption, but primarily short-form. The real game-changer is the fourth screen, the iPad/tablet computer, which has effectively taken hold as a smaller, more portable TV screen (hence the myriad disputes between content providers and distributors).
It’s this fourth screen that’s spurred the renaissance of media synergy and convergence that Steve Burke of NBC Universal keeps bringing up. The tablet has ushered in a new and long-anticipated era of television viewing, one in which linear viewing and interactivity are no longer at odds, and for the first time, convergence is coming from the consumer – who watches linear TV on the big screen and interactive TV on the fourth screen. Clearly, technology has evolved, and we as an industry need to evolve with it.
Twenty years ago, when I was working as associate deputy secretary at the Commerce Department, the American Electronics Association requested $1.3 billion for development R&D of analog high-definition television. We decided to step back and let industry determine the best approach to HD, and thank goodness we did; otherwise we’d still be fighting to get out of second place. As my boss Secretary Mosbacher put it so memorably at the time, “The problem is that the industry is hoping that Uncle Sugar will fund the development.”
It was just a couple of years later that Mosbacher led the charge to establish the National Information Infrastructure Initiative, which would become the 1996 Telecom Act. The series of deregulatory initiatives he initiated resulted in an unprecedented wave of innovation that has put us where we are today (telephone companies delivering video, cable companies delivering telephony, auctioning off spectrum, etc.).
So is it time to rethink the definition of a television household? I think so. As TV program viewing is undergoing a renaissance, the distribution of programming is also undergoing a revolution, and the definition of television itself is changing before our eyes. Viewers are accessing their favorite programming in ways the founding fathers of television, Philo Farnsworth and David Sarnoff, could hardly have imagined, but advertisers still need to know who is watching what, when, and where. Let’s rise to the new challenges around how to measure the effectiveness of television, and move the industry forward.
Uncle Sugar will be proud.