July 24, 2014

The TV Is No Longer a TV

I am in the vanguard of cord cutters, a small but growing group of cable TV subscribers who have decided to ditch the cable box in favor of a variety of geeky devices that serve up entertainment through an internet connection.

Between 2008 and 2013, 5 million (or 5%) of US cable subscribers cut the cord, with 1.3% brandishing the scissors in 2013 alone, according to Toronto-based Convergence Consulting Group.

When I told my wife and daughter we were trendsetters, they rolled their eyes and said I was just being cheap (again). Regardless, a change in the way we think about entertainment has swept through my household and 5 million others in the US: The TV is no longer a TV; it is simply the biggest screen we have for watching entertainment.

It’s All About Screens Now
That’s because our new content providers, Hulu and Amazon Prime, are as easy to watch on a computer, an iPad, or, in a real pinch, a phone, as they are through the Roku device attached to the former TV. (When we absolutely need to see live network broadcasts – my wife and daughter insisted on seeing the Oscars live, for example – I plug in a set of Radio Shack digital bunny ears to turn our big screen back into a TV for a few hours.)

The New York Times says that cord cutting doesn’t save much money but I can attest that in my house (near Boston) it saves $125 per month. Not exactly chump change. Plus, we never watched that much programming to begin with, so the savings are that much more satisfying.

As you might imagine, stories like these are starting to throw a scare into the cable companies and the entertainment industry as a whole. “In the U.S., consumers are seeing fewer differences between telecommunications and entertainment,” says Jack Plunkett, CEO of Plunkett Research. “It’s all the same thing. We have truly entered an era of convergence where data, entertainment, and communications are all falling into one package.”

Except now it’s the consumers doing the packaging rather than the cable and telecom providers. Research by my colleague Polly Traylor turned up three ways that the status quo is threatened:

  • Frictionless consumption. There is a reason why Netflix and Apple iTunes have been so successful: they both have world-class selection and make it extremely simple to find what you want and begin listening or viewing immediately.
  • Everything is an entertainment device now. Even the top providers of gaming platforms– Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft– are now vying for the same entertainment eyeballs as the studios and networks and are retrofitting machines into multipurpose entertainment devices that stream content from Netflix and other Internet video providers.
  • Disruptors are everywhere. I’m sure that by now you’ve heard of an Internet TV startup called Aereo that uses tiny individual antennas to let consumers in several U.S. cities watch live broadcasts on Internet-connected devices and store shows in the cloud to watch later. All the major broadcasters have sued for copyright infringement and pushed it all the way up to the Supreme Court. Needless to say, if a tiny, barely two-year-old startup is already having its day in (Supreme) Court (against its will), we are in the midst of interesting times for the entertainment industry.

How have you changed the ways you consume entertainment?

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Why Tut would have been buried with his iPhone

Sure, sure, I know it’s Apple and Apple is to the ’10s what Sony was to the ’80s. But there must be more to the fact that the iPhone/iTouch are the fastest growing technology launch in history (and the iPad so far is on pace to outdo them both).

Now of course you know that the iPhone and iPad are popular because of the way they look. The smooth contours and the shimmering black glass bezels make the devices look more like something out of a Swarovski store than a Best Buy. They bring out our primitive attractions to the bright and shiny. (For sure Tut would have shoved some of the gold trinkets aside to be buried with his iPhone and iPad.)

The default Home screen of the iPhone shows mo...
Image via Wikipedia

But there’s something else here that brings out another primal drive in us. When you look at the screen of the iPhone or iPad you see beautiful little jewel-like icons beaming at you from beneath the glass. What I realized is that the iPhone and iPad aren’t just jewels, they are jewel cases. They contain our collection of applications. And these collections bring out our hunter gatherer instincts like any other collectable—from beanie babies to giant balls of string.

The reason is the iTunes/AppStore model. It lets us do everything that feels good about collecting:

  • Collecting is social. All collecting is driven in part by the desire to connect with others and show off and share what we have with them and talk about it all. Though iTunes could be a lot more social than it is, most applications have dozens or hundreds of reviews. The next step is to create communities around the applications so they can all geek out on it together.
  • Collecting is fun. Is there anything fun about collecting applications for your PC? Though the threat is much less than it was, installing new applications on PCs has always meant the possibility of taking down other applications or the computer itself. And the experience of finding and adding applications is almost always different from application to application. You can’t have fun when you’re anxious. Though the iTunes application store is tightly controlled—probably more tightly than it should be—it is easy and predictable.
  • Collecting is valuable. One of the most depressing aspects of PC applications is that they are basically time bombs that self-destruct with each passing generation of operating system or processor. Now, there’s no guarantee that our iPhone/iPad application collections will survive each new generation of device, but if they don’t, they’re cheap to replace. And in the meantime, they update themselves automatically. All we need to know when we’re collecting is that we’re not being idiots for investing our time in it (it’s okay to look like an idiot for what we collect—in fact, that’s part of the fun).

How to use iPhone apps for marketing
I’m not saying that the iPhone/iPad is going to take over the world, only that the model Apple has developed—and which every other phone manufacturers now trying to copy—is going to endure and will cross over into the business realm.

But as marketers, if we’re going to break into someone’s collection, the bar is set really high. Applications that convert your voice to text or instruct you on which turn to take are hard to top.

We must have the center of gravity for our mobile apps elsewhere. We need to create vibrant communities that customers will value so much that they will want a mobile application so they can keep up with the action anytime from anywhere. That’s how we get into their collections.

What do you think?

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