The Future of Television: More Choices and Greater Quality

Author: Logan HillSource:  Wall Street Journal

RECENTLY, I TRIED explaining to my 9-year-old how much television has evolved since I was her age. In my house, I told her, we had to get up off the couch to change the channel.

“Dad,” she asked me. “What’s a channel?”

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My daughter has no idea that watching “Spy Kids 2” on our iPad’s Netflix app is disrupting an entire industry. A new generation is growing up with completely different expectations: cord cutting, user-generated content, multichannel platforms. Young viewers watch shows wherever and whenever they want. New distributors like Netflix and Amazon are paying handsomely for content, tech companies are vying for the next best interface, TVs are stretching to cinema-style proportions, and an entire industry is racing to catch up with consumers’ rapidly evolving demands. Soon, the word “television” itself may be outdated, as people watch video on phones, tablets or, most likely, something that hasn’t been invented yet.

To get a handle on this chaotic moment—and a vision of what comes next—we asked seasoned executives, content kings, and virtual-reality disruptors to describe the very big future of the small screen.

When it comes to good stories, more is more

According to JOSH SAPAN, president of AMC Networks, this year’s tally of scripted shows—over 400—isn’t overkill at all.

We think we’ve seen it all, but we’re finding water on planets where we didn’t expect it, and we may find new stories more arresting than Shakespeare. We have no idea what we’ll see next. There was broadcast television, and then cable, and then satellite, and now the Internet. New technology will alter the means of distribution in ways that are unforeseen. As “old media,” you have the liability of being comfortable in the system that’s familiar to you, but you also have the benefit of being the incumbent, of having a platform from which you can rapidly adapt. There are a record number of shows on TV right now, and the appetite for a good story is greater than it’s ever been. Before the current generation, the term “TV show” meant something a little dumb. And so you can say there are too many shows relative to the economics of the old system, but with the new system, I would not say there are too many shows.

—Josh Sapan

Don’t count out the short guys

Maker Studios is a short-form online network with over 800 million subscribers. President YNON KREIZ explains why Internet TV is a win-win.

TV over the Internet gives advertisers the ability to target consumers directly, and to capture the actual reach and value of content. The term du jour is “programmatic advertising,” which means ads that are much more targeted and personalized, which you’ll see across devices. This will give consumers more and more choices about when and where they watch content. I see the short-form industry becoming more popular. As more players enter the sphere, the quality of that content is rising. High-quality content will lead to more engagement, more consumption and more ways to watch. No matter what device you use, the big advantage is the freedom to make those choices. I see a golden age of television that’s less about apps or channels, and more about the when and where.

—Ynon Kreiz

The death of mediocre television

LACHLAN MURDOCH, executive co-chairman of 21st Century Fox,* predicts a future of greater choice—and greater quality.

In the very near future, you’ll have Roku-style functionality in every television set. You will have an environment where there’s a very or completely seamless transition from what today would be called linear TV to a whole variety of other apps and streaming platforms. It will be so seamless that the viewer or consumer perhaps won’t know or care how the television experience is being delivered to them. The way people choose to buy their content will continue to evolve, too, and that evolution will quicken in pace. More niche content will be offered a la carte, and news and sports will become more important because live TV will remain absolutely dominant in those areas. And there will be, in the not-too-distant future, the ability to buy a virtual reality Pay-Per-View in the best seat in a football stadium. From a Fox point of view, it’s both a risk and an opportunity: It’s important that our brands are the strongest that they can possibly be so that we’re always the consumer’s first choice. In a world of limitless choice, mediocrity is death.

—Lachlan Murdoch

*which until 2013 was part of the same company as News Corp.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

LEE DANIELS, the man behind “Precious” and “Empire” argues for honesty and fearlessness.

I think the networks and the studios and the media underestimate the intelligence of the American viewer. If I see one more cop show... Fear is what’s holding everybody back. Richard Pryor had his own TV show once, but the notes on the scripts drove him crazy. America wanted him desperately, but executives live in fear, and that fear trickles down. What I’ve learned from “Empire” is to be fearless and honest. It’s going back to the old way of telling stories, like Norman Lear: Forget the tricks, and just tell a story with honest people that bleed. It’s about showing the truth and knowing that there are people who can ride with you.

—Lee Daniels

TV where you’re the star

The head of mobile at Oculus Rift, MAX COHEN, believes that virtual reality will change the way we interact with movies, musicians, and even our own families.

The virtual-reality companies who separate themselves from the pack will deliver a customer experience that makes viewers realize what they’ve been missing. It’s hard to predict what form the hardware will take, but when it comes to virtual reality, we might not use headsets at all. It could eventually be contact lenses, where the technology seems almost magic. Down the line, we’ll get full-length VR movies, where you’re the star and interact with all the characters. We’ll get a 360-degree camera at the end of the piano at a Billy Joel concert, where it feels like he’s singing to you. And we’ll be able to connect with our families when we travel. If you’re in Korea and your spouse is in New York, you can have that feeling of closeness, of sitting in front of a TV together in avatar form. We’re breaking down the barriers of distance to have human interaction that used to be impossible.

—Max Cohen