Digital Technology Integration and The Future of Media

Image from http://www.redbeecreative.com/work/virgin-media-tv-anywhere.

I am writing this article while watching my favorite newschannel, Berita Satu TV on a Saturday afternoon.  Indeed, the biggest reason for me to watch TV is to watch news, and therefore I usually flip channels over the newschannels, domestic and foreign.  I rarely watch non-news programs on TV.  For them, from iTunes to Netflix and the likes, to even Youtube provide more “programs” that I can ever watch entirely.

And I begin to realize that this is really how I “consume” TV more and more: by doing something else on the side, only set out to watch it when there is interesting news, information, or program on TV.  Other than that, I will keep it as a “background noise.”  Sometimes I do this also at work.  I watch it only when there is breaking news, or specific news I am interested, having learned about it from my social media timelines.  TV, indeed, is not something that I “watch” anymore.

And I believe I am not alone.  With the emergence of the internet and the following streaming services, TV as we know it has lost its dominance in how we consume audiovisual media — indeed, how we consume media in general.  Apparently, the younger we are, the less we consume magazines, newspapers, and TV, and the more we consume internet-based media.  In the US, according to MNI, millennials spend on average 7 more hours on the internet, but 10 hours less on TV, than their older baby-boomer siblings (parents, rather).  Of course, this is not at all surprising.  Further, MNI also suggests that advertisement money will go more to internet-based media than traditional ones.  This number may be slightly different in Indonesia when survey is done here, but I think will show similar trends.

I am not a millennial. In fact, my younger siblings already have millennial kids.  But I consume media unlike my fellow boomers.  In fact, I am seeing a trend that, sooner than later, will change how we demand media.  I have been observing that TV increases its quality — high-definition, great colors, larger screens, cute bumpers, or even satellite-linked so we can see split screens to cover different places across the globe.  But in all that matters, I see no major improvement in how TV programs are made from about 40 years ago when the only channel is TVRI, broadcasted to black-and-white TV screens.  Only that newscasters now read from teleprompters instead of a piece of paper.

Meanwhile, internet-based media have emerged and challenged the domination of print and traditional audio-visual media.  Already, some print media have closed their operations, and continued only with its online version.  There is an emerging media content providers called “YouTubers”, referring to those that reap the benefit (mostly from advertisements) of their massive followers on YouTube.  In Indonesia, detik.com has become a legend as the most-known internet news portal, while readership of print media tanked.  Sinar Harapan, a legendary afternoon newspaper, had to stop its publication.  Not long after, Jakarta Globe stopped its print version, and is now only publishing its online version.

But internet-based media are also evolving.  The massive explosion of social media has changed the way we consume internet- or web-based media.  The emergence of large-screen smartphones makes internet-based media no longer consumed directly on computers.  Consuming media through smartphone and tablets have clipped that through computer screens.  The gateway into news in portals such as detik.com is no longer through its homepage, but rather through bits and pieces that they publish through their social media accounts, directly into the news articles.  People read only the news they are interested in.  People only watch what they want to watch.  Just like how I watch TV nowadays, people don’t watch TV like before, anymore.  People watch bits and pieces in those TV channels, when they can.

Moreover, internet-based media are much more tailor-able.  We can “tell” them what we like, and we will be given what we like, and not what we don’t.  So, we get the news that we want to read, and audio-visuals that we are interested in.  Netflix, for example, predicts what movies we want to watch after learning what kinds of movies we have watched in the past.  For a while already, Amazon analyzed and recommended books that we might want to buy next not only from books we purchased in the past, but also from books that we browsed on its website.

But with all the changes, developments, and aggressive innovations happening in internet-based media, it is really mind-boggling that TV programming and distribution is not that much more innovative as their black-and-white predecessors.  In addition to crispier and more colorful screens, digital technology is used not entirely in a game-changing way.  It is only slightly more than changing the delivery of TV programs from analog to digital.  It may preserve the audi0-visual quality of the TV programs, but nothing much more than that.  TV, after the entire democratization of media by the social media revolution, remains a monologue, expecting the viewers as passive consumers.

Now, this is what I am imagining that a technological evolution — indeed, integration of technologies — will change the way we consume and interact with media.  And in it, TV should be at the forefront, not a laggard as it is now.

First, TV needs to be able to deliver their programs as tailored as possible to each individual viewer.  They need to deliver only programs (and news) that are of the interest of each of the viewers, and only when they want it.  This is “ultra on-demand,” as the demand is no longer communicated manually by the viewers (although they can), but “learned” by an artificial intelligence that powers the TV stations.  The hundreds of channels are no longer ran separately in parallel, but they provide chunks of programs that will be mixed and matched creating special sequences that are unique to each of the viewers.  This is different from how viewers flip among TV channels like they do now.  The chunks in the channels will be treated as separate chunks that make up the individual sequence, at the right time as the viewer chooses to watch them.  TV sequence is no longer a serial, linear sequence.  (as an example, “headline news” from a broadcaster can be a 7pm program for someone, but an 8pm for someone else.)  People watch fewer TV now, in chunks of time that are not as contiguously as before.  Probably a bit in the morning (to watch the morning news), at noon-ish, and a large chunk — not as large a chunk as before, though — in the evening watching news and some entertaining programs depending on their interests.  The technology to do this, including the artificial intelligence and the capacity to manage and analyze the big-data to tailor each individual viewers, are already available now.  What is needed is only the appropriate way to use these technology appropriately in the “future TV.”

Second, TV also needs to be interactive.  Gone is the time when TV is only a passive medium that we “watch.”  The rather convoluted interconnection between TV programs and social media, for example, has made even today’s TV a bit more interactive.  Viewers should be able to interact — at times live — with and in the current program(s).  They also need to be able to interact with other viewers.

Third, mobile phones and tablets need to be factored in as they are.  Programs that are good-looking to be watched in large screens may not be as good-looking on small screens.  While a system of “TV anywhere” is already offered, they don’t need to be a carbon copy of each other.  Moreover, the mobiles and tablets, when used alongside the large TV screens, can be used to facilitate interactivity.  For example, by using the keyboards, the microphones, or the cameras.  Just imagine an interactive TV that viewers can interact through, on video, live.

And finally, TV is, eventually, a software.  It is won’t be a hardware for much longer.  What will be a “TV” as we know it is just the screen.  The TV itself will be the operation system that makes it work.  It has already been started with iTunes, Apple TV, and similar systems.  It is currently working with a large number of TV broadcasters to deliver their channels through Apple TV, in addition to providing other streaming services such as Netflix, Podcast, Youtube, and others.  At present, Apple TV and similar system is sold as a separate equipment.  Soon enough, it will be a part of the TV hardware itself, one that is highly tailor-able by the users.

The technologies that will provide the components for this technology already exist.  We only need to integrate them all.  I finished this article while Madam Secretary was on my TV screen on Netflix.


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