What Is Television? As Lines Blur Further, It’s Hard To Say

What is TV? It’s a funny question, given that five years ago it would have been incredibly obvious. TV was what showed up on your TV set. Period, end of story.

Only today, it’s not so obvious. The recent Netflix/Comcast deal put that into sharp relief. Is Netflix, delivered on a set top box, now TV? Or is it still “online video.”

This is more than a rhetorical question, as anyone who has ever done any research into market sizing “online video” can tell you. Some estimates place any sort of video that’s delivered digitally into the “online video” category, including network content that’s carried on their dedicated sites, while others use a much narrower definition–YouTube and digital publishing sites. And everything in between.

That makes it difficult to get a clear understanding of the degree to which viewer behavior is changing, the amount of traffic “online video” gets and whether launching an online video company (or related products and services) makes much sense.

To that end, TVREV started to propose a simple way to tell TV from online video, one we hoped the industry could use as a standard.

We started with this:

TV is: professionally produced content that lives on an app or website or TV network whose sole purpose is to show video content. That content can be long-form (20 minutes or longer) or mid-form (10 minutes or longer) but must be part of some sort of series rather than a one-off. (Exceptions granted for movies and actual one-off specials.)

Online video is: professionally-produced content that lives on a site or app whose main purpose is not to show video content and which is not part of any sort of a series. All UGC content is online video.

Too Much Gray

Only then we ran into a whole lot of gray area. For instance, YouTube is not generally considered television, yet there are professionally produced network series on YouTube, some of which are there legally, some of which are not, but if you’re watching “Modern Family” on YouTube on your TV set, then it’s probably television. Or maybe not, if it’s a lousy bootleg copy with Portuguese subtitles. And or course, YouTube’s sole purpose is to show video, and while it’s not Buzzfeed, it’s not exactly NBC either.

Then there’s that middle ground in terms of production value. Web series that are shot by people who have some experience with a camera, but at a quality level that makes us hesitant to use the term “professionally produced.”

Point being, it’s really, really hard to issue a standard definition of “what is television” without resorting to the old Supreme Court definition of pornography which was “we’ll know it when we see it.”

That’s as good an indication as any that lines are blurring, that the range of content that starts with a 12-year-old in her bedroom ranting at her iPhone camera on YouNow and ends at “Game of Thrones” and its multimillion dollar budgets is becoming a giant continuum, with no hard and fast lines.

That’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned and we think those lines will blur even further, giving viewers a much wider range of options, while making life tough for those of us charged with market sizing.

Originally published at tvrev.com on September 29, 2016. Subscribe to get stories in your inbox.

Co-Founder and Lead Analyst at TV[R]EV. Author of Over The Top. How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry http://amzn.to/1IyVbRn

Co-Founder and Lead Analyst at TV[R]EV. Author of Over The Top. How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry http://amzn.to/1IyVbRn