What actually sucks about TV

Sad realities about the star of the living room

TV and I, we are in a funny situation.

Complicated to say the least.

It currently feels like dating a girl you know from High School.

Back then the two of you got along quite well, but nothing noteworthy ever happened.

Ten years later, by accident, you bump into each other again.

At first, it was odd. She still lives back home and you are now living in the big city.

She did not change at all, while you changed a lot.

Yet, seeing her feels like home.

You seem to like it.

But you struggle. You don’t want your new friends to think you are living in the past.

You are open-minded, adventurous and thrive on new opportunities.

You don’t want to go back to watching TV. Do you?

When did we stop watching TV?

I continued my quest for answers to the current state of television: After confessing my positive experience with watching television to my friends, the doors were open for an honest conversation. Hence, I seized the opportunity to conduct a poll. Whenever interested in the public opinion of a certain topic, I reach out to my contacts — let’s call it the WhatsApp survey. Despite of the small sample size, it delivers a handy first impression on a debate.

The initial feedback on the perception and usage of TV showed a unanimous mood. The distaste for commercials was gigantic. My friends pulled television apart, referring to it as a modern day dinosaur bound to die out. Apparently, no one shared my good experience with the lean-back mode and prompt entertainment derived from a fixed program schedule on the Big Screen.

I am on an archaeological excavation.

Without any positive feedback, it became a tough investigation.

Maybe it is just me being nostalgic.
Maybe there is nothing worthwhile about TV.
Maybe TV really is a modern day dinosaur.
I started to doubt myself.

Yet I kept on searching for pieces of the puzzle. One evening I received the standard, “No, I am not going out tonight. It will be just me in front of the TV.” text. However, there was one major difference. After reassuring what Netflix series he was currently binging, my colleague casually mentioned that he went for broadcast TV that night. There it was, the puzzle piece I was looking for. This started a domino effect: Suddenly, dozens of my peers revealed their television habits to me. The common statement was, “of course, I turn on broadcast television when I get home. But I am not really watching it.”

Finally, it all made sense. People switch on their TV after coming home. While cooking or cleaning, they are used to the background noise. However, in most cases their tired feet end up on the couch. All of a sudden, they are the prime television audience. People still watch TV. They just dislike the label, which is not attractive in todays “go out, do sports” society. This led me to my first conclusion: it is the reputation of TV that sucks.

If your are afraid that it sucks, then it usually sucks

Typically, a bad reputation does not emerge by chance. The fact that people neglect watching television must have a good reason. Therefore, I dug deeper and tried to detect the deficiencies of the television ecosystem. The system is made up of content providers and advertisers that deliver organic and commercial content which is curated by TV networks. The material is transmitted to consumers by broadcast providers that typically belong to the same parent company as the networks.

For users, subscription fees are the first annoyance. It is hard to fathom why television broadcasts costs ten times more than Netflix, while delivering a substandard service. It feels like paying a Ferrari while driving a Hyundai. The second major downside is the delivered content. As mentioned before, I am a fan of a fixed program schedule. However, this mode should not completely rule out any kind of individualization. Neither organic nor sponsored clips are personalized. In order to receive relevant organic content, I understand that users must switch channels. Sadly, this breaks the lean back experience. For commercials, one rarely finds a targeted message. Despite of technological progress, television is still handled as a mass medium without any targeting. After repeatedly seeing an advertisement of a product you either dislike or simply do not need, it seems reasonable to be annoyed. Likewise, users have no means of interacting with the program and no freedom to skip ads.

For advertisers, also known as the party that spends a staggering $180 billion on TV commercials per year, television as a marketing channel seems to be a go-to. Television still has an unbeatable reach and the halo of the favorite show on the Big Screen. This puts advertisers into a price-taker position, pressured to accept any dictate from the TV networks. Major drawbacks, like the limited targeting and engagement possibilities to interact with the consumer, are swallowed. Likewise, advertisers suffer from a lack of transparency with limited options to track efficiency and optimize based on conversions. Despite of technological progress and capabilities of Connected TVs, targeting and attribution methods have not changed since the last century.

For most content producers, tickets to the television game seem unattainable. Quality is not the differentiator but rather corporate connections and the willingness to sign a contract presented by the TV networks. Independent content producers on the television landscape are as scarce as a free cab driver in NYC. Most aired productions originate from in-house divisions.

All challenges of the TV ecosystem have to be attributed to TV networks and broadcasters. They possess direct consumer access and exploit their gatekeeper status. The current situation can be condensed to two words: missing innovation.

The beauty of an oligopoly

In the United States, six companies, namely Comcast (NBC), News Corporation (Fox), Disney (ABC, ESPN), Viacom (MTV, Nick Jr.), Time-Warner (CNN, HBO) and CBS (Showtime, Smithsonian Channel), possess a market share of 70%. They found a highly lucrative business model and exploit it as long as they can. This underlines the oligopolistic nature of the broadcast industry, representing an undesirable state for users, advertisers and content providers alike. As television consumption has remained steady in recent years, this translates to consistent ad spends. With broadcasters belonging to the culture of the respective country, TV networks do not only sit on a big and fat honeypot, but are also powerful enough to retain the throne. They hold on to their position by actively hindering innovation.

If you don’t go forward, you go backwards.

Man is a creature of habit. Man often makes no sense.

Although people are complaining about television, the majority stays loyal and continuously watches TV. It might be the addictive numbness after a long day at work that makes it attractive to let the broadcast wash over you. It might be modest demands. It might just be a habit. It might not be rational.

However, two things became clear to me. First, people still watch television. Second, what sucks about TV is the missing innovation. TV networks all around the world have a choice: Either they decide to innovate, accepting short-term losses due to heavy investment, or they milk the existing television ecosystem while hindering any innovation, leading to short-term profits handed with an unknown expiry date. With little to no efforts for innovation, TV networks seem to have listened to Wall Street’s cry for quick profits over sustainable business models. As with any public company, reinventing yourself would mean taking away profitability that shareholders have been used to, resulting in the same uproar as taking away the lollipop from a baby. Nevertheless, it is just a matter of time until these practises backfire. Technologies like Connected TVs and the Blockchain deliver opportunities to decentralize rusty television ecosystem. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Eventually, that girl from High School still living at home must make it to the big city. The adaptation to the modern age is inevitable. Otherwise, she will lose all of her attractiveness and will be forgotten forever.