Watch TV.

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Watch TVOne of the most compelling things I’ve read lately is “TV’s Untapped Potential as a Digital Business,” David Cooperstein’s recent post on Forbes.com.  While he makes some really insightful recommendations about TV’s need for digital innovation – updating the ratings currency, speeding decision and switching times and integrating more easily with the ‘rest of the industry’ – Cooperstein ultimately serves us best by laying waste to the anachronistic notion of some kind digital victory over the dark forces of TV.  “..You have to add up a lot of digital pieces to begin to approach the size of the TV ecosystem today, and TV keeps growing,” he points out, adding that TV moves a lot of money and attention “…at far greater scale, and with a lot less effort.”

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Bionic Advertising Systems, an advertising technology company focused on delivering innovative software that streamlines and automates media workflow for marketers, their advertising agencies, and publishers.

To some, this may sound like a recipe for inertia and another decade of running out the clock on a TV-buying model that serves agencies and broadcasters pretty well.  But I think the real story is far more complex, challenging and interesting.  I don’t consider myself an expert, but based on all I’m seeing and hearing, the next five years should see a virtual renaissance in the TV/Video ecosystem.  But in order to see it all clearly and fully participate, it’s important to reconsider a few big ideas.

  • Broadcast and Cable TV can become more digital without walking away from their core economics.  Look for the kind of innovations Cooperstein notes in the article to help update TV’s economic infrastructure.
  • Addressability and data-driven buying are crossing the line.  Set top box data from cable MSOs and satellite companies is already starting to be used to drive addressable and enhanced TV buys.  If you’re wondering why AT&T bought DirecTV, the answer is in here.
  • TV is not one business, but several.  Those in the digital trenches love to ball up our fists and talk about “TV,” but what exactly are we talking about?  National broadcast? Syndication? Local?  Basic Cable?  “TV” is like Yugoslavia:  an artificial patchwork of different tribes and beliefs.  Just add many more layers of new complexity and scores of new players to the business.
  • Video is bigger than TV.  The desire for professional video content is bottomless.  And it’s going to be enough to support a lot of niche content and distribution businesses.  There will always be consolidation of power and dollars (the next Viacom, Google and NBC will probably be Viacom, Google and NBC) but innovation and riches have always grown in the margins.
  • Scarcity vs. Abundance is the real fulcrum.  I’ve always thought that what truly separated “TV” and “digital” was the portion of supply that could be controlled.  So far, broadcasters and agencies have done a good job of using scarcity and control to keep a profitable model thriving.  We’ll see how it goes from here.

It’s still early.  And man is it going to get interesting.

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