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Experts: TV Windows Must Change

29 Oct, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey



NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The story of Susan Boyle, the plain-looking Scottish singer who wowed the world with her voice on “Britain's Got Talent,” is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the TV industry today, according to Brian David Johnson, director of Intel’s Future Casting and Experience Research division.

Thanks to international news coverage and YouTube, Boyle’s initial, mid-2009 performance became an overnight sensation. But a documentary about her took a full six months after its creation to air in North America, leading Americans to simply pirate the one-hour show en masse, Johnson said.

“It was a global story, but the content creators were limited,” he said, speaking Oct. 28 during a panel on the future of TV, hosted by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “The business structures we have now are not nimble enough. [Consumers pirate video] not because they want to screw [content owners] over, but because fans want timely access.”

His example echoed a consensus among the panelists: The TV industry is still trying to monetize windows in a digital world that bears no tolerance for windowing.

“Imagine if ‘Survivor’ was six months behind,” mulled Gary Wheelhouse, social media manager for Australian retailer Harvey Norman. “You wouldn’t be able to look at the Internet [because of spoilers].”

After initial airings, networks have done what they can to offer domestic content on their own websites, and they’ve also turned to ad-supported outlets such as Hulu to help make pirated TV content less attractive, panelists said. But the American TV industry still fails to recognize, and accommodate, the desire for international fare, from Japanese anime, to Spanish telenovelas, to South Korean soap operas, Johnson said.

Henry Jenkins, with the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, shared another example: While the 2005-09 Fox series “Prison Break” was live, within 24 hours of an episode airing in North America it had been translated and shared online in every Chinese language, even though no legal Chinese outlets were available.

“National boundaries of TV are breaking down, but our market boundaries are old,” he said. “You can get content free sooner or later, but the timing gap is important. It’s not a moral failure of fans. It’s a market failure of the industry.”

And it’s not just TV content that consumers want right away.

“The film industry specifically is a little bit saddled by these windows,” said Amy Reinhard, SVP of strategic planning and business development for Paramount Pictures, noting that the studios have been trying to pinpoint the right windows for content since VHS. “The DVD windows are moving down, and you see all these different [consumer] behaviors pop up in between.”

“With piracy it’s people wanting it when they want it,” she added. “We need to learn how to deal with that.”

Now that Internet-connected devices in the living room are the norm, both the TV and film industries need to consider how they window their products, panelists agreed. But as Jenkins noted, simple TV entertainment isn’t going anywhere, and “we don’t want to mess it up.”

“You can’t bring all the baggage [to TV] that comes with computing,” said Genevieve Bell, director of Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research Labs. “Drivers to download, a blank screen that says ‘memory dump.’ Anything that makes [TV] more complicated hurts.”

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hosted a panel on the future of TV in North Hollywood, Calif. Oct. 28. (L-R): Genevieve Bell, director of Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research Labs; Henry Jenkins, with the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts; Brian David Johnson, director of Intel’s Future Casting and Experience Research division; Amy Reinhard, SVP of strategic planning and business development for Paramount Pictures; and Gary Wheelhouse, social media manager for Australian retailer Harvey Norman.

 


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