First it was the end of history. Then the end of the the tablet. Now it's the end of television!
May 3, 2013
Back in 1992, US academic Francis Fukuyama made himself a hostage to fortune when he published his book "The End of History." In it he expounded his theory that, "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Wrong, just plain wrong. The theory simply doesn't hold up in the post 9/11 world in which Western liberal democracy seems more likely to to go the way of the dodo than spread rational liberal capitalist enlightenment around the globe.
Now, moving quickly on to our industry. Earlier this week Thorsten Heins, the chief executive of BlackBerry, garnered more than a few column inches of free publicity for the company formerly known as RIM by declaring that tablet devices are already obsolescent and will be gone from the face of the planet within five years.
Wrong, just plain wrong. Billions will be in use by 2018.
And now, Eric Schmidt of Google has once again backed into the limelight to proclaim that television is a zombie.
Wrong, wronger than wrong. Wronger than the wrongest wrong thing in the world's biggest wrong box.
Schmidt was, of course, preaching to the converted when he outlined his theory to a gathering comprised mainly of digital advertisers in New York City. Basically he was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear (and what will be of great benefit to Google) when he said that video over the Internet has already replaced television. "That’s already happened,” he said.
Mr. Schmidt was speaking against the background of the news that YouTube recently recorded more than a billion users in a month - and that more 18- to 34-year olds in the US watch YouTube than cable TV networks.
Schmidt's contends that YouTube is popular because it is interactive and also because what he calls "the younger demographic" have grown up watching both professional and amateur broadcasters and content on the site. Thus, he contends, ordinary TV is moribund. Bit of a leap there on scant evidence wouldn't you say?
Schmidt's speech should be put in historical context. It is probably not a coincidence that exactly a year ago YouTube announced that it intends to "reinvent television'. This is just more of the same hype and bugle oil.
There are more television consumers in the world than some 18-to 34 year-old Americans who, allegedly now watch more YouTube videos than cable TV. Indeed, the latest research shows that in the UK the average viewer watches four hours and seven minutes of broadcast TV as opposed to just 20 minutes of YouTube.
In France, Germany, Italy and across the rest of Europe (east and west) the ratio of those watching broadcast TV as compared to those watching YouTube is even more pronounced - in favour of broadcast TV. It is the same in many other parts of the world. Not everything seen though a US-centric lens is universally applicable.
In Europe, with the massive uptake of PVRs, the trend is away from watching "linear" TV programming and on to watching time-shifted programmes at the viewers own convenience rather than when a TV station decides to broadcast them.
What's more, and what is frightening advertisers (to whom Schmidt is pandering in the US), is that PVRs give consumers the ability to fast-forward through ever-longer and ever more intrusive ad breaks. Hence the sudden popularity (and expense of) of product placement in TV shows.
And if you really want to put things in perspective, look at the latest Neilsen viweing figures in the US. The average American watches 34 and a half hours of TV a week with one demographic (the over 65's) watching 48 hours of TV a week. YouTube figures are well, well short of that.
No Mr. Schmidt. TV isn't dead. It is a global phenomenon in rude good health. The advertising business model underpinning TV in so many parts of the wold may well need to be revised but wishing, hoping and posturing by a man with a vested interest in promoting a particular site to earn yet more money for a company already choked with cash isn't going to do anything to hasten the demise of traditional broadcast TV.
Robet Kynci, YouTube's global head of content, says, "I thought that YouTube was like TV, but it isn't. I was wrong. TV is one-way. YouTube talks back."
Precisely. And for many people that is the nub of the problem. Most don't want to be interactive whilst watching the box. They want to sit back, relax and be "informed, educated and entertained" as the first Director General of the BBC, Lord Reith, put it.
And he, an arch-conservative (with a small 'c") favoured a "socialist" licence fee - and no bloody adverts. "For which relief, much thanks", as Shakespeare wrote. (He's been on the telly too, you know, sometimes without ad breaks)
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