What TV executives believe about their audience

A few years back I was involved in redesigning a website for a TV channel in Sweden. What they told me gave me a profound insight into the minds of the networks. To bait your click, you won't believe what they believe. We met in a conference room in the networks main building. He was in charge of communications for several channels that belonged to the network. I was a junior employee at a highly regarded marketing agency.

We sat down, three of us from the firm, and the TV exec, to discuss what we would be doing. We began by offering a series of ideas about how they could communicate their unique brands and shows, but the exec stopped us half way though.

"No, no. You've got it all wrong." he said "this isn't why people watch our channel at all".

We all leaned in. The exec launched into a vague pitch about what made them truly unique, summing it up in a phrase that is forever etched in my mind:

"People stay with our channel, for our programming"

I was confused. I didn't think he meant any coding was going on, but didn't understand the term, thankfully he explained it. In the view of the network, people tuned into to a channel, and stayed with that channel, because of their unique arrangement of shows and commercials. The programming, is their term for the schedule of material broadcast. Each show, each commercial break and even the ads themselves, are scheduled to reflect the overall feel of the TV channel. This is, according to him, why people like one channel over another.

I was stunned by this. Not the information itself, I've always expected every media form to think like this to some degree, but by the thought that these executives actually believed that in the age of the internet.

This was prior to Netflix launch in Sweden, but anyone who had seen any statistics about video usage online, or seen anyone using youtube or torrenting a movie knew that this was completely false. Not just ignorant, but incorrect almost to the point of lunacy. People find and watch specific content because they like that content. They might endure everything else, only if there's no easier way. But they do not choose their content by association.

I walked away from that meeting in a stunned silence.

Recently I think I have realized how this idea took shape. TV usage is measured by putting a box near your TV that records audio cues from the programs and commercials. This recorded data is later collected and aggregated to find statistically interesting patterns.

The problem, like with most statistics, is of course that this collection method cannot measure intent. So if you were to turn on your TV while you do the dishes, and talk on the phone, and then see one program before you go to bed, you will be measured as staying with one channel for quite some time before jumping to a specific show and then turning off.

Even though your intent was background noise while you do something else, the measurement is easily interpreted as you enjoying the channel and sticking to the programming.

For that network, or at least that executive, the numbers were clear. Their unique programming was what kept people glued to the TV screen five hours every night.

This is not a jab at TV, though they are aging rather badly, but a warning to all of us not to get caught forcing what we want users to think onto statistics, just because we believe our work to be important. Let's never become so arrogant we start believing our brand is more important than our product. In the end, every business is about creating value for your customer.

(If anyone has similar insights into the TV industry, I'd LOVE to hear it. Please post in the comments below.)

How the Apple iTV will work

Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple's plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.

Go to market problem

When asked what he thought about set top boxes a few years ago Steve Jobs famously replied that there was no good go to market strategy.

The TV market is very different from Apple's usual markets in that consumers tend to buy new TVs close to 10 years apart. While Apple prefers to update their products every year.

"What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV."

The Apple iTV though, won't need to be updated every year. I believe Apple will release basically a huge monitor with some inputs and a decoding chip. The chip will easily be able to push 1080p or maybe even higher quality video in crisp quality. But in itself that is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV.

User interface

Apple has always been famous for their interfaces. From the mouse to the click-wheel to the touch screen, Apple has always tried to create intuitive and immersive user interfaces. For the Apple iTV they have just released a UI that seems perfect for a TV set. Siri.

Using natural language to control your TV could be spectacular. Of course they'll probably throw in an Apple remote just to make everyone comfortable. But I will bet we will all be telling our TVs to turn on and off in the near future. And all iOS devices would also control the iTV, of course.

Content

Think of all your content from your Mac, your iOS device and your iTunes account seamlessly streamed through iCloud. The Apple iTV hardly even needs any local storage.

Some exclusive deals with production companies are sure to come. But if we look in the Apple media library they already have a really good offering. What they lack is real time programming. Most real time broadcasting is already available for iOS devices however. Which brings us to apps.

Apps

The Apple iTV doesn't need apps. Don't get me wrong, I want apps. But here's the magic sauce in my prediction. Apple won't make the iTV a stand alone device. The market doesn't update their TVs often enough for that. Instead the iTV will be an insanely great screen on which to project your content. From iOS devices. From iCloud. From Mac. Where you find AirPlay, you'll be able to push content to your iTV.

Real Racing2 Party Play

Want to play a game? Use your iPad or iPhone for controls and they'll sync the games graphics onto your iTV screen.

Want to see a movie? Start it on any device and just click AirPlay to show it on your iTV.

Want to listen to music? You get the point.

This might sound underwhelming. Apple's announcements often seem so at first glance. But then you realize what a profound change in the way you use technology it offers. Think about having a monitor at home that can play all your digital content. No matter what it is. Playing a game on your Mac? Watching a movie on your iPad? How about doing both side by side. Since the devices steam it to the iTV, it can handle anything you throw at it. Why not let your kids play games while you watch the news? Someone walks in with some photos to show? Put them up there with everything else.

"The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates."

The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates. Siri will get smarter through iCloud. More and more content will be available through iTunes. And every time you buy a new phone or tablet the iTV get's a major bump in features and power.

All wireless. All simple. A perfect Apple strategy. Or is it?