Thursday 8 September 2011

TV Programs Will Become Software

This is connected TV

I’ve mentioned Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart lecture before. In it, he tells his audience that they will need engineers at every level of their organisations because, basically, everything is becoming software. He is completely right. He is far righter than you are giving him credit for.

Shops are becoming software. Amazon is already software and a shop. Supermarkets deliver to your house when you order online. They are becoming software. You can’t fix your car anymore because your car is now software. Google themselves are developing quite capable self-driving cars. Drivers are becoming software.

One day, Hippos will also become software

Computer games are, of course, already software. The wonder of social games, the wonder of Zynga is that they understood that better than anyone else. If you have software running on a connected device, then you can gather as much data as you like about the behaviour of your users. If that software is a game they love to play, that’s more data for you about how to make a game they’ll love even more. Or to offer to advertisers. Or anyone willing to pay for it. And it doesn’t matter that most of your audience pays nothing for your data-capturing entertainment, some of them pay more than enough for you to make a billion hundred money.

The TV is just a big screen

Television, well that will be software too. I don’t mean digital, I mean software. This is an important distinction to make. Catch-up TV and pirated shows, streams and files are digital, but they aren’t software. The BBC might know how many people watch their shows on iPlayer and probably more besides, but they’re not hooking that into anything particularly useful for their users or their business. Maybe they can’t. The BBC is weird.

Anyway, if you make your program a piece of software - I’m tempted to say ‘appify’ but that feels myopic and wanky - you can add so much more to it. You can bring attention back to it. BluRay already gets sort of close to this with director’s commentaries and live ads and so on, but the potential is so much greater. 

Lions look really weird when they're wet

When your program is software, your users can buy the soundtrack or the clothes or the car or the holiday or the book or the calendar or the action figure right away. Get the recipe, order the ingredients, follow the cast on twitter or facebook, read the wiki pages, hear the commentary, vote, watch deleted scenes, play-along, interact. And that’s without counting entirely new kinds of program that could only exist as software.

Broadcasters are probably fucked

Once your program is software, it matters far, far less if it gets pirated, because it’s not content so much as a shop. So I download your show for nothing, but I spend a few quid here or there. The adverts are still there, because the adverts are sourced for me personally by the software. And ads that actually mean something to me, I am quite happy to watch. Good adverts are good content, I am quite happy with good content.

Why would anyone advertise off the back of the data from BARB or Nielsen ratings, when they can instead aim their adverts with complete precision and confidence that they are targeting exactly the people they want their message to get to? I know I’m wasting half my advertising budget, I just don’t know which half, the old saying goes. I know I’m wasting 10% of my advertising budget, I just don’t know which 10% isn’t as catchy, is it? Shame.

This man will still be watching the radio in a shack. Seems happy though

Not soon, but not that far away from now, television will become software and free to air TV will become free to download TV. That will be better for users, better for production houses, better for advertisers. Not really very good for broadcasters, but you can’t win ‘em all, eh lads?


  1. Software is, generally speaking, buggy. It's broken in many interesting and diverse ways - the broken-ness increasing in frequency and surprise as the context of the software becomes more complex.

    While it might be simple to make something that works in a straightforward way in a complex space, it will be far harder to predict what it will do.

    We're all used to this in stuff that is software, but the audience for a broadcast may be less tolerant. Do you hope that whoever is making this software is especially sympathetic to the new-media needs of broadcasters and audience? Can we imagine that those teams are thinking as fast as the individuals who would seek to exploit a new mass of software and users?

  2. I'm not aware with many people being especially unhappy with iPlayer or Hulu or Netfix on a technical level, so it's not something I'd have particular concerns about, especially given we're talking about something that isn't likely to be a reality for some unknowable time in the future.

    My girlfriend assures me she was very patient when Lambing Live went down, and having presided over several remarkably long delays with earlier, interactive internet TV productions, generally the sense of 'doing it live' helps, lifts back the curtain for the audience.

    I'd certainly hope that the technical solution would be one that was well suited to the intended use, and intended users, of course. I can't begin to imagine a situation where that wouldn't be the case.

    If we're talking broadcast, the 'I just want to sit down and not think, even a bit' kind of TV, I don't see any particular problems with the technical delivery. It'll take a while to get there, of course, but I can't see any particular reasons to worry.

    If I'm honest, I'm not hugely sure what you're trying to say.

  3. 'Software is eating the world', Marc Andreessen.