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Modular by Design — Broadcast TV

The impact of modular approach can also be felt in the television business.

Personal Video Recorders like Tivo have managed to break down television into its most basic set of modules: the TV show, attacking the concept of broadcasting in the process. The problem here is that television stations have been working on bundling several TV shows as part of a package.

The science of primetime planning is predicated on the concept that people who watch one TV show may also take a look at shows that are broadcast before and after that particular show. Based on this concept, TV stations can prop up the audience of a particular show by broadcasting it at a time that is close to another more popular one. However, Tivo breaks down that logic by giving the user leeway in terms of what they see (only the content they want) and when they see it (when they want), distributing audiences over any time of the day.

The Tivo approach is breaking the TV business model because it attacks the concept of primetime television. On Tivo, primetime is any time, which means that audiences become much harder to track and makes it impossible to assume that large groups of people will be watching the same set of shows at a particular time. In the past, TV broadcaster only had to plan around what shows their competitors would broadcast in the same time slot. However, with Tivo, they now have to compete with every shows all the time, creating a much more complex situation in terms of tracking user patterns. For example, a TV show that was broadcast on Tuesday night at 8pm could be competing against a TV show that is broadcast at 9pm on Thursday.

This means that TV stations are now in competitions with other TV stations but shows are also in competition internally within a particular TV station. The only way to counter this is to work as an industry on defining a new set of audience metrics that would take into account the fact that the television broadcasting grid no longer exist and has been replaced by a much wider and disparate universe of shows that can either be micro-targeted. By micro-targeted, what I mean is that a richer set of data needs to be gathered on an audience, figuring out what appeals a particular show has and then targeting advertising sales based on that new model. Broadcaster no longer have the luxury of assuming that the complete audience will be distributed across a limited set of shows and should now assume that shows are distributed across the complete audience space.

In terms of working in partnership, I believe that these kinds of efforts can happen because I’ve seen them happen in the past. When I was working for Turner Broadcasting, I was involved in the efforts of the EDI cable committee, which defined how to share data between cable companies and advertising agencies (this was in the early 90s, before the Internet became popular.) I suspect there must be some committee looking at audience metrics; if there isn’t, there should be.

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