October 9, 2013

Let’s Do Launch – Broadcast and the Future of TV

One nice perk about being an analyst covering the future of TV is that I get to talk to lots of people across the TV ecosystem about their challenges and concerns. Put simply, what keeps TV guys up at night?

In recent weeks, many of my client conversations have coalesced around a single theme: the future of broadcast TV.

  • What do we do with broadcast?
  • How do we retain the existing broadcast audience?
  • How do we win younger viewers back?
  • How do we make broadcast relevant again?

So what is the future of the broadcast? Two main points.

  1. Broadcast is evolving from a technology into a content marketing concept.
  2. The technology industry’s concept of the “product launch” provides the template for what the future of broadcast will look like.

Broadcast is about Marketing, not Technology.

If you’ve read this far into one of my opinions, you are aware that I believe the future of TV is an app. Put another way, the linear broadcasting (digital, analog, or otherwise) model of TV is being supplemented (in the future, perhaps even overtaken) by an app model based upon on-demand streaming to downloadable interactive software clients (apps) on every device with a screen. For the full version of this argument, please check out my report The Future of TV: A View from 2013.

Today the clearest example of this phenomenon is Netflix, which doesn’t broadcast anything. Nevertheless, the marketing function of broadcasting (i.e., getting new content in front of viewers at a single point in time) is highly relevant to Netflix. The Associated Press posted a great article last summer upon the release of Netflix’s new original series, Orange is the New Black. In a nutshell, after weeks of heavy promotion to its users, Netflix posted the first episode of the new series at midnight on July 11, 2013. Note that this was not a live stream. Netflix simply published the episode for viewing anytime on-demand. Even so, and despite the late hour, people watched in droves. Within thirty minutes after its release, Orange is the New Black Episode 1 was already the third most popular show on all of Netflix! Chris Jaffe, Netflix VP of Product Innovation, summed up the phenomenon perfectly, “This is Silicon Valley’s equivalent of a midnight movie premiere in Hollywood.”

Broadcast = Launch.

In the old world, broadcast meant live programs, simultaneously both the beginning and the end of a viewing opportunity. Now you see it, now you don’t. That’s why they invented reruns and DVRs.

Product launches are a very distinct concept. There is a beginning, which may be (but doesn’t have to be) “live.”  More importantly, there is no end. People who miss the live broadcast are not excluded from enjoying the experience at a later time.

The purpose of a launch is to create excitement and community, as the most passionate fans have the same experience at more or less the same time. The new Grand Theft Auto 5 video game was launched on September 17, 2013. It did $800 million in revenue on its first day. It’s been on sale ever since – just saw a stack of them at my neighborhood Walmart on Saturday. Now that’s a launch.

Of course, unlike movies or video games, TV shows consist of multiple episodes. In the new world, companies like Netflix can release all the episodes at once (as it did with Arrested Development), or one at a time (as it did with Orange is the New Black). A variety of combinations are possible.

  1. Releasing one new episode per week feels like traditional TV.
  2. A new episode every night for two weeks feels like an old-school miniseries (remember Roots?).
  3. Posting a whole season at once is reminiscent of DVDs.

In any case, if distributors are serious about embracing the launch model, the episodes need to go up and stay up rather than disappearing after 24, 48, or 72 hours.


As an industry concept, “broadcast” is becoming less and less useful. As Netflix has shown, it is possible to have compelling launch events around new TV shows without broadcasting (and even without live streaming). If the future of TV is indeed an app, the future of broadcast TV is to serve as a launch pad for new TV content.

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