My perspective on television is probably different than most. For one, I wasn't allowed to watch television growing up as a child. It was never part of my daily routine, never part of the discourse between friends and classmates who seemed to be weaned on "Happy Days" as much as anything else in our culture. On the other hand, I often had a close and sometimes very intimate entrée to the inner most workings of the television model. More than a few noteworthy, and sometimes surreptitious, meetings took place quite literally in my own backyard. My father, the late Leonard Goldenson, was the founding chairman of ABC Networks, back when television was still a nascent industry. Over time, he grew his business considerably up until the day he sold it in 1986. The television business continued to expand, and soon cable television would as well. As choices grew from three channels to well over a hundred, so did the complexities and costs of the business. It became more elaborate, more bureaucratic, you could even say unwieldy.
Today, I believe like many others that the business of television, whether you define that as network, cable, satellite and/or Internet and mobile, is on the verge of historic and exceedingly uncertain change. Old models have been put into question and new ones have yet to be proven. For me though, the issue is not TV versus Internet TV. Rather it is that distinction, the wall that separates the two that will soon melt away. Very determined companies both big and small (Apple, Cablevision, Boxee and Sling among others), are intent on making the process of watching either type of content on your home TV possible, and perhaps more importantly, effortless. The ability to watch NBC's "The Office" on a flatscreen TV will ultimately be as easy as it is to watch an Internet series made without the involvement of any major network or studio. That series may likely star many of the same TV actors, too. Soon the American viewer will decide not among hundreds of channels, but an infinite possibility of options when he or she turns on the TV. Moreover, the desire to scroll through Facebook on that flatscreen may be more tempting than all of the above. One will in time no longer have to choose between the TV screen and the computer screen, there will only, and finally, be just a screen.
However, the real sleeping giant, I believe, is the advent of video on mobile devices. The US lags painfully behind much of the developed world. I've spent some time in Asia and am exasperated by the gap between their mobile experience and ours. Watching video on a phone is nothing unusual there; you could go so far as to call it commonplace. The difference grows increasingly disparate and alarming as time goes on. It's something our country needs to address and hopefully resolve. When the telecom obstacles stalling our nation (the subject of another article altogether) ultimately do subside, mobile will present another sizable, if not monumental, ingredient to the TV viewing alchemy cauldron. Its impact will be perhaps the most transformative.
As president of MWG Entertainment, a digital production company, our challenge is two-fold. We must try to predict what is over the horizon, and then, how best to position our business to take advantage of it. It's a challenging, but thrilling opportunity. We must remind ourselves that the Internet will always be at its core an active medium, television a passive one. They have commonalities of course, but it is this fundamental distinction that I believe holds the key to success for those in the profession of making Internet and mobile programming viable. The more we learn to let the viewer actively participate and to dig into a series, to converse with it, to make it their own experience, the more options we'll find ourselves with both financially and creatively.
This afternoon, I'm in Los Angeles sitting with a friend as I watch my eight year-old daughter play in the park (I do let her watch TV, but just on the weekends). I wonder what entertainment will look like through her eyes as she grows into a young woman, and later through her grandchildren's eyes. I hope that she will find programming in whatever form it may take that will shape her childhood positively, and that she will find her version of "Happy Days."