7 things people get wrong about the Internet and TV


If you read the comments on my first three BoingBoing pieces (here, here and here) about the TV industry, you'll find a lot of interesting (and colorful!) opinions about television and the Internet. There are a ton of good thoughts and ideas in there, but also a lot of things I often hear repeated about TV and the Internet that aren't actually true. I compiled the 7 most common and laid out the realities around them, as seen from my side of the equation. Looking forward to reading a new round of comments that disagree with me ;)

1. The Internet is killing TV

Everyone thought the Internet might "Napsterize" TV, but so far that hasn't happened. It turns out watching TV on the Internet leads you to watch more TV on your television. Plus, the Internet is a fantastic tool to promote and market TV shows. Syfy has an especially robust Internet presence (ahem), and we're having some of our best ratings in history. Here's a quote from a Nielsen survey that illustrates the point:

"The initial fear was that Internet and mobile video and entertainment would slowly cannibalize traditional TV viewing, but the steady trend of increased TV viewership alongside expanded simultaneous usage argues something quite different."

2. Internet distribution has made TV channels obsolete

Also hasn't happened. Although you can get TV streamed over the Internet, as yet no remotely sustainable business model has emerged to make any real money off it. It turns out you still need the mature business model and massive revenues that TV channels provide to create the content people want to stream. In other words, without TV channels there would be no TV shows to make streaming TV on the Internet possible.

3. The traditional TV model is dying

The broadcast model of networks like ABC and NBC is certainly under a lot of pressure, but cable networks are doing very well. Part of the problem is actually a press issue…the bigger, older broadcast networks get a disproportionate amount of coverage, so when they have issues, it can seem like all of TV is in trouble. For instance, buried at the end of this otherwise doom and gloom filled MarketWatch article is an interesting tidbit:

"Cable was again a positive note for NBC Universal in the fourth quarter, showing an 8% increase in operating profit, with solid growth at USA, Syfy, Bravo and Oxygen, Sherin said. First-quarter advertising rates at the cable networks are up more than 30%, Sherin explained, after increasing by the same amount during the fourth quarter."

4. TV networks are stupid for not putting all their content online

This again goes back to a business model issue. On cable TV you have a healthy, mature business that provides major revenues on a consistent basis. It's in no danger of going away tomorrow. On the Internet you have a nascent business model that provides as yet little revenue, all of which comes from content funded by the old model. To abandon one for the other doesn't make any sense. What does make sense is trying to figure out the new stuff while still doing the old, working stuff. This isn't a zero sum game. New businesses can be additive to old ones.

5. TV networks stubbornly cling to the old business model and will die because of it

The cable TV model is a healthy one today, but it's not a static one. We try new things constantly. We created Hulu. We put our content on Web sites, on mobile devices and on services like iTunes. We create Web series and TV/Web hybrids. We build repositories of old series online to see if there is a Long Tail effect (so far…not really). We make widgets and apps and Syfy is even co-creating a massively multiplayer online game that will be tied to a TV series. When we find things that work, we do more of them. When they don't work, we do less of them. The reality is, TV networks probably do a lot more than you think to embrace new technologies, and we probably do a lot less than we think we do. See definition of "happy medium".

6. Web series like Dr. Horrible are the way of the future

Dr. Horrible was great, fun, successful and at this point it's unable to be replicated unless you happen to be Joss Whedon who has a lot of talented friends willing to work well below their normal rates. There are definitely successful Web series out there (hello @feliciaday!), but as yet the medium is still struggling to find its footing and is in no danger of replacing TV shows. In fact, many of the Web series producers I talk to made their shows as a way to get into the TV industry, not as a full-time career.

7. The elephant in the room is…

Every time I talk about TV with an Internet savvy crowd, someone brings up the elephant in the room. It seems there is one issue everyone knows about that the TV industry is ignoring and it will be our certain and final death: It's file sharing. It's antiquated Nielsen ratings. It's Google. It's Apple. It's Google AND Apple. It's college kids who don't watch your silly "TV" thing. It's new technologies that will make TV cheap to produce and put you out of business. Etc.

As it happens, we know about these issues, and the new ones that come up every day. They aren't being ignored or killing anything. On the off chance we overlook one, it's a good bet that Internet commenters on sites like BoingBoing will alert us to that fact. They often use key words like "FAIL!!!!" and "dinosaur" to flag us, making their notes especially easy to find.

The elephant in the room is that there are no elephants in the room.