The future of TV

September 11th, 2015

I strongly dislike the TV model. The always-on, million channel, ad ridden model. But I love watching things on my TV. So, for many years Eliza and I have had both a DVR and Apple TV connected to our living room, pub, and bedroom TVs.

This has allowed us to control the TV model to some degree. The DVR allowed us to time-shift — that is, we can watch what we want when we’d prefer regardless of when the show originally aired. The Apple TV afforded us the ability to bring content from the web into the living room.

I use the Apple TV far more than the DVR. I believe if I added up the last 5 or 6 years worth of DVR usage there would be less than a half dozen series that I’ve recorded.

When Netflix was added to the Apple TV this helped to reduce our DVR usage even more. Some of the shows that we may have tried to record on DVR were now easily found and watched, at our leisure, on Netflix. We haven’t watched many of the series available on Netflix… perhaps three or four together and one or two each separately. (I say “not many” because I hear of other’s habits and I’m impressed with their ability to watch so many things.)

YouTube is just now beginning to eat away my TV time. I’ve watched videos on YouTube with regularity since it debuted on my computer or mobile device, of course, but it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I began to subscribe to YouTube channels and sat down and watched them on my Apple TV.

I think it may be an age thing. There are millions of teenagers around the world that follow YouTube celebrities as if they were Brad Pitt. Actually, to them these people are Brad Pitt. Our Brad Pitt simply wasn’t on YouTube when he became a superstar. So whenever I heard kids mention names from YouTube fame and I didn’t know them I dismissed how big of a shift this really was; the shift from watching content on “TV” to watching YouTube content.

I guess you could say I did what old men do; ignored what was happening right in front of my face and — internally anyway — denied it to the point where I wasn’t following along. Such is the price of age I suppose.

But not anymore. I’m starting to jump all in on the Internet TV shift. I’m slowly finding more and more YouTube channels that I enjoy and I’m subscribing to them. Some of them are the same ones the younger people enjoy — but not all. I’ve found a few gems that have relatively small audiences compared to the incredibly huge audience sizes of the YouTube elite.

A small side note here: Some of the audiences that have been built up on YouTube are incredibly large when compared to what cable TV audience sizes are. The cable TV model is dying very, very quickly now. As a very recent example, Key & Peele, who are one of the most popular comedy acts of this current generation, just got cancelled on cable TV. On the web they are huge. Imagine if Seinfeld was cancelled when at the top of their game because people didn’t watch the show on TV but watched all of the shows clips online? The cable TV people can’t even get a grasp on the audiences they’ve built on cable TV as they are shifting to the web. They don’t get it. This isn’t new; see the comments from 2005 on Lonely Island’s Lazy Sunday video on their site.*

So while Apple debuted the brand-new Apple TV on Wednesday and positioned it as “the future of TV” I think they’re behind the curve this time. Not so far behind the curve that they won’t make up any ground but behind the curve nonetheless. This current generation of people are already watching this content on other devices… Apple is simply helping them to get it onto a larger screen in a different room. They’re adjusting to habits that have already been formed and, in a lot of cases I’d say, are as entrenched as “channel surfing” was in my youth.

Will the Apple TV work? Yes. For some content and for some people. But it won’t pull people away from their mobile devices. The Apple TV is already a fairly big hit and for years it was simply a “hobby” for Apple. You very, very rarely saw an ad for it. The Apple TV and remote both look ancient now (compared to the new one). And they have a large number of developers simply waiting in the wings to bring the content they’re already bringing to iOS devices onto the larger screen and into the living room. All of these things will help to sell a lot of the new Apple TVs.

The only thing that may hold the Apple TV back from being the way that younger people watch TV and play games is that the intimacy with their own device is lost the moment whatever they are doing is on a 46” screen in the living room. They like to watch Vine, Periscope, YouTube, Vevo, etc. on their own phones or tablets because they aren’t watching what their parents are watching. It is their own YouTube subscriptions that they care about not their brother’s or sister’s or mom’s subscriptions. So the private and intimate nature of how they consume the content now gets lost on Apple TV a bit.

That being said, Apple may be coming in at just the right time. The Apple TV originally debuted in 2007. Someone that was 16 in 2007 is now 24 years old. They may very well only watch content via the web on their own devices but now, since they own a living room of their own, may bring it to their TV. There are millions upon millions of people that “grew up” watching TV on their phones. These are likely the people Apple is genuinely after. Not me, the old geezer that just found out YouTube was cool to watch on my TV.

* In case the comment disappears on The Lonely Island’s site. They essentially said that Lazy Sunday exploded on YouTube to 5M views (a huge, huge record in 2005) and that NBC pulled the video from YouTube because “they’re so cool”. The Lonely Island people knew the Internet. NBC didn’t. And perhaps still doesn’t a decade later where billions of views on a single video now happens regularly. Something that has never, ever happened on TV.