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Tech Needs TV

There’s something in the water of technology centers in the US that drives an idea that digital media always means revolution. It’s been there a very, very long time. And it makes pretty outrageous claims about technology’s impact.

But when it comes to “revolution”, more often than not, human reality keeps getting in the way. Nowhere is this more true than with the digirati myth that TV will diminish and fade into the past.

Steve Jobs offered us a dose of reality in 1996 - and reveals a wisdom about technology that should become more widely embraced. (It’s reprinted in the new Wired special edition about Jobs.) In this article, two quotes about current topic stand out.

What’s the biggest surprise this technology will deliver?
The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.”

“These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that. But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light – that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

“The Next Insanely Great Thing”, Originally Published February 1996, Wired Magazine

Nielsen offered dose of reality on the TV issues this week –  with new numbers on time and place shifting. (Link here.) The message from Nielsen? Time shifting and place shifting (e.g. mobile access) of TV programming is primarily EXPANDING TV’s role in our lives.

Funny thing is there has always been an elite in the US that looks at TV viewing with smug & self-righteous satisfaction. They usually claim to “never watch TV”. More recently, the claim we hear is “I skip all the ads”. (Funny thing is that, while there have always been some people who ignore or skip, experience suggests these statements project behavior people want to believe about themselves and ignores the tremendous influence of both TV and TV advertising in their lives.)

And there is a great love of anti-TV myths – from telling us over 50 years ago that sitting too close is bad for your eyes (false) to telling us more recently that infants who watch too much TV have weaker language skills (quite a silly idea which studies don’t confirm).

Despite all this TV antagonism, why doesn’t it die?

Perhaps TV gives the mass of people what they want. Yes, everyone complains about TV – but it’s simply human to complain about something as pervasive as TV. Besides football, what else would fill water cooler conversations? Of course, none of this complaining decreases TV ratings.

Interestingly, Jobs discussed TV in that same interview. His thoughts suggest he was also anti-TV – but reveals some interesting wisdom.

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, your realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. … It’s the truth.”

(In the ommitted area, Jobs observes that this is far more depressing of an idea to him than the idea of a network conspiracy.)

And all this means…? First, there’s nothing to suggest Jobs’ has it all right. I disagree with his depression. The Roman’s had the coliseum. In the middle ages, even more macabre things were high entertainment. And public executions remained entertainment throughout the 19th century.

Looked at against history, TV gives us a wide range of refreshingly harmless entertainment. Of course, every individual will give us a different viewpoint about which TV is good and which is bad. And that’s one of the beauties of TV.

It’s time for the tech biz to grow up and learn some key things about TV:

1. TV delivers viewers tremendous value today – WITHOUT digital revolution.
2. TV will thrive in a state not far removed from what it is today.
3. Digital enthusiasts should be cautious about upending the TV ecosystem because it will be far easier for them to screw up TV than to make it better.
4. Successful digital companies will respect TV’s value then enhance it rather than replace it.

TV will always evolve. I wonder what it will look like in another 10 years? Probably a lot like TV, but different. After all, in Jobs’ words “things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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