Nightclubbing in NYC
First a Little Background…
This column started with a phone call. Tracy Swedlow called me from Manhattan and yelled, "Brian, I just spent the entire day in New York and there are screens everywhere!"
She went on to say she had an idea for a column for [itvt]. It was a simple idea: my book Screen Future is going to be published in July 2010. To support the project, I'm going on a six month book tour of sorts. Starting in June and ending in January at CES 2011, I'm going to fly all over the world, chatting with people about the future of TV, entertainment and the devices we all love. Tracy thought it would be interesting if I wrote about the places I was going and the conversations I was having along the way. I liked the idea right away. The whole reason I wrote Screen Future in the first place was to start a conversation.
I am a Consumer Experience Architect for the Intel Corporation, the global microprocessor company. It's my job to envision and spec out consumer experiences with our chips and platforms five to eight years into the future. Sometimes we go as far as 15 years into the future. Now, this might sound like science fiction but it's not. The reality is that in the chip business you need to specify the capabilities of a chip and a platform five to eight years before the product is released into the market. We just finished working on 2015 and now we are working on 2017. In a way it is like building the future but it's a very practical process involving ethnographic research, market trends, economic projections and, yes, sometimes a little science fiction. If you're interested, there's a whole appendix in Screen Future devoted to explaining the consumer experience architecture framework.
For the past seven years I've been working on the future of TV. With the recent rise of 3D TV and Google TV and of Project Canvas in the UK, we're starting to see some of these smart TV products come to market. This is great. We know from our consumer testing that people are really interested in these types of entertainment experiences. But that's the easy part. It's funny, but consumers really get the future of TV and entertainment. The hard part will be the business and technological complexities that must go on behind the scenes. You see, to bring about the future of TV, a large collection of industries are going to need to work together: the high tech industry, device manufacturers, content providers, retailers, service providers, Hollywood, advertising and government, just to name a few. Over the last three years that I was working on the book, I did see something remarkable: people in these industries really had begun to talk but it was just beginning. Some of these conversations were difficult. Many of these different industries have never worked together; some literally don't even speak the same language.
Here's an example: The word program means something very different to a middleware software developer than it does to a large American television broadcaster. I was in a very interesting meeting where I saw this play out. It took the software development company and the American broadcaster about 15 minutes to figure out they were talking about something completely different. Of course, one was talking about a computer application while the other was talking about a television show. Statements like, "We make sure to test all of our programs for any wide deployment" and "How long do you think the program will need to run?" oddly seemed to make sense to each of them, only adding to the confusion.
In the end, my book and this column will be about conversations. I'm going to capture the places, people and discussions that happen on my global tour. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this and I can't wait. I love talking about this stuff and I'm looking forward to meeting even more people and getting their view on the future of TV. Let's set started. First stop: New York City.
Nightclubbing in NYC
I love Manhattan in the summer. It has a very particular smell. Now I'm not talking about the smell of NYC in August, no one really needs to talk about that. Let's just say it's really hot and really humid and it smells like a public bathroom with its own compost heap. No, NYC in early summer is nothing like that at all. It's just starting to get hot, but it's a dry, clean smell. The humidity hasn't set in and the city still cools off at night. The sunsets are long and rich and golden; plus there are glorious thunderstorms. A Haitian taxi driver put it perfectly when she told me, "The city, she nice when it rains at night. It's like she getting a big bath for the morning." Then she laughed and told me to stay out of the sun.
The majority of my conversations in NYC were about how we might make TV social. Now this is a funny idea because TV has always been social. Television was first introduced to the public in bars and taverns, long before it made its way into our living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. Judging by the throngs of people watching the World Cup together and yelling at the TV together, I'd say that TV is still very social. Live sporting events will be very much alive and well in the future of TV.
Today we have access to entertainment on all of our devices. We can watch TV on our phone, get Internet content on the TV, and do just about anything from our laptops. We no longer have to pick a screen of choice. It's not about the Internet killing the TV or the phone replacing the PC as the primary means of accessing the Web. No, it becomes more about context. We use whatever screen we have handy. If we are in our living room in the East Village, then we use the TV. If we are on the IRT commuting, then we might watch TV on our phone. We use whatever screen we have handy. We might even use two screens at the same time for very different tasks. Just think of all those people texting on their phones when Landon Donovan made his game-winning goal against Algeria in the 92nd minute of play to advance the American World Cup soccer team to the next round. They were watching TV and texting, yelling at a TV in a pub and shouting to their friends via text message.
I was talking with Nancy Klosek, a writer from Dealerscope and E-Gear magazine, and she called it "screen hopping." I liked that. "Screen hopping" really captures the fluid nature of how we interact with all our devices. It depends on where we are and what we want to do. But it's never really about just one device, it's about all of our devices and how we use them throughout our day.
So the question I like to ask is: If we have all this access to entertainment on all of our devices and we use these devices to connect with our friends and family, then how can we use the power and intelligence of a computer along with the beloved nature of TV to allow us to be more social with our TV?
This is the most exciting part of the future of TV to me. It's an interesting legacy we can leave behind to the generations who have always had the Internet and interconnected devices. How do we use the social nature of TV to not only connect to our friends and family but to connect with our government and our society and increase our access to education? This to me is fascinating and wonderfully open for innovation.
One question I had from a staunch pragmatist was about how companies could really develop social TV applications. He correctly pointed out that it was incredibly risky for a device manufacturer to base their product on a social networking application that might be incredibly popular today but could be gone tomorrow. He named quite a few.
I instantly thought of a conversation I'd had with Jeffrey Cole in Screen Future.
Jeffrey Cole is the director of the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication Center for the Digital Future. He has been studying people and their usage of TV and technology for over ten years. Cole has an interesting take on the ebb and flow of social media. He sees all social networking sites and technologies as if they were nightclubs and everyone who joins a social network is just going to that nightclub.
"Now just imagine you're a teenager and you're at the nightclub," he explained. "All teenagers go to nightclubs first, it's what they do. They have the free time to do it and they are looking to get out. Now imagine you're this teenager and you're at this nightclub and you're having a good time and it's packed and more and more people keep showing up. At first it's cool. You like meeting new people, that's why you came to the club. But more and more people continue to show up and it starts to become too popular. Not cool anymore. You decide it's time to move on to the next nightclub; there are plenty of them and it doesn't cost you anything to leave. On your way out your Mom shows up at the nightclub and you know for sure it's time to leave. No one likes to party with their Mom."
People are fickle and funny. So it's only logical that the social technologies that connect them will come and go as taste and culture changes. Because of people's fickle nature, predicting the exact technological needs to enable social TV would be pointless. We do know that people are social and that people will always want to connect with other people using their technology.
Excerpt from Screen Future
Chapter 9: Being Bullish on TV
A Conversation with Jeffrey Cole
I think we can extend Cole's notion about social networking sites being like nightclubs. Being in NYC, I got to thinking that the nightclub scene in Manhattan isn't about a single club. It's about a vibrant collection of clubs that cater to different people all over the city. Different people go to different clubs on different nights because they want a varied experience. If there was only one club then we'd all have to party with our Mom and that would be terrible. Similarly, clubs come and go with an amazing frequency in the city. One minute they are hot and you can't get past the velvet rope and the next week the front door is boarded up. But when a popular club closes down, no one questions if nightclubs are on the way out. That would be silly.
It's interesting when you think about the full breadth of social networking sites and applications living in parallel with the NYC club scene. Sure, they will come and they will go but they will always be there because people will always want to go to clubs. We are inherently social. So just like the NYC clubs, we'll always have social technologies that allow us to talk to our family, connect with our friends and occasionally try something new. The comings and goings of these sites are what makes them so interesting to us. From this top-of-the-Empire-State-Building view, incorporating social networking sites into the future of TV makes perfect sense. It's more about enabling the behavior of being social than it is about a single application or company. This also includes always keeping a sober eye on the fact that people are fickle and like new things and will always move on at some point. But this is okay, just imagine if we were all still partying at Studio 54...now that would just be sad.
As I write this, I am on a plane to London for the official book launch event with Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive officer of WPP Group, Anthony Rose, CTO of Project Canvas, Tom Dunmore, editor-in-chief of Stuff Magazine, and Chris Curtis, associate editor of Broadcast Magazine. The panel discussion should be fascinating.