President Obama, Pimm Fox and Me--The Business of TV in NYC
Note: As it gets close to the holidays, [itvt] and I are catching up on posting the columns from the last few months. As many of you know, I usually write these columns when I'm on flights going from one city to another on the Screen Future book tour. It's been a packed few months for me, Tracy Swedlow and the [itvt] crew (I hope you all got to go to the NYC event--sold out!!). Here’s a column that's from the end of fall and picks up where we left off...
President Obama, Pimm Fox and Me
It was 2:00 in the afternoon on an early fall day in New York City. The weather was pretty warm, but the air had turned a little cooler and a little cleaner, signaling to the trees that it was time for their leaves to begin to change. Fall was coming and you could smell it in the air.
I left my hotel near Madison Square Garden, jumped in a taxi, and asked the driver to take me to the Bloomberg offices at 58th Street and Lexington Avenue. I was on my way to Pimm Fox's show, "Taking Stock," on Bloomberg Radio (listen to the show by clicking HERE and then click the "Bloomberg Radio" link to the right). Normally the ride would have taken 15 minutes tops, but I gave myself a little more time because President Barack Obama was in town. The traffic can get tough when the president is in town.
We lurched and dodged our way across town in a way that only happens in NYC: short, frantic bursts of speed and swerving followed by prolonged periods of sitting completely still. Once we had dealt with the cross-town traffic, we shot up Park Avenue free and easy for a bit. Then we hit another snarl near 39th Street. At first it just looked like normal midtown traffic, until an NYPD officer waved us off of Park Avenue, closing down the street. The car in front of us was the last to get through.
The taxi driver was pissed and started up with a steady stream of language that wouldn't be appropriate to reproduce here. I paid and started hoofing it east towards Lexington Avenue. It was now getting close to 3:00PM and I was supposed to be at the studio by 3:15. When I got to Lexington I found that the entire avenue was closed to both traffic and pedestrians. "You'll have to go to 3rd Avenue!" another NYPD officer said, as he waved me further east, shaking his head.
At 3rd Avenue the number of NYPD was staggering. Just before I got to 48th, officers moved in with those silver crowd-control gates, blocking the street. A crowd quickly gathered. No one could cross the street.
NYPD clearing the way for President Obama (Photo: BDJ)
The first thing we heard were the motorcycles, a whole flock of them, followed by the massive black SUV's, and then the limos. In a breeze President Obama's car passed as he waved to me and the rest of the crowd. It happened quickly, but there he was.
Now here's why I love New Yorkers: while we were all waiting for the president to pass, the whole crowd was pretty quiet and well behaved. Sure, we all had places to go, but what are you gonna do? It's the president. So most people just stood there waiting, looking and texting people on their phones. But the moment Obama had passed, the guy next to me started yelling, "Obama-schmo-bama! Move it, NYPD! I got to catch my bus!" Ah yes, Virginia, there are still real, honest-to-goodness New Yorkers.
I'd never been to the Bloomberg offices before, and I have to tell you it's pretty impressive. It's all glass and steel and rounded corners. The coffee is free and the people are really nice. I zipped through security, was handed off to about three different people--Aaron Sorkin West Wing style--and trundled into the green room. At the next station break, I was introduced to Pimm. He had my book Screen Future in front of him and was ready to dive into a discussion. It's always a little surprising for me to see my book with Post-it notes sticking out of highlighted passages. And with that we were on the air...
Outside the offices of Bloomberg (Photo: BDJ)
What I find interesting when I talk to folks about the future of TV is the commonality of the conversations. I had come to Bloomberg because of all the massive changes and shifts that are transforming the entertainment, consumer electronics and high tech industries--the largest shift has nothing to do with technology at all. Some of the most contentious and interesting changes are taking place in the high-stakes arena of business.
I spend a good amount of time in Screen Future thinking through the intricacies and changes that are taking place across these industries. We don't have all the answers, but what's clear is that the future of TV is really all about the future of the business of TV.
Okay, so it's no secret that the TV and the entertainment business are just that: a business. We can look at the history of TV and the business of entertainment in the living room as a history of choice and personalization. Over time the industry and its technology has constantly evolved to provide the consumer more choices and better personalization. The switch from black and white to color drove the adoption of new TV sets. The desire for more channels and access to more shows brought about new service providers and devices. All the time consumers have responded with their eyeballs and wallets, watching more TV, buying new sets and subscribing to new services.
TV began in the 1920s as an expensive technological marvel, far out of reach of the average consumer. Twenty years after its introduction, fewer than one percent of Americans had TVs in their homes. People traveled to department stores and bars to see TV. Then, in four years, the media landscape changed. In 1946, Americans bought 6,000 TVs; in 1950, they purchased 7.3 million sets (CEA). The number of local television stations exploded and the range of content delivered through the television fundamentally shifted from a live-only solution to tape, expanding people's choices.
Throughout the history of television, there are lags between the development of a new technology and its broad adoption by consumers. It took more than 20 years for TV to move from the sports bar to the living room, and 18 years for color TV sales to surpass black and white. It took 14 years for the VCR to arrive in half of American homes, but only seven for the DVD player to reach the same level. How long will personal TV take to become the norm for television viewers?
The TV and entertainment industry is not now, nor has it ever been, static. From the very beginning the history of television has been a history of constant change. Although the television is sometimes represented as a monolithic, stationary media object in history, the fact is, from the beginning, it has been a hungry technology, absorbing and adapting new developments in technology, culture, and consumer tastes.
In the last 80 years, the scope and nature of the content has changed dramatically and repeatedly. This also includes the technology used to deliver it. But even though TV today may look quite different than it did in 1930, two fundamental rules remain. TV is moving pictures. TV is a business.
Excerpt from Screen Future
Chapter 6: Personal TV
The "Green Room" at Bloomberg (Photo: BDJ)
Going to The Show
Right now, I'm on a flight to Los Angeles, California. I've been invited by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to talk to their members about the future of TV. I was lucky enough to rope in the generous folks who I had conversations with in Screen Future to come along with me. We're having a panel and reception. I've also been told that there will be a video and radio crew there to capture the event.
There's a saying in baseball when a player is called up from a minor league team to the big league--it's called "going to the show." I feel like I've been called up to the big show and all my friends are coming with me.
Brian David Johnson
Futurist and Director, Future Casting and Experience Research
The future is Brian David Johnson's business. As a futurist at Intel Corporation his charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020. His work is called "future casting" - using ethnographic field studies, technology research, trend data and even science fiction to provide Intel with a pragmatic vision of consumers and computing. Along with reinventing TV, Johnson has been pioneering development in artificial intelligence, robotics, and using science fiction as a design tool. He speaks and writes extensively about future technologies in articles and scientific papers as well as science fiction short stories and novels (Fake Plastic Love, Nebulous Mechanisms: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories and the forthcoming This Is Planet Earth). He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter.