With all the Twittering, geek madness, star-sighting, walking, screening, rocking, and partying, it might seem inconceivable that TV had any sort of presence at South by Southwest, but it did. Two panels in particular piqued my "TV Eye" interest: Old Man Nielsen vs. New Market Research (March 16) and Beyond Apple TV: Next-Generation Systems for Acquiring Content (March 17) provided valuable insights to understand the current media climate and TV's future in it.
What could have been a smackdown at the Old Man vs. New Market Research Interactive panel between Michael Lambie, who represented the Nielsen Co., and panelists such as Daniel Neely of Networked Insights turned out to be a spirited discussion about the way audiences are changing.
Neely pointed out that social media – Twitter, Facebook, Meebo, among others – provide a means for audiences of various products, be it a TV show or shampoo, to share insights or impressions, create a dialogue, and establish that valuable thing called buzz. "Consumers are looking to have a voice, out in the open," Neely said. "Nielsen should measure impressions, not just exposure. ... The TV rating system is based on exposures as opposed to measuring what people are talking about."
Nielsen's Lambie didn't disagree but pointed out that discerning what was a true groundswell of interest vs. the chatter of "a vocal minority" was still the challenge to all claiming to measure audiences and the ability to deliver them to advertisers.
There was a lot of shoptalk about "metrics" and "high and low engagement." As an average TV viewer, that didn't interest me, but the idea that social media was identified as a crucial element in the future of determining how (or if) the Nielsen ratings would continue to be viewed as a bellwether for TV programming and consumption struck me as crucial. More so when I sat in on the Beyond Apple TV panel.
Now, for as long as I've been going to SXSW Interactive, talk of new TV, interactive TV, and convergence has reared its head in some way – mainly, as panelists on the Beyond Apple TV panel agreed, because the holy grail of the next generation of TV is still being defined.
"Twelve percent of broadband users watch their TV online," Colin Dixon of the Diffusion Group said. In the past, the emphasis was on the type of delivery system to bring content to viewers. But that emphasis is surely shifting, given the fact that consumers don't care about the device as much as they care about ease of use and the ability to watch what they want, where they want.
"The only real closed system is iTunes. They're still a download-only technology, but streaming content is going to overtake download content," said Richard Bullwinkle of Macrovision. "A spinning drive [e.g., the DVR] in every home is the wrong way to go. iTunes, I like your music, but I can't access Hulu or Pandora" or any other content provider. The death grip on the device has to end, Bullwinkle said.
"Whomever owns the EPG [electronic programming guide] rules the world," Marcia Zellers of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising suggested. "I wonder if the social network [for TV] is, indeed, the EPG."
The EPG as the "Twitter space" for TV viewers that you can participate in or not struck a chord because it focuses on the "value add" to the viewer, not the ability of advertisers to sell pizza, as was the emphasis in the past, but to provide a companion experience to the viewer if they want it, when they want it.
"There have been plenty of misfires in the content space in the last 15 years," Zellers said. "To make content that has it all is not what people want."
Authoring standards for creating content for TV is on the way, the panelists agreed, and the "walled garden" that prevents viewers from selecting content from one provider while using an "outside" platform is disintegrating. The frustration is in the speed of this change, as providers still figure out what viewers want and viewers wait for the technology dust to settle. The bottom line is: TV is not going anywhere. It's just another screen to capture your content, wherever it comes from.
As always, stay tuned.
Electronic-waste drive – Saturday, March 28, from 9am to 3pm in the LBJ Library parking lot at Red River and Dean Keeton. For more information, e-mail the Student Engineering Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.