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TV or Not TV? Is that the question?

Austin, TX – 3/11/14

TV is dead. Or is it?

That’s what some people might expect to hear from the tech glitterati that has been descending on Austin, TX for South by Southwest (SXSW) these past few days.

I was fortunate to join a panel as part of SXSW Interactive which sought to answer the question: TV or Not TV? Defining Networks in the Digital Age.  I was joined by Paula Kerger, CEO and President of PBS, John Skipper, President of ESPN, and moderator, Brian Stelter of CNN.  While the discussion may have been predisposed to thinking that TV is dead and everything going forward will be short-form, uncurated and outside of the context of what we have thought of as traditional television, we found it to be quite the opposite.  TV is indeed alive and well, but we’re not talking about the device known as TV, we’re talking about the content and high-quality viewing experience around that content, across many devices.

In fact we need to reframe the discussion, we should be talking about platforms or screens.  We should be talking about video everywhere. The discussion should be about how audiences are wanting content when and where they want it.   Yes, content is king but audiences are playing a critical role by defining the viewing experience going forward.  At Univision, and as echoed across the industry, we have seen that content is becoming increasingly personalized – the audience may choose to watch it and interact, connecting with people that have a shared experience or directly through Social TV.  For us, technology is allowing us to serve our audience better, with every platform, and brands can get stronger by embracing the attributes of those technologies. Our goal is to deliver a Univision branded experience everywhere our audience is.

I found it to be an interesting coincidence that all three media companies on the panel today experience two unique phenomena:  high percentages of live-TV viewing and huge amounts of inter-generational viewing.  At Univision, some 93% of our viewers tune in to our primetime content in a live fashion.  It also holds true that generations of families are coming together to watch their favorite novelas or live soccer.   The same also holds for ESPN’s programming and PBS’s recent hit, Downton Abbey.

The future of TV is about creating exciting and engaging digital destinations for content and helping curate and organize content in a way that makes sense to audiences.   In a sense, curators matter more today than ever.  A lot of efforts have been underway to take what’s been largely considered to be linear-only content and extend it to new platforms and devices. Studios are taking into account how content is being consumed on varied devices and we are also seeing the emergence of new partners, including but not limited to the likes of Hulu and others.

Social Media has had a huge impact in terms of how we define television, giving content providers real time feedback and driving discovery.  I think that social networking can be defined as how you connect with others and social TV is how you connect with a screen, whatever that screen may be.

Ultimately, this isn’t about either/or, this is not about digital vs. linear.   Instead, it’s about how one platform is accretive to the next.   Today, the TV business is healthier than the SXSW audience may have predicted five years ago and more than ever demand for high quality content is strong. Just look at “Breaking Bad,” “From Dusk Till Dawn the Series,” “Lo Que La Vida Me Robo,” or “La Viuda Negra.”

So the conversation on the future of TV starts and ends with great content.  Demand for content is now stronger than ever.  In my view, this puts the right kind of pressure to push TV execs to make the right decisions to offer better and better content on any screen an audience may choose, and if done right it’s on a new smart TV.

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