The End of Stupid TV?

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Television will never be the same.

Microsoft’s announcement that the November software update of their popular Xbox 360 system will include both on-demand and live programming content is a game changer for broadcast TV.  Comcast has partnered to allow “nearly 40 television content providers” to roll out programming over Xbox Live.   Viewers will also have access to content from ESPN, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook and HBO Go.

Of course, there are caveats.  You won’t have full access if your provider feels that IP.TV is just a little too wild for them and you won’t be able to use your Xbox to “cut the cord”— the service requires a cable subscription to receive channels.  You’ll also need to pony up for Xbox Live service, an additional $10 a month… so it’s not exactly free.

Still, this is a tipping point moment for the cable broadcast industry.

Prior to this partnership, TV came through a stupid, largely one-way box.  You tell the box want you want and it serves it up.

But Xbox isn’t like that at all.  Xbox is a two-way, social interaction machine.  Users expect to interface with content and they expect that content to be experienced with friends.

So with that said, here are three questions television broadcast will need to ask themselves in the next few months.

  1. What does an ad look like?
    If there’s one group that should be happy about this shift, it’s advertisers.  First off, IPTV allows them some respite from the proliferation of DVR devices.  Second, it opens a new world of creativity.Consumers could be presented with entertaining mini-games or brands could leverage Bing and web integration to build TV-optimized experiences (projects like the Ford Mustang Customizer just scream for this treatment).  Maybe ads will start to look like the old Dragon’s Lair game, a choose your own adventure where viewers work to complete a story (but are entertained even when they fail.)

    If engaging enough, ads could be flagged for later return. Interaction could be encouraged via sampling, credited ad-free time, contests—even social competition (Your friend is also watching House… see if you can beat their score in the Tide Stain Challenge!)

    In any case, TV ads will need to start experimenting fast.
  2. What will social TV look like?
    The Xbox announcement comes with promises of tighter Facebook integration.  Paired with Facebook’s promise that brands will be able to leverage “frictionless sharing” and “social viewing” (meaning two or more friends watching the same content over the Facebook network), we’re looking at an opportunity to reinvent the way we watch, discover, and experience television.What does a multi-platform, social viewing experience look like?
  3. How will TV itself change?
    Launching TV from a platform as powerful as the Xbox offers new opportunities to broadcasters as well as advertisers. Certainly the success of programs like American Idol and its imitators suggests opportunities to make the format more interactive.  Youtoo, a network upstart backed by Mark Burnett, is experimenting with pervasive user generated content. (Full disclosure, we helped bring this project to life!)  Or maybe the answer is closer to second screen viewing, a technology already in its infancy that allows users to interact with dynamically served content.

    Children’s television could be revolutionized by natural interfaces like the Kinect.  Learning activities become interactive as children can point to answers or draw shapes to solve puzzles.  And if things get too scary, maybe they’ll want to bring their favorite stuffed animal along for the ride?

Marshall McLuhan famously opined, “The medium is the message.” That is to say that the medium sets the expectations for the content that passes through it.  And thanks to Xbox, those expectations have been radically transformed.

Goodbye stupid cable box.  I won’t miss you.