Future of Television II: the multiplicity play

Sweeney_iiThe future of television got a little clearer today, as news of the  Disney/ABC plan continue to trickle out. 

(Piercing this together feels a little like pouring through Pravda to figure out Soviet intentions during the Cold War.)

One thing that jumps out is a multiplicity theme.  I think that’s the "new new" here. 

What we learned today:

1.  unskippable ads will be shorter than conventional TV ads (still no indication of how "unskippable" is possible) 

2.  it appears that some people are thinking that more engaging ads will help make ads at least "less skippable."  Noreen Simmons of Unilever says, "It’s going to be a different viewing experience. Rather  than people sitting back in their chairs watching TV, this is going to be a  lean-forward experience."  This seems to resonate with the notion of "engagement advertising" recently proposed by Joe Plummer.  Clearly, this does not solve the fast-forward problem, but it appears to be part of the strategic package.

3.  assuming Disney/ABC continues to sell episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives through the iTunes music store, the consumer will be able to choose whether to buy an episode that is ad-free (for $1.99) or watch ad-full. 

4.  Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group, (pictured) appears unconcerned about the possibility of cannibalization (and channel discord).  Indeed, Ms. Sweeney seems to see multiple streams as a value add for the viewer.  If we miss our show in first run, we can use internet download to catch up, and iPod purchase to catch up on the run. 

(This model assumes that the viewer will not choose one stream, but work with several of them to manage the complexities of their own lives.  Some seem to assume that viewers will segment by channel choice, as they choose a single platform and use it exclusively.  This does not conform to anything else we know about the new consumers.)

5. Ms. Sweeney volunteered, "None of us live in the world of one business model."  I think this marks a big shift in the world of marketing thought and practice.  This is a senior manager saying, ‘listen, the world is multiple, we will work its complexity for our advantage and as a value ad for the consumer.’  When you think about how much the notion of cannibalization has terrorized marketing decision making, this is pretty remarkable. We might go so far as to say that Sweeney has opened up the future of TV by embracing a multiplicity model. 

6. No hint in any of this whether Sweeney will open up shows like Lost to greater cocreation.  The studios and the networks are sometimes slow to relinquish any kind of creative control to the viewer, but cocreation is precisely one of the things that encourages the use of several media and if this is one of Sweeney’s objectives, she might want to give MIT’s Henry Jenkins’ a call about this thing called "transmedia." 

7.  Sweeney was quoted today as saying,

"In the future, consumers will rely more and more on strong brands to help them navigate the digital world, and we have some of the strongest brands in entertainment. Our digital media efforts will help us strengthen our connection with our consumers. Stay tuned … because this is just the beginning."

If I were an analyst with a bet to make on Disney, this sort of talk would make me uncomfortable.  It is unquestionably true that the Disney is a choice making portal that guarantees certain standards of quality and a certain moral tone.  This makes them a favorite supplier for families struggling to rise their kids well.  Got it. 

But the world of the viewer has changed dramatically here.  (Henry Jenkins is once more the go-to guy on this question.)  We have seen the emergence of a more confident, more participatory viewer/consumer.  Now we could just as easily say,

"In the future, the brand well rely more and more on strong consumers to help them navigate the digital world…" 

And as it stands, there is nothing in these several Pravadas that suggests Sweeney understands this part of the proposition. 

In sum, the Disney move appears to take a page from the multiplicity play book.  Thus does TV change to remain the same.


Barnes, Brooks and Brian Sternberg.  Disney’s Web Move Shakes Up Decades-Old TV Model.  Wall Street Journal.  April 11, 2006.  B1, B2.

Bosman, Julie.  2006.  Soon, Catch "Lost" Online, a Day Later.  New York Times. April 11, 2006.  here

Shields, Mike.  2006.  ABC to put hit shows on line.  AdWeek on line.  April 11, 2006.  by subscription.  here.

10 thoughts on “Future of Television II: the multiplicity play

  1. Carol Gee

    Grant, great post, with a /welcome view inside the thought processes of the decision-makers at Disney. They are certainly self-confident with their “lean-forward” predictions. Don’t think so, somehow. Not me nor my 40-something adult kids with families. There are about a dozen TV ads I just love, but I endure the others. Thanks for the post.

  2. Grant

    Carol Gee, thanks, yes, you would think that good advertising would be the answer to the TIVO challenge. A kind of “creative, heal they self…” deal. Thanks, Grant

  3. Seth


    One thing you might have missed regarding ABC’s move – it directly attacks the Slingbox/place shifting model. It’s easier [and cheaper] to view ABC content online, even with “unskippable” commercials, than to set up a Slingbox and watch your DVR online.

    As a Disney shareholder, I’m agnostic on the move, but as a tech writer I’m not so sure the technology will be widely embraced. Wouldn’t the most logical solution just be a next-day on demand channel?

  4. Pingback: Big Picture Advertising

  5. auto

    There’s too much of an inside baseball feel to this post — too much jargon and insider-speak requiring me to decode it before I comprehend.

    That McSweeney quote in point seven — just what, precisely, do her words mean? They sound so vague and diplomatic that I’m not certain I really get her meaning.

    Please translate, Grant.

  6. Candy Minx

    Love your blog. I am in heaven. Thanks for all the hard work and viewing and looking you do. I love good commercials. Most of the time, I record my shows and watch later. there is another component here. My poor boyfriend. he watches news, spanish music videos, Asian tv, and movies. The tv is a kind of ambient company while he makes art work. Me I am a freak for tv. I watch all the kooky low brow reality tv, Survivor, Beauty and The Geek, The Bachelor, Surreal Life and lots of “classy tv” House, West Wing, Law and Order, Greys Anatomy, Gilmore Girls. So I record a lot so that he doesn’t have to hear it in our studio environment. I fast forward the ads. This also allows for more pure tv viewing heh heh. I can squeeze another hour of shows in my day. For example, American Idol drops down to about a 30 minute show!!! Giving me room to watch So Notorious.

    I adore you and your books, Big Hair is my Koran and Rig Veda. (oh gosh, I hope you are the same McCracken!)

    I linked your blog to mine,

    happy viewing

  7. Overworm

    I’m not sure if ads can be engaging enough to ensure people watch them. And even if an ad somehow captures your attention enough for someone to watch it once, how many people are going to choose to watch the same ad fifty times over the course of a month of television watching? That $2M Superbowl ad might be hilarious and surprising the first time, but by the fifth viewing I’m not paying attention any more.

    I see the future of television advertising in product placement. Jack Bauer spends half an episode running from terrorists, then pauses to quench his thirst with Gatorade. James Bond escapes from a horde of assassins by hopping into a convertible BMW and speeding away along a winding road. One of the housewifes on Desperate Housewifes reaches into her Prada pocketbook to retrieve a Colt .45 which she aims at a neighbor.

    Or maybe we move back to the early days of television, where an entire show is presented by a single advertiser. This model is already used on some cable channels. I think it’s AMC that says, “this movie is brought to you by …”, and instead of normal commercial breaks, the host repeats that message a few times during the movie.

    It’s just that, for the life of me, I can’t envision a commercial so engaging that I would choose to watch it repeatedly. Then again, maybe in this new advertising world, advertisers would create many more versions of their ads than they currently do. By 2007, maybe Gillette would release ten times more ads than they did in 2005.

    Maybe we’ll see more serialized advertising, with a mini-storyline unfolding over the course of four ads released in successive weeks. Or maybe even released over the course of one television show.

    Another fine topic, Grant.

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