It’s been said many times before that the children are our future. And so it is with this in mind that I have penned this article from a young person’s point of view.
I grew up with cable TV. There was MTV, Comedy Central, and HBO. If I ever felt the need to learn without picking up a book, I’d flip to TLC or the Discovery channel. But lately things have changed. In fact, as of this moment, I don’t even own a TV. What once was an endless source of entertainment—the lifeblood of my free time—has given way to the Internet. After all, who needs cable TV when the stuff is literally at your fingertips?
What would have been unthinkable only five years ago is quickly becoming the norm: streaming TV. I’ve got Hulu, Netflix streaming, episodes of my favorite shows conveniently playing on a network’s own Websites. There are fewer commercials, and the quality’s is not too shabby. On top of that, there’s a whole plethora of file-sharing networks where I can easily pirate almost any show or movie free of cost. Or, if I’m feeling particularly honest, I’ll plop down the $2 for an episode off of iTunes. Life is good.
There is a slight twinge of regret, though. I came of age with TV even more than the Internet. There’s still something cathartic and nostalgic about picking up a remote and flicking through channels, hoping to discover something new, or being able to catch a show in real time, to be part of the global village and all that. But I’m afraid that as the world (or technology) turns, the cable companies seem to do less so.
It’s both a difficult and exciting time for them, I’m sure. After all, it’s not every day that there’s a chance to be part of a major shift in new media. First it was the introduction of cable itself (ages ago), then the advent of the Internet, followed by the widespread use of cell phones which signaled a prolonged death knell for the ubiquity of landlines. They’ve weathered all these pretty well. But how are they going to tackle this?
The changes today are coming fast and furiously, almost unrelentingly. New companies are springing up every day hoping to get a piece of the pie, while the people with the most to spend (and the most to lose) seem to be resting on their laurels. If anything, you’d think they’d want to work with the content providers falling under their umbrella—to get in on the action while it’s still hot.
What about cable companies introducing wireless streaming from the cable box, or including TV service with your Internet contract and not the other way around? How about forming exclusive deals with networks the way as they do with ESPN3.com?
I guess it comes down to embracing the new and doing so wholeheartedly, understanding that it’s not enough to depend on Generation X to follow in their parents’ footsteps and buy a TV and subscribe to cable, because Generation Y is growing up quick and being raised in an entirely new technological landscape.
Cable people are pretty smart, I’m sure. How else would they have been able to stay in the game for so long? It’s not a question of whether they’ve diagnosed this new trend in media but how much have they accepted that it’s the next wave and how much of their resources they’re willing to put into it. All the while, they’ve got a multitude of other things to worry about. Long-time users certainly aren’t rapidly going the way of the dinosaur, after all. It’s a delicate balancing act to be sure.
When it comes right down to it, these companies and researchers and marketers… they could look at that old saying (the one that made us as kids laugh, incredulous), “the children are our future,” and choose their direction based on that. Or they could focus on another old saying, the one used in displays of futuristic societies, the declaration that despite its origins seems so prescient: “the future is now.” They could take both of these, rub their chins, and if not embrace the future, then at the very least accept it, because things are moving fast and it’d be best to move with them lest you get stuck in the muck.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just a Gen Y kid.
(Dr. Angelina Li is the principal at AHL Consulting, a market research and business strategy consultancy. Angelina’s website is www.ahlci.com).