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Are you part of the Media Revolution?

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

Warming to my theme as I am on the subject of the media revolution, here’s something you really need to check out. It’s Eric Schmidt, Executive chairman of Google giving the MacTaggart Lecture address to the Edinburgh Festival.

The MacTaggart lecture is the  highlight of the Edinburgh Festival, nearly always given by a bigwig from the world of television  – but not so this year. Recognising the power of the internet and its inevitable impact on the world of television, this prestigious job was given to the Man from Google. If you want to start understanding how the internet is changing the way we consume media then listen to what he has to say.

If you want to watch him on the video then you can find it on the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Festival site. The introductions go on a bit so if you want to get straight to Eric’s address then spool forward to around 8 minutes in.

If you prefer the text version, you can find it in full HERE, but there follows some edited highlights:

Eric Schmidt talking at the Edinburgh International Festival:

Why the Internet matters

In less than 30 years, the Internet has grown from almost nothing to more than 2 billion users.  It’s available on Mount Everest, and on the South Pole. Half of adults in the EU use it every day.  It has become such a profound part of life that 4 in 5 adults worldwide now regard Internet access as a fundamental human right.

Today it’s hard to imagine life without it.  We take it for granted, but it’s worth reminding ourselves just what an incredible force for good it has been.

Without the Internet, a child growing up in a remote village is unlikely to reach their potential, with little access to books and teaching.

Without the Internet, people worldwide couldn’t band together so quickly in a crisis, helping raise the alarm and deliver support.

Without the Internet, repressive regimes can deny their people a voice, making it far harder to expose corruption and wrongdoing.

And without the Internet, Europe would lose one of its biggest drivers of much-needed economic growth. In the UK alone, the Internet accounted for over 7% of GDP in 2010 – 100 billion pounds – and that will grow to 10% by 2015. Companies who use the Internet are growing four times faster than those who aren’t.

In short: the Internet isn’t making inevitable change faster; it has become an engine of change.  It has recast the way we communicate.  It has transformed the way we learn and share knowledge.  It’s empowering people everywhere, making the world more open, fairer, and more prosperous.

The Internet is fundamental to the future of TV

So what has all this got to do with Television?

In 2010, UK adults spent as much time watching TV in 4 days as they did using the web in a month.  TV is still clearly winning the competition for attention!

Yet, you ignore the Internet at your peril.  The Internet is fundamental to the future of Television for one simple reason: because it’s what people want.

Technologically, the Internet is a platform for things that traditional TV cannot support.  It makes TV more personal, more participative, more pertinent.  People are clamouring for it, nowhere more so than the UK.

The team behind the BBC’s iPlayer has my utmost respect.  I believe it’s now used by more than 10% of the UK population every week.  It’s a great product with a vast range of content, more advanced than any other market.  And they’ve just launched a European version – soon to be global – as an iPad subscription app.  I’m sure it’ll be a success.

Of course, iPlayer isn’t the only show in town.  There are numerous catch-up and on-demand TV services out there, including the most global of them all – iTunes.  And YouTube now has long-form content thanks to pioneering partners like Channel 4, who in 2009 became the first broadcaster in the world to put up their full catch-up service. Long-form is the fastest growing YouTube category in the UK both in terms of views and revenues, now with more than 80 content partners.

But more choice is just the beginning, and can backfire if you’re not careful.  Just remember how it felt in the old days of renting videos.  Face-to-face with thousands of movies, picking just one to take home was always a struggle.

That’s why a system for recommending content is so vital. It’s what channel schedulers have done since the beginning of TV.  But traditional scheduling is one size fits all.  Sometimes their recommendations suit me, but just as often not.

Online – for those who wish it and grant permission – things could be vastly different.  Online, through a combination of algorithms and editorial nudges, suggestions could be individually crafted to suit your interests and needs.  The more you watch and share, the more chances the system has to learn, and the better its predictions get.  Taken to the ultimate, it would be like the perfect TV channel: always exciting, always relevant – sometimes serendipitous – always worth your time.

…..

I’ve talked about how the Internet is transforming TV choice.  Equally important are changes in how we watch.

I remember the excitement about interactive TV a few years ago – all that drama over pushing a red button.  There were a few neat experiences on offer, like playing along with a game show.  But on the whole, red button style interaction was pretty limited.

Now we’re riding a second, much bigger, wave of interactivity.  It’s a convergence of TV and Internet screens.  This time the interaction isn’t happening via your red button – it’s on the web through your laptop, tablet or mobile.  But most important of all, this time it’s social.

For some shows, the online commentary that swirls around them – be it through Twitter or chat forums or blogs – has become a crucial part of the experience.  Just consider how the BBC’s Question Time is using Twitter to engage audiences.  Once you could only shout at the politicians on your screen, now you can tweet your rant to the world.

Adding a social layer to TV shows will increase. Among Google Plus’s coolest features are group video chats called “Hangouts”.  Watching YouTube videos in Hangouts is like being in the same room.  While the video plays you can chat over the top, or text notes on the side.  Anyone in the hangout can grab the controls to pause, rewind or fast forward, or even skip to a new clip, and it keeps the video playing in sync for everyone.

A social layer is something viewers – or at least a substantial number – clearly want.  It’s also great for broadcasters.  Trending hashtags raise awareness of shows, helping boost ratings.  It can be metric for viewer engagement, a vehicle for instant feedback, a channel for reaching people outside broadcast times.  It can also provide a great incentive for watching live.

In fact, I don’t expect TV viewing will ever switch to be entirely to on-demand.  There will always be a cultural pull, for some shows, on some occasions, to watch in real-time.  Linear viewing remains remarkably robust – in 2010, over 90% of broadcast TV viewing remained ‘live’.

So, what are the trends to watch?  I can sum that up in 3 words: mobile, local and social.

Already, mobile search traffic on Google surpasses that from desktop in some countries.  Globally, 40% of Google Maps usage is via mobile. Two hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute from mobile devices. Soon, your typical Internet user won’t be indoors with a PC; they’ll be out and about on their cell phone.

Reflecting this, new genres of online content and services are emerging.  If content is king, context is its crown – and one of the most important contextual signals is location.  If you search for coffee from your mobile, odds are you’re looking not for a Wikipedia entry, but for directions to a nearby cafe.

Social signals are another powerful driver of behaviour.  If three of my friends highly rate a TV series, odds are I’d check it out even if reviewers say it’s rubbish.  We’re just at the earliest stage of learning how best to use social signals and other taste indicators to provide more personalised content and services.

And if you think all this is exciting – or frightening – remember, this is only the beginning.  In technological terms, we’re scarcely at the end of the first act of the Internet age.

Challenge begets opportunity

There are big opportunities for creative processes as well.  For instance, recognise the new freedoms on-demand allows for storytelling.  As David Simon, writer of the Wire, put it, “TV is no longer an appointment, it’s a lending library”.  You no longer need worry about your audience missing episodes, they’ll watch at their own pace.  This frees writers to craft more complex stories, with less time wasted on signposted plot reminders for those who’ve missed an episode.

And don’t underestimate the Internet’s potential as a venue for talent spotting.  More than 48 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. To put that in context, it means more video is uploaded in under a month than all 3 major US networks broadcast in the last 60 years. Amidst the avalanche, the next generation of creativity can be, and is being, found.

Perhaps most exciting of all, at least for a technologist like me, are the opportunities to integrate content across multiple screens and devices.  Google is exploring this with some of our experimental apps for mobile.  For instance, you can use your phone to control YouTube videos watched on a bigger screen, and receive background information on each video while it plays.  There are clever mobile apps, like IntoNow, that identify a TV show you’re watching from its audio fingerprint and make it easy to share with your friends.  And I’m fascinated by the BBC’s notion of “orchestrated media” – where the show you’re watching triggers extra material on your tablet or mobile, synchronised with the programme.

The UK is the home of so many media-related inventions.  You invented photography. You invented TV. You invented computers in both concept and practice. (It’s not widely known, but the world’s first office computer was built in 1951 by Lyon’s chain of tea shops!)  Yet today, none of the world’s leading exponents in these fields are from the UK.

So how can you avoid the same fate for your TV innovations?  Of course there is no simple fix, but I have a few suggestions.

First: you need to bring art and science back together.  Think back to the glory days of the Victorian era.  It was a time when the same people wrote poetry and built bridges.  Lewis Carroll didn’t just write one of the classic fairytales of all time, he was also a mathematics tutor at Oxford.  James Clerk Maxwell was described by Einstein as among the best physicists since Newton – but was also a published poet.

If the UK’s creative businesses want to thrive in the digital future, you need people who understand all facets of it integrated from the very beginning.  Take a lead from the Victorians and ignore Lord Sugar: bring engineers into your company at all levels, including the top.

Second: you need to get better at growing big companies.  The UK does a great job at backing small firms and cottage industries.  But there’s little point getting a thousand seeds to sprout if they’re then left to wither or get transplanted overseas.  UK businesses need championing to help them grow into global powerhouses, without having to sell out to foreign-owned companies.  If you don’t address this, then the UK will continue to be where inventions are born – but not bred for long-term success.

I’m delighted to announce we are partnering with the UK’s National Film and TV School, to help young filmmakers navigate the world of YouTube.  The NFTS is one of the world’s most successful film and TV schools, producing graduates who have gone on to gain credits on some of the UK’s and Hollywood’s finest productions. Starting in January we will be investing to support an online film-making and distribution module as part of the school’s curriculum.

We’re always on the look-out for opportunities to do more of this kind of thing.  Ultimately though, the bulk of our investment should focus not on creating content, but on developing platforms. Platforms which offer distribution to a global audience of 2 billion people, free of charge. That’s where our strengths lie, and that’s where we can make the biggest contribution to the Television industry’s future.

Let’s work together

To conclude, let me thank you once again for the opportunity to speak today.

If you’d told me 10 years ago that an engineer like me would one day deliver the UK’s highest TV industry lecture, I’d have never believed it!

Perhaps there’s a lesson in that.  The computing and creative industries are both on remarkable journeys.  Sometimes our paths will intertwine where you least expect.  Sometimes there’ll be potholes and false starts.  Sometimes – I hope – there’ll be stunning shared success.

To be clear: in this journey Google seeks to be your partner, not your foe. The opportunities are vast, and British television is uniquely well-placed to take them, if we work together.  So think big, think global, and think beyond the TV box.  Don’t hold back from the journey.”

 

 The whole lecture is long but well worth reading!

In short, the opportunities for developing your skills, expressing your talent and learning the craft of making content for any kind of media, including television, lies on your desktop. Business is changing for broadcasters; they’re still learning about change and in some cases struggling with it.

My advice? Get ahead of the game – or at least abreast of it!  Come up with those ideas and remember CONTENT IS KING but we need to understand the technology as well – the technology helps us deliver the content.

Stay tuned, or subscribe, for more thoughts, follow-ups and ideas on how to develop skills for the media.

 

 

 

 

1 comment

  • […] the keynote MacTaggart speech relating to the future of television (loved last year’s by Google boss Eric Schmidt); all the TV executives, commissioning editors and producers head up to Edinburgh to attend […]

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