Live sports has long seemed an impregnable category of entertainment. Live games, highlights, and sports news remain a key reason millions of subscribers continue paying for hefty cable bundles. Yet that number is shrinking. ESPN lost 7 million subscribers in the past two years alone, according to documents parent company Disney filed with the SEC, down to 92 million. That’s still a lot, but such declines will hasten Disney’s view that shunning the way people watch TV now will become untenable eventually.
Why are we surprised? “Watching” is an ever-changing game that’s always been enabled by technology innovation. As we explored back in August when Disney stock plummeted, “looking back” isn’t serving anyone in the media industry, yet the complexity of moving forward from the entrenched position inherent in big companies: well, Greenberg’s article makes that point well.
Content has anchored entrenched company’s strategies for attracting watchers: once you put the content there, that’s the place you want people to see it.
And here’s a classic Innovator’s Dilemma: when you’re working to pull people in to see it there’s no easy path to reinventing the way people see it.
From the first big screen movie back in 1905 through the mid-century home TV revolution to the rise of web viewing, our desire for content has always been driven by, well, content. It’s been agnostic about the thing we’ve viewed it on. Watch the evolution and you’ll see the trajectory has been about proximity (closer to where we are) and schedule – as in ours, not the programmer’s.
Follow that trajectory and consider the ongoing evolution. Big catalysts like AR, VR, all kinds of IoT innovation, even autonomous cars: in 2016 and beyond all of these will continue to shape our “watching” experience. The delivery vehicles will change. Even the content will morph. But the constant is that people will be connecting with the things they want to see on terms that are increasingly in their control – and they’ll still want a lot of content.
The future of viewing is not about the “mobile” experience and if we call it that one day we’ll all be caught in the same trap of those who tethered themselves to the “cable” experience. It’s simply the experience. Viewing will continually be defined and redefined by what viewers want and how close, self-directed, and immersive their access to content will be.
Those who stay agile will bring value to viewers on the only terms that endure: viewers’.
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