Does light behave as a wave or particle? Well, both…
This sums up the conclusion about the nature of light reached by physicists and the controversy surrounding the establishment of quantum theory at the start of the 20th century. The wave-particle “duality paradox” has been regarded by the fathers of quantum mechanics —Schrodinger, Bohr, and others — as a fundamental fact of nature, with some far-reaching implications about the nature of the universe (e.g. is there such a thing as “objective reality” when the reality in question can be simultaneously described by two incompatible physical states?).
The difficulty is that when light is shone through two parallel slits it can exhibit the characteristics of both waves and particles, something which the great physicist Richard Feynman referred to as “impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way.”
We may actually be witnessing the same kind of “epistemological revolution” in the TV business.
What is TV: content or context? Well, it depends.
Under the traditional content paradigm, the measure of the value for a TV service could be expressed in terms of access to exclusives, catalogue depth and width, the flexibility of business models (a la carte vs. subscription, for example), richness of experience and so on. Television innovation, both technological (devices, screens, resolutions) and commercial (bundles, formats etc.), has concentrated for decades around these requirements, constantly pushing the envelope and cementing the role of the pay-TV platforms as content service providers; i.e. the irreplaceable link mediating between content publishers and viewers.
However, with the advent of OTT TV comes a new TV distribution paradigm – the “context paradigm”.
As Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, smartly puts it: “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless — and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention”
In a world of overabundant content offerings, and progressively vanishing technical barriers of entry for content distribution (e.g. via DIY platforms, cloud architectures etc.), what should be the role of a TV platform?
Facebook, YouTube and the likes have successfully crafted a new model for video platforms. With attention progressively becoming a scarce commodity, context relevance becomes the currency. This is even more so among Millennials’, for whom “context hopping” is the norm (follow the link for some enlightening insights from Microsoft on dwindling attention spans). Web platforms therefore tend to take on the role of “context service providers” i.e. making sense of usage data and going after context relevance, intent signals and bursts of attention. That means that content publishers and advertisers can now get access to super-targeted audiences or improve their content efficiencies – metrics which become the measure of a platform’s success. Under this paradigm, real-time context relevance becomes the Holy Grail.
So what about TV?
Judging by Verizon’s or Comcast’s disruptive launches of the Go90 and Watchable free services, where video content gets monetized as a context (i.e. with the aim of selling targeted audiences to advertisers or upselling to end users), it seems pay-TV platforms are now ready to experiment with the strategies pioneered by the context service providers..
Furthermore, beyond these experiments, one can try and devise what a successful operator’s plan of action could be under the “context paradigm”.
To have an impact, any move would need to be backed by a comprehensive and sophisticated data strategy leveraging an operator’s unique access to usage data, including that taken from beyond the TV service silo. Take Smart Home services for example. Touted by some operators as the promising fifth pillar in a “quintuple play” offering, such services could soon prove a valuable source of real-time data that could potentially be turned into “monetizable” contexts (e.g. presence, proximity etc.).
Operators still have a long way to go to really harness the value of their data, to the benefit of their customers. And important challenges lie ahead, not the least of which is the threat on data security & customers’ privacy. But one thing is certain: the pay-TV industry is undergoing some tectonic changes with the emergence of disruptive strategies co-exisiting alongside more traditional ones.
So what is TV: content or context? It is only when the ‘observer effect’ kicks in — the phenomenon by which the very act of observing something means that the probability wave containing its information collapses to a single state (think Schrödinger opening the lid of his box to see if the cat was still alive) — that we see it as being content or context.
The reality — the quantum reality of the situation — is that for pay-TV operators, it is in fact both at the same time.