CES 2015: What Is the Future of TV?

By Markets Fool.com

The television industry as you know it may not exist one day, and it could happen sooner than you might think.

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Not only is how people watch TV and where they get content from changing, but the devices they watch on are in flux as well. This was one of many topics of discussion at this week's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being held in Las Vegas. Jerry Belson, vice chairman and U.S. Media & Entertainment sector leader for Deloitte Consulting, led a panel discussion at the CES called "The Future Of TV: From Primetime to Multiplatforms." Panelists included:

  • Jeff Clark, head of video platforms and monetization at Google
  • Jon Mantell, vice president of digital products and video at CBS Interactive.
  • Michael Thornton, chief revenue officer at Starz
  • Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of digital, Bravo and Oxygen Media at NBC Universal (owned by Comcast
  • John Calkins, president of programming at AMC Entertainment

The diverse group was united on only one thing -- that not all the answers have been found yet -- but they did offer some clarity as to where TV is heading.

The panel represented a wide swath of the television industry. Source: Author.

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Platform may not matter
Calkins was quick to point out that he works for the AMC that owns movie theaters, not the one that owns cable channels. If anyone thought that made him a curious choice for the panel, he didn't think so, explaining that consumer experience is changing for all media -- so that what's happening to television is relevant to film. He explained that while the move to tablets and other small screens gets a lot of attention, the opposite is also happening.

"We rarely think about consumer behavior as going the other way to a big-screen experience," he said. "I'll just point out that if you look at things like the IMAX announcement today about Game of Thrones [being shown in IMAX theaters], which is TV content on the big screen, or if you look at the increasing overlap of the quality of movies made for television ... at the end of the day it's all about what the consumer is watching."

Calkins explained that the line of what's TV and what's a big-screen experience has been blurring and will continue to do so.

Hsia agreed with Calkins, pointing out that part of her responsibilities include overseeing Oxygen, which is being rebranded as a cable network for millennial women -- a group that she said may not watch TV at all.

"When John said he considered himself sort of a pioneer of multiplatform consumer behavior, I feel exactly the same thing," she said. "The challenge is how can you expand the definition of a show from a one-hour destination to a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day destination."

TV is about more than TV

Hsia was the first, but not the only, panelist to bring up the idea that television has become more than just TV shows. The digital content, which was once viewed as extra, is now an important part of the process, panelists said.

"It's about how we expand our platform to get CBS content on different platforms," Mantell said. That includes traditional TV shows viewed on new platforms (such as the CBS all-access digital streaming service), as well as second-screen content to enhance the viewing experience.

Quality matters

While 4K television has struggled to catch on, Thornton believes it's important that it does, or at least that picture quality continues to improve.

"The better the viewing experience and the more people enjoy the viewing experience, it's better for all of us," he said.

Mantell agreed that experience was important, saying that "it's become clear that people want to watch video on a very large screen in their house ... [and] with that comes a need for quality, and whether it's just the video quality itself or having higher resolution, I don't know if 4K will come into play."

Calkins also preached quality but pointed out that in the music business, the industry pushed high-end formats while consumers chose low-resolution solutions. In TV, he agreed that quality matters, but suggested that consumers could opt for convenience over a better picture.

Second screen could be key

In some fashion, all of the panelists touched on how TV is becoming more than just the program on the screen.

Belson said that his company has done surveys showing that younger people have another device in their hand 90% of the time while they're watching a big screen.

Hsia has done a lot of work with second-screen experiences, but she said whether they work depends greatly on the user. "I think there's a huge opportunity ... to put a transactional layer into television, but that has never been successful, so it's sort of a holy grail," she said. "But I think second screen could be a game changer."

Mantell explained that he found that second-screen content can add value to the primary program because of how it can be shared on social media: "Not only does the content come into play as a true second-screen experience, but we've also gotten the content producers to create a whole level of content that supports the shows themselves."

Bundles aren't dead yet

While a number of companies are attempting to offer television products that let people buy only what they want, Mantell said that the death of bundling is not a sure thing. He also said that it's the content companies, not the cable providers, that are driving the current bundling model.

"I don't know if and when that's going to happen," Mantell said of the idea that bundling would go away or at least become less prominent. "Digital does provide an opportunity for that, but it may not be the option that consumers want."

Belson acknowledged that the whole panel believed that giving consumers la carte options is an important problem to solve. Solving it, he explained, involves finding a solution that doesn't affect the customer base that would otherwise buy bundles.

"Digital has more freedom to experiment," Clark said. "We have more leeway to try those things, and some of them will roll back into the traditional side of the business."

The article CES 2015: What Is the Future of TV? originally appeared on Fool.com.

Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He watches a lot of TV, almost all of it on a big TV without a second screen in his hand. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Google (A and C shares), IMAX, and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.