Today Sky announced its to launch a standalone internet TV service. This seems perfectly timed given that NetFlix has recently entered the UK market, joining Amazon’s LoveFilms and a rash of other services and platforms like Google’s YouTube, Apple.TV, and the BBC’s iPlayer.

All this reminded me of something I heard a while back at last years Broadcast Evolution Summit in Cannes – a very good event but notable for the complete absence of any internet “broadcast” companies and a large number of traditional TV executive who were showing very real signs that they didn’t really get what was about to happen to them.

At the Summit, it was pointed out that it took something like half-a-century before a car had stopped looking like horse-drawn carriage. Similarly, early TV’s often looked like some odd amalgam of sitting room furniture and a radiogram; it then took another generation to pass before colour was added; and another until HD was added.

But now TV has joined the internet; a medium that evolves in months a years rather than years and decades, and its notable that its the Internet pioneers that are making the early ground, not TV stalwarts.

I’ll give you an example. At the Summit there was lots of talk about linear and non-linear TV:

  • Linear is the way we watch broadcast TV, where there is a constant stream flowing past us and we have a simple binary choice to watch it or not.
  • Non-linear is recorded TV where we dip into a pool of content and choose what to watch and the order in which we watch it; this is what happens when we record stuff on our PVR, visit YouTube, drop by Mubi, install Boxee, go to Witney.TV or use the iPlayer catch-up services.

This list is long and that’s because just about all of the innovation is being made by non-linear companies and the distinction they are making with linear models is rapidly eroding.

At the Summit I reminded the audience that at a gigabit it was possible to download an HD movie in a lot less than 30-seconds. Puzzlement! Why do I care?

That’s less time than it takes to broadcast an ad – while you are watching the ad, your next HD programme will be streamed to your box; the choice of programming could be pre-booked by you or it could be carefully selected by a cloud service that collects meta-data from your previous watching patterns, taking in Last.FM’s Love/Hate buttons, and your social media connections, linking you to your communities of interest.

Today the concept of “Spotify for HD TV” is well within grasp – Love Film has launched the first steps towards it, and with Amazon’s cloud infrastructure behind it it is only a matter of time (months rather than years).

Is this linear or non-linear? And who really cares? One thing is for certain,  TV executives shouldn’t!

Traditional media companies have highly skilled staff and are able to create top draw content within islands of trust backed by the very best creative labs; even if their brands may have to do battle with major global players like Apple and Google for platform space, their content should remain king. But this, in the medium term, will only remain a valuable asset if the linear mindset is put to bed.

I understand Google has set YouTube a strategic goal to increase viewing time from minutes to hours per day. This is why net neutrality is so important to Google – unless the transmission medium is reliable they won’t be able to secure the rights to the very best content. If you were Disney would you sign away your content to a platform that regularly pixelates the most valuable asset attached to your brand?

I’ve written before about net neutrality and how ALA is about to deliver the tools that for innovative internet aware companies will remove the chance of pixelated content over pervasive and very fast networks so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that I’ve had far, far more interesting conversations about content delivery from internet companies who are beginning to get it, and far, far more puzzled or dismissive faces from traditional broadcast companies who don’t.

How long will it be before Google or Amazon try to secure premiership football rights? And who would bet against them?

For the time being at least it seems TV companies are playing catch-up. The speed of change is far, far quicker than anything they have experienced before, and they are being measured against companies who are comfortable working at that speed.

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