Video's Velvet Revolution

It's getting to be a familiar script. For decades an entire society, its economy and its future remains under the thumb of an authoritarian system. The regime limits choice, promising instead stability and predictability in day-to-day life. Opposition forms but its effect over many decades is muted and ineffectual because the ruling autocracy is really effective at controlling all the levers and switches. One day, however, things change. Armed with new technologies and communication channels the dissidents find each other and take to the street. Everything changes, the regime falls, and we're all stunned at how something that had stood for so long could fall so fast.

Egypt? Tunisia? No. Television.

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For many years those in the online ad space have been cursing the lock that television held on ad budgets, but our indignation was misdirected and confused. We believed that both consumers and advertisers would want less of what television had to offer and would naturally migrate to the more personal, targeted and effective online world. The consumers showed up, the advertisers much less so, and the TV business continues to rake in the dollars. But it turns out we had ignored a key fact. Consumers never stopped wanting to watch TV. Video today, video tomorrow, video forever.

So today, it seems, TV survives and thrives, but it sure feels like the whole thing is about to bust loose and become way more democratic and personal. The iPad has its limitations as a computer but boy is it an awesome TV! Netflix has something like 8% penetration and they want to bring me TV shows. Apple TV and Roku have cheap little boxes that build a functional bridge to between devices and services. iTunes, Hulu, TV network websites equipped with players....lots to watch there. Seems like there's plenty of technology, plenty of network capacity and plenty of smart companies who are ready to give consumers what they really want: The Office or The Big Bang Theory or American Idol on their chosen device, at their chosen time via their chosen carrier.

But for now, at least, the big advertising and marketing money remains in the hands of the autocrats. Amid all this freedom and capitalism and technology and choice, there is still an anachronistic trading system of self interested buyers and sellers who will work to prop it up for as long as it lasts. The way that video advertising is bought and sold no longer reflects the way that video is actually consumed. But the wall will come down. And when it does, what new model, which new players, will step in?

One thing I believe is certain: We will be once again amazed at how fast it all happened.