The Future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet…

28/2/07   Interview by  Dvorit Shargal for The Marker, Israeli Business paper

At least one good thing happened to Richard Marks, Research and Development director of the iTRAM sector, in TNS, in his visit to the Middle East. Marks arrived from London to a convention organized by Top Media, one of TNS Israel customers, spent some especially sunny days in Tel Aviv and admitted that the transparent auditorium located in a restaurant on Herzelia Pituah beach – where he lectured in front of the Israeli advertising agents – is the most beautiful he has ever been. When he returned from a shooting session on the balcony, he fantasized about how jealous his friends in TNS London will be when they will see the photos against the sea and the bright blue skies in the middle of February.

Marks arrived here in order to explain how to stop fearing the digital revolution and to start loving it. To describe the confrontation of the world with the revolution he adopted the four stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger and acceptance. There is no other choice, he says, but calm: “A newer media will always be inspired and use newer ideas that do not exist in the old one. The old one will go through a change and survive and only seldom will be substituted completely by the new one.  The established media survives but changes it’s form”.

And this is only one quotation from within dozens of the quotations that pad his presentation. Sentences like: “The digital revolution frees the television from real time, from broadcasting schedule and international borders”, or most importantly, maybe: “The future is already here, it simply was not circulated yet” – most definitely a slogan one can run in Times Square.

What are the differences between the digital revolution in the United States and the one in Britain?

“In the United States the dominant technology is digital cable and in England satellite. That is why VOD is very common in the USA as opposed to in Britain which is stronger in interactive television. In the states if one arrives home ten minutes after the beginning of the new show one can catch it again with the remote control. In Britain on the other hand, one can order Pizza through the television – Dominos Pizza is the sponsor of the Simpsons”.

And then one wonders why Homer looks as he does.

Like many research people in television  Marks also likes to use cinema as an example of immortality. “If one returns to the beginning of the days of TV in the 50’s, many people predicted that the movies will die. However, until today the big stars are the movie stars and not the TV stars”.

I’m not sure it is forever.

“It depends on the way that the movie chooses to work. Today a big part of the money comes from sales and rental of DVDs, but the big event is in the cinema, since that is what the advertisers see as meaningful for them. Which means that the importance of the movies now and especially in the future, is not necessarily the time that one spends in the cinema, but that big impact at the beginning.  Later on, the audience will get the movie in other ways but there still will be big cinematic events, such as “Star Wars” that even kids will want to see first on the big screen.

“The same happens with music:  live shows are blooming now even though people are using the iPOD and download songs etc. The music industry has changed beyond recognition. Since it has always been a young industry, most of the people consume (if they buy at all D.S.) their music digitally and go to music stores.””.

Is this the end of TV as we know it? Will today’s kids that are used to watch TV on small computers monitors or cellular, buy large TVs when they grow up?

“When the video recorder just came to the market, there was a joke in England, that each home needs a child to activate the instrument and if there is no child in the home, it will only blink zero zero all the time. There is an interesting debate these days in Britain about newspapers. Reading of the printed newspapers is less amongst people of the age 25 – 40. One theory thinks that it is true that young people don’t read newspapers but as soon as they have families and  become more involved in the community, they will start reading. Another theory argues that the young people that don’t read newspapers today will keep on not reading so that in 20 years only people age 45 – 60 (and onward) will read the printed newspapers. This is the big argument at the moment”.

The second option seems more logical to me.

“Yes, I also think that people take the behaviour that they adopted when they where at the stage in which they were most open to ideas. Computers came to the world only when I was a youngster, but people who are 20 years old now always had computers. I am in my forties now and need to make a big effort to stay updated in all the new technologies. I am trying my best to study only the ones that can be useful for me. For example, I am not too good with SMS messages or when someone sends me a long e-mail – my first reaction is to print it and then read it. People ten years younger do not do it; they just read it on the screen.”

However, there are many mistakes on the screen and there is a big difference between the two readings.

“Yes I agree, nevertheless the SMSs are not written in the normative language. I think that the language will change dramatically since people are going to use increasingly text messages and instant messages and e-mails so that the language will be simpler and shorter.”

How shall we distinguish between TV and PC?

“Today we separate between TV and PC, but in the future people will not use these terms. Instead, they will say ’this is the instrument with which I watch TV, call my friends, do my homework’. It will be called ‘Windows Media Center’, for example.

“Think about it – the word ‘computer’ is not a friendly one. I also do not think that ‘digital’ is a friendly word. Digital is a word that describes technology. If I had to market digital TV to customers I would not call it that because people don’t care about ‘technology’ they only care about what they get. “Digital” describes how the system works, but not what the consumer gets.

“Think about the word iPOD, it is a very neutral word, it does not refer to music, it does not refer to TV, but one can hear and see both those things on the iPOD, and play games and organize one’s schedule.

Can we say goodbye to the tribal bonfire/tribal gathering?

“Not really and here is the most famous test case: ‘Dr. Who’ is a science fiction series launched on 1963 in black and white in the BBC’ when there only were 2 TV channels in Britain. It was very popular and was broadcasted for 30 years. In 1999, it ended since it was ancient. Two years ago, they decided to re-produce it with a  large budget. It was scheduled for broadcasting on Saturday’s nights, for parents that used to watch it as children, but also for their kids. Part of the strategy was to adopt all the digital possibilities. This way, one has the main TV show and in addition, they broadcasteda   one-minute teaser on the cell phones and the mobiles. They also launched series of programs around it, like the “making of” that series, a version of the series for children and each week they launched in the ‘Dr. Who’ site a new video game according to the next chapter in the series, so one could find there the same monsters that the characters meet. On one hand, they made all the efforts to give the adults the nostalgic feeling to connect them to their childhood program’ and on the other hand, today’s kids got everything they are used to. As a result, the series became a dizzying success.

“In other words, as opposed to the common opinion that it will not be possible to reunite a whole nation around the television, along came ‘Dr. Who.’ and proved that if you do it right, you can keep the old patterns. Now one can see whole families in England that do not watch TV together during the week, make time to watch this series as their family get together time, and later on everyone is chatting about it. The ratings are phenomenal – 10 million viewers – while the whole population of Britain is about 50 million. I want to say that if you want to watch a program about Poker, you don’t need this whole operation, but there are situations and events where people want to watch together. It also happens of course in big sports events and reality shows like ‘Pop Idol’, ‘Big Brother’, ‘The Apprentice’, ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ that feed the ‘water cooler’ chats as the Americans used to call it”.

In Israel, call it the Coffee Corner Chat.

“Yes, in Britain we also call it the Coffee Machine chat. The ‘did you see?’ – that is what advertisers love because it proves that the series makes a buzz. People like to talk about a good restaurant where they ate, a dramatic event in the news or a good TV show they saw, and for these exact reasons I don’t think that TV will lose big communities of viewers. However, the programs will have to make a big effort to reach that audience.”

How will the content providers and the broadcasters cope with the revolution in terms of marketing?

“From an advertising point of view, there will be more marketing content, they will have more sponsors and interactive ads. From a content point of view it will be much harder to justify large budgets for contents that is exposed in only one one-dimensional channel. Big projects will be broadcasted not only in TV but also in many windows for long periods. The rating will not be the only thing that matters, depending on how many people will have access to the contents and interaction.

“When Mike Ramsey, one of the TIVO deliberators, reached the managers in TV channels to tell them about his invention, they threw him out. ‘They claimed’ he said, ‘that we are going to ruin the American Economy’. Thank God  it is not what happened”, said Marks and started playing with his ARCHOS – a kind of mobile YesMax in the size of a small wallet to which he records his favorite programs (Seinfeld of-course) broadcasted at home, in London, and watched them while at the hotel in Tel-Aviv.

We said it is a cross-country revolution, didn’t we?   

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