TV of tomorrow learns to love the Web

The television industry is changing before our eyes. Major industry players are adapting to a new reality where content is increasingly viewed on multiple devices and the pay TV subscription requiring at least 100 channels is becoming a relic of the past.

What this will mean to the consumer was the primary focus at the TV of Tomorrow Show (TVOT) held over the past two days in San Francisco. The conference, which was organized by InteractiveTV Today (a multiplatform news source), featured nearly 200 speakers, all of whom seemed to carry the same common message: change or die.

“The system is at the brink,” said Ericsson senior vice president Pete Thompson in his opening keynote on Tuesday. “The Web and TV networks have to come together.”

One example of how this is playing out can be found in the groundbreaking move announced during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January when Dish Network introduced Sling TV. Starting four months ago, U.S. subscribers could purchase a broadband-only, streamed channel package for $20 per month that included cable’s “holy grail” – ESPN – for ardent TV viewers.

Dish Network’s foray into offering a service that could potentially undermine its own core pay TV business has been closely watched since February. Appearing at TVOT this week, Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch, would not disclose specific subscription numbers (one recent report estimated 250,000 paying customers), but he dropped a few hints that the results have been positive.

According to Lynch, most users have purchased at least one additional channel (for $5 per month) and they are attracting customers with “surprisingly high income,” a detail that will not go unnoticed by advertisers.

“We wanted to reach people who are not paying for pay TV today,” said Lynch, which mostly includes younger millennial viewers, the highly coveted age group born between 1980 and the early 2000s.

While traditional players like Dish Network are turning to the Web as a delivery channel for TV viewing, the competitive viewing landscape is changing rapidly as well with the rise of live TV streaming such as the popular Periscope on Twitter, content that one industry speaker described as “a long form selfie.”

One of the rising Periscope stars – Amanda Oleander – appeared on a panel at TVOT this week and described her success in terms that can only be properly characterized as meteoric. She started her livestream channel barely three months ago and now claims anywhere from 170,000 to 200,000 viewers. Oleander, a 25-year-old artist who lives in Los Angeles, said she launched a new line of clothing on Periscope, and sold out in the first day.

“In a year from now, everyone is going to know what Periscope is,” said Oleander.

It may not even take that long. Just in the past week, USA Network announced that they will begin using Twitter’s livestreaming app to engage its global WWE wrestling fan base. Oleander herself has been recently profiled in New York Magazine and CBS.

The rise of a service like Periscope underscores an important shift in the television world where streaming live TV has the ability to create new community channels that did not exist before in the traditional broadcast space. Oleander’s live content ranges from scenes in her life as she roams the freeways of Southern California to a guitarist playing cool music in the departure lounge as she waits for a plane.

“We’re headed toward a future where it’s all about the content creator and the community created around that content,” said Ari Evans, the CEO of Maestro, another live on-demand video platform. “We’re redefining what live must be.”

In the evolutionary process, the progression is usually crawl, walk, run. But in the traditional TV world, executives can be notoriously slow to action. “In the cable industry, it’s stand around for a while, then slither,” said Bill Niemeyer, a senior analyst with nScreen Media. Given the pace of change we are currently seeing in the TV industry today, executives might be wise to go straight to running and fast.