The 2020tv Scale

What’s this thing about tv? In 2007, Vint Cerf, who had fathered the Internet when television just had gotten a bit more colorful, had a dire prediction (for tv professionals, at least): the industry was quickly approaching its “iPod moment”.

tv set: old

as it has been: TV set = TV content = TV.

For the uninitiated: Cerf does not refer to an especially enjoyable moment of private listening, but an incumbent industry shattering event. The iPod (or, actually, iTunes and its unbundling strategy) didn’t destroy the label based music business. But the repercussions of the event are still felt, and some pieces are still missing.

As it happens, the Internet works on digital media a bit like an asteroid on animal life. First impact is bad, but not life threatening (if you haven’t been too close). The effects of the big bang and its aftershocks might still wipe you out.

Compared to the music industry, the tv business is still partying like it’s 1999. Compared to the book publishing industry, which had its Kindle moment and collectively decided to commit suicide by putting all eggs into the DRM basket (driven by Amazon, neglected by Adobe), tv even might have a bright and splendid present and future.

Or, maybe, tv is just resilient. Columbia’s Eli Noam compares the CAGR of IT technologies (Moore’s law says: 40%) to the change rate of tv technologies (4%), dubbing the latter Sarnoff’s law.

But maybe we just cannot define what tv is anyway. When the whole craze started, it was easy: a tv is a tv is tv (and it shows moving images and is plugged into an outlet).

The unbundling of the content (TV shows) from device (TV set) and delivery has left us with an academic void (“what eeez teevee?”),  and a megabillion Dollar/EUR/Yen/Won industry with lots of open questions.

For a consumer electronics exec, tv and its future mean something different than for, let’s say an broadcasting expert or the producer of a show. Not to speak of the viewing public, which tends to ignore the finer legal or academic distinctions.

Noam’s workaround on the definition of television might go like this: if it looks like tv, if walks like tv, and it quacks like tv, it is tv. I’m totally prepared to accept this, even if it doesn’t make our lifes much easier. But hey, tv is a highly complicated ecosystem, with many players and even more, partially diverging interests. Nothing we can do about that.

On the other hand, we can at least try to shed some light onto events and their importance.  When Charles F. Richter introduced his Richter Scale in 1935, earthquake didn’t become less scary, just because we now put a tag on it (1 = small, phew nothing. 5 = moderate, ouch. 10 = big one, enough said. 100 = hopefully interstellar travel is working fine by now). But measuring things sometimes helps us to get a grip on things.

So, without further ado: here’s the  the 2020tv Scale. Which mostly translates into: what’s the presumed effect of an event on the tv system as a whole? Just like the Richter Scale, the 2020tv Scale will not have any limits. But, unlike the Richter Scale, it’s not really a measure of anything more than gut feeling, common sense, and our collective wisdoms (as you will decide with me on the relevancy of things).

The 2020tv Scale

Value Description Occurence
1 Business as usual happens every day
2 Been there, done that could happen almost every other day
3 A slight ripple in the force it happens, quite often
4 Ouch it happens, sometimes
5 Earthquake! it happens, quite rarely
6 Game changer every decade or so
7 Timequake! every couple of decades or so
8 Real game changer! every hundred years
9 Wheel: finally invented every millenium or more
10 Universe (creation of) from the Big Bang ’til now

I would say, that’s a 2 on the 2020tv Scale.


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