Takeaways from The Cable Show, Part 2

Bryce MarshallLast time, I took a look at three takeaways from last week’s The Cable Show. Here are three more talking points, takeaways and more from the show.
4. Power of the second screen
First, a definition of terms. In many traditional circles the “first” screen is the silver screen of the movie theater, with the TV the second screen, and the computer and other devices like mobile phones in some order third and beyond.

As defined at The Cable Show and therefore my working definition here also, the first screen is the TV, the flagship product/viewport of the cable industry. The second screen refers to something in the home that is not a TV, and at this year’s version of The Cable Show, this means the tablet.

The tablet, the second screen, is a very interesting platform for both people and business. We already know that users enjoy interfacing with their tablet at home and often within the same room and at the same time as the TV is on. Maybe the users are multitasking: pinning on Pinterest while watching The Bachelor. And maybe users are multitasking but also using their tablets for other TV-related tasks such as reviewing TV listings, scheduling their DVR, or using a social media interface to live chat about a program while it airs. And then in some cases users interface with the tablet as a second screen for viewing live programming: such as when The Bachelor is on the TV and someone like me needs to be watching playoff basketball without voluntary exile to the basement.

All of these use cases are embraced as opportunities to extend the value of TV programming – whether appointment “live” TV or on demand content – as well as the value of broadband internet and WiFi. The cable industry wants their customers to get hooked on these new multitasking entertainment habits knowing that, if many other business advantages are eroding, this creates a compelling argument for bandwidth in the home.

The consumer wants to consume the entertainment, the video, the social connectedness they desire in an all-the-time, a la carte model. Whether this ever becomes a reality is to be seen. But leveraging the second screen as a complementary device to get more out of existing subscription services is clearly a goal for the large cable operators. And the development platform, inherent capabilities and usability factors, and time-to-market all favor the tablet as the key vehicle for delivery of these interactive experiences over the cable industry’s traditional ball and chain, the set-top box.

Even so there is a lot of “catch up” to be played as the cable operators have been slow to embrace mobile and tablet platforms and realize their full potential, with infrastructure realities such as customer authentication and carriage contracts with their programming/content partners providing hurdles in the past.

But there is no mistake that the second screen is an opportunity for brands like Comcast and Time Warner Cable to more successfully achieve a brand position that has proven elusive: providing a superior technology, lifestyle and usability experience.

5. Mobile trumps social

It’s all about the platform.

Over the last couple years at Knotice we have been keenly invested in understanding how consumers, and therefore our clients, are embracing and engaging with emerging content and communication paradigms. These emerging paradigms essentially rolled up to two things: “mobile” and “social” (with honorable mention going to “local”).

Both are clearly important and impactful. But the question remained, which of these paradigms altered some behaviors, and which was the fundamental change in how consumers engaged with peers and brands in transformative ways.

The answer may still be unclear, but I will share the opinion that mobile is the fundamental, transformative paradigm. And this seems to be the consensus within the cable and broadband industry. Clearly the second screen of the tablet provides an exciting platform where cable brands have an opportunity to grab some hard-won legitimacy in consumers’ eyes. But more clearly the emergence of smartphones, tablets, and wireless connected portable devices of every ilk (Kindle Fire, Samsung Note) is fundamentally changing the how, where, why and when of content consumption (and maybe the ‘who’ too if we think about toddlers and their infatuation with iPhones, iPads, apps and on demand video).

This isn’t to say social interaction and the ubiquity of social tools and concepts haven’t changed everything we know about engaging with and marketing to wired consumers in the last 3 years. Clearly it has. But we have to take the present state of Facebook as very poignant contextual evidence. Are investors worried that Facebook hasn’t figured out how to monetize mobile? I’m no investment strategist but this seems to be a large factor to Facebook’s underwhelming IPO.

It’s all about the platform, and mobile is the platform of the future that is the fundamental, transformative paradigm. Everyone, from the world’s leading consumer brands, to Facebook, to the cable operators and programming partners are forced to figure out the meaning of their products, services and brand value proposition within this new paradigm.

6. Conan O’Brien gets it, and Chris Matthews doesn’t

Conan O’Brien and Chris Matthews are two of my favorite on-air personalities of the last 20 years. I had the opportunity to see both on stage at The Cable Show. As much as I respect both personalities, their respective appearances drew a stark contrast between how they view today’s fragmented media landscape with the emergence of social networks and (for lack of a better word) infotainment.

Conan was interviewed by Piers Morgan and discussed his transition from NBC to TBS, why he made the switch, and how he has embraced a digital-social emphasis to how he creates content and interacts with fans (you can view the interview here). What Conan understands is that he is not simply the host of a show, he is a brand whose value to the consumer is delivery of specific tone of comedy no matter when or where. Instead of leveraging social media channels like Twitter to promote his late-night broadcast television show, he can make the argument that his late-night broadcast television show is a great promotion for his Twitter account. Conan – and TBS – are not fixated as much on the television ratings as they are measuring the total audience interaction including television but also Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more. It’s all content, and as long as it’s funny, Conan is delivering on his unique brand promise to his audience regardless of the size of their cable bill, internet bill, or wireless bill.

Chris was part of a panel discussion which touched on several topics but came back again and again to the role that news programming and personalities have in educating and entertaining viewers, and where the line between the two is drawn (or blurred). Chris was notably aggressive on this panel discussion and not only launched a heated diatribe about the Bush administration’s manipulation of the American people in their zeal to attack Iraq, but also sparred with his fellow panelists including CNN’s John King. (See the panel here The war clip starts at about 5 minutes 30 seconds in.The topic of “opinion journalism” (blurring lines of information and entertainment) starts at about 8min)

Among other contentious points Chris shared that he didn’t believe Bush’s Iraq invasion would have ever happened if social media such as Facebook and Twitter were pervasive in 2002 (as the American people would have had the channel through which to communicate their displeasure and share information about the false claims of Bush’s administration) and that today’s TV viewer is responsible for (and aware of) discerning the difference between news for information’s sake, and news for education’s sake, even if it is being delivered by the same person or network. I think Chris is fooling himself on both points and seems unwilling to hold the media accountable for delivering clear facts, and clear opinions. Not to mention the fact that he used the stage to promote a personal agenda regarding the Iraq war (and, ahem, wasn’t that ten years ago Chris?) and bully his peers on the panel. I guess this is all part of the Chris Matthews charm and why I find him a great entertainer.

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