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Head in the clouds: Millennials to change media landscape with internet-based TV

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Bloc[k] Beat (six1@uic.edu)

What ever happened to the ‘good old days’? When mornings meant taking a moment to enjoy scrambled eggs at the breakfast table, equipped with a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other? Or when families would gather around the same TV set to watch the same program during its same weekly time slot? The reality is that today, those eggs and that cup of coffee have been replaced by two double shots of Starbuck’s espresso and an energy bar. And that morning newspaper? It is at the bottom of the wastebasket, swapped out for a smart phone. The once picturesque portrait of the traditional American lifestyle is increasingly facing the daunting threat of becoming nothing more than a fragment of the past. And is the TV doomed to go down the garbage disposal along with it?

Year by year and decade by decade, television has become more than a luxury; it has become another staple, a necessity not far from food and shelter. While that may seem a tad extreme – after all, we can live without TV – there is some truth to it that can be revealing of our future media consumption patterns. We frequently fail to face the facts that, for most of us, television is an indispensable part of our daily life. It delivers information, education, and of course, entertainment. To stay current, media players will have no other choice but to develop consumer-focused multi-platform business strategies to attract a generation of young consumers who have gained greater power in recent years. This emphasis on the viewer, as an active participant in choosing and creating content, will eventually push all media producers to create a more personalized experience for their users.

It is difficult to disagree that we do, in fact, live in a hyper-digitized culture, where mobile devices rule. And in the middle of it all sit the millennials, the generation of people who fall between the ages of 18 and 34. Last year, Americans spent more time on their digital devices than they did in front of the television screen, reported eMarketer. While digital media use is on the rapid rise, traditional media is on the swift decline. The article goes on to disclose that “daily TV time will actually be down slightly this year, while digital media consumption will be up 15.8%.” This statistic should strike a cord, as the media landscape continues to evolve and more television emerges online. More than ever before, it is imperative to stop in our tracks, drop our iPhones and roll around with the idea that the TV media landscape is changing and is headed for the clouds.

With buzzwords like “cloud-enabled” and “cloud computing” catching fire around us like an untamed inferno, pinning down a single definition appears nothing short of a herculean feat. For most of us, the meanings behind, and applications surrounding, this ethereal ‘cloud’ has become, shall we say, a tad cloudy. Ubiquitous is the conflated concept of “the cloud,” which seems to pervade nearly every discussion on the future of TV, but it is one tough concept to crack. The traditional definition of TV has changed dramatically from being associated solely with the largest piece of furniture in the home, the television set. More and more, the act of watching video on any device – mobile phones, tablets, laptops – is being considered watching TV.

In September 2011, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, under the U.S. Department of Commerce, released a special publication that defined cloud computing as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” In other words, cloud-based TV is streaming of content through the Internet, with minimal hardware or provider interference required.

However, there is no need to chuck your television set(s) out the window just yet. According to Ofcom, the UK communications regulator of TV and radio airwaves likened to the Federal Communications Commission in the U.S., “the TV set in the living room retains its importance.” They discovered that a whopping 91% of all television viewing still takes place on the main TV set in the home, which is up from 88% in 2002.  Moreover, an Accenture article titled, “The eyes have it: Guess who controls the future of TV,” argues against abounding assumptions that the familiar television set is being replaced. Instead, another option is explored… And it does not involve ditching that box-set sitting smack dab in the center of your front room. Predictions land on a recently emergent form of TV delivery that the article swears will become the dominant medium of the future. As the walls cave in on the traditional television transmission model, a full-blown war is waged between cable providers and their internet streaming counterparts. Over-the-top (OTT) providers like Netflix and Hulu have undoubtedly muscled their way into the modernized media frame, issuing cable companies a not-so-subtle ultimatum: get on board or get lost.

Traditional TV audiences are disappearing, as millennials take television into their own hands, demanding a personalized media experience that enables viewer to watch video content where they want, how they want and whenever they want. While cloud-shifting alone does not and will not change the media environment, it does stand as a signifier of the direction in which television is headed. As our world becomes increasingly more connected, we are led down a path characterized by hyper-personalization. As other players like Dropbox, Google Apps, Smart Phone services and Skype begin to take advantage of all the cloud has to offer, so must traditional television providers and broadcasters… Lest they’ll all be left in a cloud of dust.

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