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McAdams On: Gigabit TV

LOS ANGELES — Few topics generate more angst in the TV industry than the future of the TV industry. People generally don’t know about antennas anymore, much less use them, and they’re tired of doling out escalating fees to pay providers notorious for lousy customer service and recondite billing terms. The irony of stalemated retransmission negotiators depicting consumers as victims, is that those are the very folks defining the future of TV while industry insiders spit nails at one another in the media.

The future of TV is in the hands of the people thanks to YouTube, smartphones and broadband. So where does that take us? What does the end game look like and where does the money flow? And how long will the carrier model endure?

Certainty No. 1: Current models are under pressure from alternative IP based delivery. No. 2: Current models still generate a truckload of revenue and are not going away overnight. No. 3: As bandwidth is built out and made more efficient, subscriber flight will escalate. No. 4: Content creators (not owners, but creators) will have to shake tin cups on Kickstarter.

The typical response is to circle the wagons. There’s not much else to do if you’re heavily leveraged or the revenue stream is too massive to risk. But doing so further alienates a public increasingly happy to define “local” as social media circles, and “content” as the stuff being shared.

The future of TV rests on two premises: Behavior and bits. Knowing on a granular level how people interact with media is key—not just from big data analysis—but through observation. The consideration of all delivery systems as bit pipes is the other. The question then becomes, what can TV providers do to maximize their bit pipes in accordance with user behavior?

The answer may ultimately have nothing to do with TV as we now know it.