Jim Long has 25+ years of experience building, funding and advising disruptive technologies in the media industry — notably, coining/inventing video streaming in the 90’s and leading the team responsible for getting the five major recording labels to band together and embrace digital song downloads rather than be obliterated by sites like Napster in early 2000s.
Just before the launch, we talked to Jim at NAB NY 2017 about the current state of “broadcast.” He’s bearish on what he calls the end of the “second screen era,” and believes that the pendulum is swinging once again back to local.
NTVN: The OTT landscape has been called politely by many disjointed, and maybe not so politely a big mess, which makes for a lousy customer experience. You have to go to Netflix to watch this, you have to go to Amazon or to watch this other thing. Do you think consolidation of all of this is going to be ultimately inevitable, regardless of the bottom line, to improve the customer experience?
“I think a third of Americans are going to be happy with multiple apps. It gives them the ability to understand where they’re going.”
JL: I think the answer is for some people, yes. We already have that- it’s called the cable bundle. I mean, even to be frank, YouTube TV is trying to be everything to everyone first, and they’re all taking on SVOD, and this and that, so if you want a walled garden, you want to have it all in one place, guess what, it’s already there, it’s called Xfinity – probably the best ones doing it. If you look at OTT, it’s just a technology, right? It isn’t really unique anymore. I think what we’re seeing, what I certainly saw coming in and what I really like, is some people call it democratization of content- I don’t know about that- but consumer choice, right. It used to be we had four options and an antenna, now we have not only 10 options with this, you could go to Funny or Die, you could live on YouTube, you could live on Facebook Live, people are consuming more video and content. So the short answer is, I think a third of Americans are going to be happy with multiple apps. It gives them the ability to understand where they’re going. Do you want it all under one giant user interface that somehow isn’t confusing, and you have plenty of choices there? The cable bundle is not going away. I think it peaked at 85% of homes, somewhere around 2008 to 2014, and now it’s down to 75, 77%. It will go down to 65%, but it’s not going to go to 50.
NTVN: There was a [Future of Television] conference a couple weeks ago at The New York Media Festival talking about the cable bundle and one of the panelists, M. Scott Havens from Bloomberg, said that people don’t want to go back to a megabundle or pay for channels they’ll never watch. Do you agree what people that want more customization?
JL: We have 125,000,000 homes. There are so many people, you’re going to have everything. You’re going to have, you know, short millennials and tall old people doing everything, right, every single niche you can find will have an entire demographic in it. But it’s really a beautiful thing. It’s a huge market, and what we really need to do is to respect the consumer’s choice. I think the vMVPDs are a godsend for the networks and the cable things, and I think that’s going to help them, but at the end of the day people are cutting the cord, not because they don’t want a box in their house, but because they’re moving to other content, a more casual content. The ones that really want it all with ESPN and Disney and all those other great channels, maybe they’ll switch to a vMVPD or maybe they won’t. I really think it’s about choices, and that’s one of the reasons I like broadcast right now. I knew the internet was not going to be the only game in town and would never be the only game in town. I knew also that 4G and all that stuff would take a lot longer, and at the end of the day, you need wires for it to work. I felt fifteen years ago that the broadcast system was going to be a great asset for this country for years and years and years to come and so what I knew is it needed to have an internet component to it. For lots of reasons, one of them is feedback. I also believe in the power of broadcast for data – the internet of things, whatever. I believe in the power of broadcast as a backup. We are ending the “zombie apocalypse” period it seems – whatever is going to happen, I don’t know. Hopefully not North Korea. So I mean the notion that we’re going to get rid of this beautiful thing – so I always looked for a way to capitalize on broadcast because I felt it was going to be an underserved market, everyone else is going to go wild with cable bundle or something new like Funny or Die. The other thing I love about broadcast is local. I knew the pendulum was going to swing back. Costco’s great but farm-to-table’s great too. You have national television networks and iHeartRadio saying the same thing over and over again – that’s great, part of the time. But you also want that local subscription. And it was pretty clear to me that the key to local media, even print, even radio was going to be television. So I bet on the pendulum swinging back to that. Community. It could still be NBC, but it will be a community version of that.
NTVN: That’s what iHeartRadio does. You live in Denver but you come from New York and want to listen to a Denver radio station.
JL: Exactly. And the diginets in a way at the moment are a little bit like the 80’s, the 90’s, the 70’s. I think what Sinclair’s doing with the sci-fi channel for millennials, and some of the things they’re doing on diginets is really smart. Nothing against the cable bundle – it’s still the king and it will be – but consumers come in different flavors.
NTVN: Does the word “broadcast” even apply anymore? For example, we were talking about how somebody is watching somebody play World of Warcraft – more people are watching that than “CBS This Morning.”
JL: I think what you have – the centerpiece is still “broadcast” and you know – if you take a coat hanger, bend it and shove it into your laptop and get a television signal – that would be pretty awesome. Not so easy to do today. But the fact of the matter is that’s the center of it that means you’re in… Pittsburgh. You’re in… some place. Now what you do is you augment that. But I think that just that experience of having broadcast there is sort of the cornerstone. Now you could be a low power station and by using the Internet you can get to every corner of Arizona. So so I really think. I’m not trying to say you should spend your time 24/7 watching broadcast TV, but it should be part of your buffet of TV choices. If you want to binge watch HBO or CBS All Access, by all means do it. You’re not going to get that on broadcast. Broadcast is a beautiful discovery mechanism and it’s a good way to be casual. Do you really when you’re going to bed – and I see this with millennials – do you really want to binge watch Breaking Bad tonight? You’re on season 3, episode 4… you just want to go to bed! I mean falling asleep halfway through a John Wayne movie is probably not going to kill you. So i see that as just a choice.
“I do think that “social TV” exists already, and corralling it IS still a good thing. But you can’t control it. The problem is that the networks think and some of these people think THAT somehow that you can control it. and somehow that’s better for them.”
NTVN: Where do you think the idea of “participation television” is going?
JL: You’ve set me up nicely. I’m a Silicon Valley guy, I’ve done lots of startups, I’ve been a venture guy twice. Didja is my third media company. And as you know, there was an era called the “second screen era,” and I probably advised a couple of them, there was supposedly 200, 500 million in venture capital. And it all pretty much went up in smoke, they turned into streaming platforms. And the reason became obvious to me eventually – I never really groked it – the second screen already exists, it’s called the web! “TV” is everywhere, we talk about TV on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. The YouTube CEO at the first Vidcon: “We’re a TV company.” Right? The second screen thing is a nice effort, but it’s difficult to do, given that it’s all over the web anyway Web. I do think that “social TV” exists already, and corralling it is still a good thing. But you can’t control it. The problem is that the networks think and some of these people think that somehow that you can control it. and somehow that’s better for them. Somehow they’ll make more money. Somehow they’ll take care of copyrights, and it’s sort of like it I mean it’s just time and time again in the world we know that trying to control stuff force it out generally a short term gain.
NTVN: One thing we’ve kind of found is you know its that stations don’t want to give away the narrative. They want they want audiences to participate but they really don’t. The stuff has to be completely moderated to begin with. We’ve we’ve done a lot of stuff with live TV where it’s just the people do that – it’s like “Well, no, no, no.” So how much is that is that really a dialogue I don’t know.
JL: Yeah, you have to you have to embrace the fact that it’s about consumers, and consumers do funny things and stuff, and you guys have to go with it. I’ve given my opinion to some of the social companies – particularly Twitter. You look at Twitter and you say, “Look, you’re really the straw that stirs the drink. You should be trying to help be part of the dialogue in the entire web.” But yet they feel they need to have a wall. They sort of want to have a walled garden. It’s like, “No no, leave that to Facebook.”
NTVN: And lately they’re closing the wall.
“What more evidence DO you need that being a control freak doesn’t expand your business?”
JL: It’s like, “What are you doing”? I would certainly tell their board of directors and say, “You’re a special thing,” right? You’re not Facebook, you’re certainly not going to compete with YouTube in broadcast television. I mean you can have some. I’m always amazed at how much people want to talk about television. Even live TV. Yes, it has gone from 100% when I was a kid down to 30%. But it’s not going to go to ten. It is the foundation of TV.
NTVN: And it’s always going to be – the 10 year NFL deals with the networks.
JL: The NFL is big part of it, no question about it.
NTVN: It’s really going to be interesting to see what happens in 2022.
JL: I think when you look at that you say “Look at the NBA, look at MLB,” right? Who’s better at preaching to the choir than the MLB? No one. Who’s better and letting it all hang out and really get a lot more fans, right? The NBA. Who’s growing? The NBA. Who’s shrinking, right? What more evidence do you need that being a control freak doesn’t expand your business. It may give you short term bonuses, it may can maximize your quarterly earnings…
NTVN: But at a big expense.