Has the TV world hit a “mar­ket­ing myopia” moment? In 1960, Theodore Levitt pub­lished a now famous arti­cle in Har­vard Busi­ness Review [link]. It was titled “Mar­ket­ing Myopia”, and it was imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized as a clas­sic, win­ning the McK­in­sey Award for that year. The arti­cle is still easy to find, as it has been reprint­ed often, cit­ed even more and remains pop­u­lar around the world.

There is one pas­sage that appears on the open­ing page that has stuck in my mind since I first read it:

The rail­roads did not stop grow­ing because the need for pas­sen­ger and freight trans­porta­tion declined. That grew. The rail­roads are in trou­ble today not because that need was filled by oth­ers (cars, trucks, air­planes, and even tele­phones) but because it was not filled by the rail­roads them­selves. They let oth­ers take cus­tomers away from them because they assumed them­selves to be in the rail­road busi­ness rather than in the trans­porta­tion business.

No mat­ter the busi­ness of the read­er, it real­ly was impos­si­ble to read Levit­t’s mas­ter­work with­out ask­ing the obvi­ous ques­tion: “What busi­ness are you in?”

Locomotive DrawingOver the last few weeks, The Nextsens­ing Project has been look­ing at the world of tele­vi­sion, because it appears to my team of NextSen­sors and me that this indus­try is ripe for dras­tic change. This was the focus of our first NextBrief [link]. In that short doc­u­ment, we con­clud­ed that the 21C TV expe­ri­ence will be far dif­fer­ent in the future. And you real­ly don’t have to take our word for it. Com­pa­nies such as Ama­zon, Yahoo!, Google, YouTube and Apple are plow­ing mil­lions of dol­lars and end­less work­er hours into a direct assault on TV-as-it-is.

Could TV as an indus­try (tele­vi­sion net­works, cable dis­trib­u­tors, estab­lished con­tent cre­ators, hap­py-to-be-on-TV adver­tis­ers) remain the same? To be fair, the ques­tion is open. To our knowl­edge, no TV net­work or cable provider has gone bank­rupt because it lacked suf­fi­cient cus­tomers to pay its bills and declare a profit.

Nonethe­less, it has to be dis­con­cert­ing, at least, for the TV indus­try to con­sid­er the recent advent of Ama­zon Fire TV [link] against the back­drop of the chart and analy­sis [link] pro­vid­ed by John McDul­ing (@jmcduling). View the chart, but also note McDul­ing’s words: “But those pop­u­lat­ing the tele­vi­sion ecosys­tem would do well to remem­ber just how dis­rup­tive a force Ama­zon has been in America’s econ­o­my in recent years. Its share price has relent­less­ly marched high­er while the estab­lished play­ers in the indus­tries it has tak­en on — first book-sell­ing, then elec­tron­ics and office sup­plies, among oth­ers — have all gone backwards.”

There are oth­ers from both inside and out­side the indus­try who seem to share the opin­ion that the sta­tus quo of the TV world can­not pos­si­bly hold, as not­ed in my pri­or post [link].

Yet, David Carr (@carr2n) in The New York Times [link] is absolute­ly right to note that it will far from easy for the likes of Yahoo! to sim­ply spend mon­ey and become a play­er in cre­at­ing a next-gen­er­a­tion TV expe­ri­ence. No one inside or out­side the TV indus­try has, in my view, com­bined con­tent, soft­ware and hard­ware in such a dra­mat­ic new way that it defines 21C TV, threat­en­ing those who now con­trol the industry.

What puz­zles me the most is this. If our view of the future of tele­vi­sion pre­vails and TV moves away from weighty sets anchored in rooms and toward app-based con­sump­tion on every pos­si­ble dig­i­tal device — away from a hand­ful of peo­ple decid­ing what is broad­cast and when and toward the view­er as pro­gram­mer — and away from an indus­try fueled by adver­tis­er and cable-sub­scriber dol­lars toward a dif­fer­ent (and, as yet, unde­fined) eco­nom­ic mod­el, then there seems to be some­thing very wrong.

Where are the NBCs and the SkyTVs and the Com­casts and Sea TV Net­works and Nip­pon Broad­cast­ing Corps? It’s very hard to find any of the estab­lished play­ers cit­ed for their lead­er­ship toward a new mod­el of television.

It may be that we (and the many we have cit­ed in the past few weeks) are on the wrong track when it comes to the future of television.

Or it may be that those who now dom­i­nate and con­trol the tele­vi­sion indus­try are stuck on the track they’ve been on for decades and blind to the trends afoot. Fifty-five years after “Mar­ket­ing Myopia” was pub­lished, per­haps it’s time for those in the TV world to ask what busi­ness they’re real­ly in.

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