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.