Disruption

Anyone else confused by the article on disruption in the recent New Yorker? It seemed to claim that disruption is a fallacy, all the while showing how disruptive technologies revolutionized different industries. I think the point it was trying to make was that disruption could come from established companies rather than newcomers, but even then it kept citing established companies that failed by trying to become disruptors. My feeling is disruption can come from anywhere, and it’s your choice to embrace the disruption, innovate on it, or resist it. 

The TV show I run does a lot of coverage on disruptive technology. Over the past five seasons, we’ve documented the disruption of our own industry, as it shifts from the traditional over-the-air or cable delivery mechanisms to the now popular formats of video on demand and streaming. We’ve been at TechCrunch Disrupt and we’ve visited the headquarters of Netflix. We’re intrigued by the technologies and the companies driving the disruption in our own industry.

We don’t just preach disruption; we also put it into practice. Although we’re still broadcast on many over-the-air channels, as well as national cable networks, we’ve made a point to embrace the changes in our industry. We’ve been streamed on Hulu for years and recently became the first television series streamed on Twitch. As a brand and as a series, we aren’t going to fade away like many in our industry seem determined to do, unless they accept change.

What’s beautiful about television, or at least the thing that used to be called “television,” is that we’re collectively excited about change. We saw what happened to our friends in the music industry and decided we don’t want to be left behind, so we went ahead and jumped on board whatever kind of change was offered to us. Many of the big networks are invested in web casters like Hulu and Crackle, while individual production companies have struck output deals with various streaming companies. Audiences love watching shows on demand, when they want to watch them, and not when programmers chose to air them. As an audience member, I have to concur that it is a far better way to watch dramas and comedies… but the catch is that that’s not the only thing I like to watch.

I still love the feeling of experiencing something live, and some television and radio can still offer that feeling of “as it happens” broadcasting. The smart traditional broadcaster knows that this is their salvation. Rogers Media here in Canada was savvy to realize that live hockey telecasts would keep City television alive, so their billion dollar investment in NHL telecasting was a good call. Hockey games are an “as it happens” kind of broadcast, as is live news, which is still very popular. There’s a connectedness inherent to that live feed. Someone is on the other end, producing this right now, at this very moment. 

On demand access is great, but it doesn’t satiate every need. Let’s shift to music for a moment. As a Canadian, I don’t have access to Spotify, but I can use Songza. I listen to it sometimes, just as I listen to my own music collection on iTunes, or put on a vinyl record. But sometimes, I like to be surprised. Sometimes, I want to hear what someone else is selecting. Note, I didn’t say “Someone else has selected” because I want to hear what someone else is playing right now. So I put on a stream for KEXP in Seattle or a brilliantly crazy free-form Paris station like FIP or Radio Nova, or maybe the BBC. Sure, these are traditional over-the-air broadcasters, but they aren’t my own home over-the-air broadcasters. They are being created on the fly by someone hundreds or thousands of miles away, and I can connect to them and share what they are selecting Live at This. Exact. Moment. And it’s glorious. 

There are two needs inherent to experiencing music: listening to what you know and discovery. These same two needs are also part of television, and if anything, they are amplified by the whole notion of interactivity: chatting with the people who are broadcasting. Giving them feedback, talking to them, guiding them; participating in a way that was never dreamt of in the live broadcasting days of yore, during the early days of television.

As a storyteller, I love video on demand. I love the idea of someone deep diving into a story, experiencing it as a whole, when they feel like experiencing it. As a broadcaster, I love the idea of live streamcasting, and interacting with my audience, shaping my show to their tastes and needs. Both of these opportunities are available through disruptive technologies, but the latter concept is still available through traditional broadcasting. If that technology hopes to survive, it will embrace the opportunities before it. It will offer interactivity and audience participation, or else it will be disrupted for good.

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