A Lesson Publishers Can Learn from the Evolution of TV

I like to keep my eye on all the content industries (television, radio, movies, etc.) for clues about how the (formerly-print) publishing industry might go. Often, different industries move at different speeds and evolve in different directions. But, sometimes one industry can solve a particularly stubborn problem for themselves that creates a spill-over demand in other industries.

For example, television went digital…and then radio went digital. Internet radio went with play-on-demand and television went with play-on-demand. As each industry evolves, the conveniences it creates for its own customers creates a market appetite for conveniences in other industries.

The print publishing industry (news, magazines, journals, books, and so on) is leading the charge in a few areas—namely in creating the content that fuels so many of these other industries—but when it comes to presenting their customers with convenience…publishers are still lagging a bit behind.

In an effort to nudge the industry in the direction I see it headed, I offer the following example of an evolution taking place in the world of television that print publishers should consider for their own content and customers.

Content via Apps

Television “channels” are becoming “apps.” All the major networks (cable and otherwise)—formerly distinguished from one another by their place on the television’s dial—are creating their own apps for every platform and device imaginable. These apps on your television (AppleTV, Chromecast, Roku, TiVo, PlayStation, Fire TV, etc.) and on your mobile devices (iOS, Android, Fire OS, Windows Phone, etc.) and on your computers. The reasons for this are simple:

  1. Apps break the industry’s reliance on a particular device or medium. This frees up the content creators with regard to user experience, contracts, middlemen, and so on.
  2. Content producers can generate and record better user data and behavior within their own apps. Better information equals better decisions.
  3. Apps provide a consistent customer experience across all devices. With an app, customers can not only navigate an interface with which they are familiar on any device they own, they have access to their own account data, history, preferences, and so on. Essentially, apps solve the problem of going to a friend’s house and trying to figure out how to use the 4 remote controls for their TV.
  4. Apps also have the advantage of operating outside the browser—which aside from all the technological benefits—eliminate the customer’s “expectation of free.” Subscription-based revenue models are commonplace in apps, so publishers will have an easier time creating revenue through apps than through the browser.
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