You cannot have missed the coverage in the media at the moment about the woes of ITV, and TV broadcasters more generally.

I used to work in TV and find it hard to feel much sympathy for Big Media, but what might the broadcasters learn from the world of the internet?

As a TV programme maker (as I used to be about 10 years ago), I suspect the reality is that you have a vision to make programs that you want to make. Not programs necessarily that the viewer wants to see, but programs that you feel should be made. Most writers, in this regard, really write for themselves more than for a specific market need.

Producers, commissioners and publishers, on the other hand, want to get content created that will appeal to a specific audience so that they can sell books, or sell advertising.

With most media, and certainly TV, there is quite a disconnect between the subject matter of the content and the end consumer of the content. You need a TV production company to create a program and then you need a broadcaster to broadcast it.

The two big reasons why I left my career in TV to go into the world of the web were:

Firstly, content producers can connect directly with their audience. There are no intermediaries. There is no bottleneck or control on distribution. Ideas can cost-effectively be tried out. And the internet is global, which means niche audiences create viable online business models.

Secondly, the single most important truism of the internet is that you HAVE TO create  propositions for users (audience, viewers) first. If it doesn’t work for them it won’t work for anyone else (advertisers, shareholders etc.). Success online is a bottom-up process not a top-down one. So it is not about high-risk commissioning of big budget TV shows in the desperate hope they will become big hits with enough promotion. It’s about allowing ideas to flourish and capitalising on those that take off. Or monetising thousands of small ones amongst niche markets (the Long Tail).

As Chris Anderson so correctly puts it in a Media Guardian interview yesterday, “the internet… democratises the hit making process and means the decline of the top-down hit, hits that are manufactured, the crappy summer blockbuster that seduces you with its marketing.”

So, what do TV users / viewers want?

Well, I want to watch whatever I want to watch, when I want, on whichever device I want. And I expect to pay either per view, or by subscription, or to get it free by enduring adverts. Isn’t that what everyone wants and expects? Isn’t it that ‘simple’?

So for TV this means I want all content available on demand. I want to have an easy to use interface to find the content I want and it must playback at high quality, and reliably. Already today I’ve had conversations with two people mentioned quite specific programs they’ve watched which I’d now like to watch but which I can’t. Yet.

Assuming I’ll get what I want (and I reckon I will – I wanted ubiquitous wireless broadband about 5 years ago and I’ve almost got that now), then this means the following:

  • TV channel brands are not at all important. Who cares is it’s ITV3 or Five or YetAnotherChanel3? What is important is content / information discovery and retrieval. Just ask Google.
  • The device is not important. Who cares if it’s TV or PC? What is important is ease of use, convenience and speed. Think broadband, think iPod.
  • The marketing and distribution of content can be very cheap online, so market clout there is increasingly not important. A bit of YouTube, a bit of viral marketing and do you need Buena Vista behind you?
  • Unique Content IS very important because you can own intellectual property and also so you get links, rank in search engines and can be found when people look for what you have.
  • There are thousands of niche markets which can be profitably served with content. Depending on the users/viewers and the nature of the content, there is a business model to support it.

None of the above looks very good news for ITV does it? Their reaction so far seems to have been to try and cut costs (but soon they may as well just cut out their entire business?) or to try and charge advertisers more for smaller audiences (clearly can’t last).

They’ve diversified into further channels (ITV1, 2, 3, 4 etc.) which makes sense as it is more likely that a viewer will end up “in their world” but this is hardly ground-breaking or particularly strategic.

And at the same time as ITV rage against inevitable change you have Tate announcing “Tate Media”.

According the Guardian, Tate Media will launch this September and “will operate across the internet, television production, magazine publishing and major public events.”

The Tate wants to own and exploit its Intellectual Property and brand, and do so globally. It wants to be free of the producers and broadcasters.

William Gompertz, the new head of Tate Media, is quoted as saying:

“Tate Media is about going deep and global rather than shallow and local. We put on shows but have nothing to share with the audience once the show is gone. The real value for Tate and our audiences is in the ‘long tail’ – the ability to access that information in perpetuity and for Tate to be able to offer it to them, whether it is an educational programme, whether it is downloadable in different formats or whether it is interactive.”

Now there’s some creative thinking! That’s progressive. That’s the original source of content taking back control not only from production companies, but also from broadcasters.

Turn the page on the Guardian and you have another headline “After its poor World Cup, ITV badly needs Love Island, launching tonight, to be a hit”.

Mmm… I’d rather watch Tate Media’s paint dry…

Creatively I think Channel 4 are doing some great things at the moment. Strategically I think the BBC have got the future nailed (not withstanding all sorts of political, economic and policy issues). As for ITV and the other commercial broadcasters? I think they need to reinvent themselves quicker than they realise.

What’s your take?

Ashley Friedlein, CEO,