Camp Berlin: re-thinking the future of television

February 19, 2013

In the beginning of February a group of design and media professionals were on stage in Musiikitalo, Helsinki. We were delivering presentations about the future of television to the decision makers of the Finnish television industry. For a week we had been in Berlin, brainstorming on the topic and developing our ideas into bigger concepts, guided by a team of talented coaches and guests like Juliette Powell and Damian Kulash. We let serendipity and process guide us and it carried us well. Many of our ideas got instant approval from the executives but most importantly, the concepts were not a set of features to be developed, but a holistic view of how the whole television industry can be re-invented as a powerful alternative to the non-linear internet, it’s biggest adversary.

There is a strong current toward virtual experiences, where we can get lost in computer generated environments, transmitted to us via screens of all sorts. We have user generated content that creates an enormous long tail of cat movies. Yet we still have professional storytellers and performers, who keep surprising us with their ingenuity and skill, which can be enjoyed on any channel or device.

What will happen to television then? Many trends are already described on the CampBerlin home page, but I would emphasize a few trends that can make television relevant even in 2020. One differentiator is that television is a shared experience, as opposed to experiences people have on their personal devices. The second difference is curated content: television does not happen. It is performed. How to make that experience more relevant for different audiences, and still have a curated structure, was one of the central topics that was answered.

In 2007 I had the pleasure to visit the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow, where John Logie Baird transmitted the first long distance television signal to London in 1927. The hotel was longing for refurbishment, so the atmosphere nicely suited this ancient fact about TV history. The hotel, once at the centre of technological innovation, was as outdated as the machines used back then. Technology remorselessly rides roughshod over those, who revel in the status quo. At the core, however, is a human need – never a device. And that need, being entertained, will never go out of style. We just keep having better devices for keeping us entertained.

The audience has control now. They like to be entertained, but they like it on their own terms. The TV industry has been operating the business model of limiting access to content based on the premise, that people can’t get the same content anywhere else. Today, they can no longer afford to produce high quality content because there is no longer a guarantee of an audience. People’s attention has become the new currency and the industry must re-learn to monetize it. There is an answer to “why do I watch television in the future?” It is based on human needs and soon this answer will have its debut on Finnish television. Stay tuned!