Aspen Ideas Festival: Is Twitter bringing back the live TV experience?

Summary:The former chairman of the FCC and CEO of Sony USA reflect on what Twitter means for the entertainment business in the living room.

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ASPEN, COLO. -- The living room. Despite many different efforts and strategies, it's one place filled to the brim with technology that both tech makers and entertainment giants still can't seem to pin down .

Nevertheless, that's becoming a moot point.

However it happens, former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski asserted at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival on Sunday morning that eventually every home in the United States will have an Internet-connected TV, whether it's via a set-top box or directly integrated into the television set itself.

Genachowski asserted that as a country, "we're in a pretty good place right now" in terms of LTE and high-speed Internet network deployments, going from 20th worldwide to eighth.

Also a former executive at Internet and media company IAC/InterActiveCorp, Genachowski announced back in March amid a shakeup at the FCC that he would be resigning as chairman.

According to his resignation memo, the federal agency installed more wired broadband fiber across "the U.S. in each of the last two years than in any year since 2000, and average broadband speeds nearly doubled since 2009" during his tenure.

But Genachowski predicted this growth can only continue with an acute focus on the following three factors: improving speed and capacity, fostering industry competition, and maintaining the openness of the Internet.

"If we don't as a country keep paying attention to this, we'll freeze up the innovators who are planning ahead for faster and faster speeds," Genachowski warned.

But those innovators -- including everyone from the designers and manufacturers of these entertainment systems to the studios providing the content -- are still working out how to deliver and make money based off these evolving network infrastructures.

No one might know this better than traditional cable companies, which are facing more pressure than ever to compete with alternative sources available online, such as Netflix and Hulu. These platforms have also fueled the shift towards watching content at virtually anytime from anywhere versus scheduled live programming.

"If we don't as a country keep paying attention to this, we'll freeze up the innovators who are planning ahead for faster and faster speeds," Genachowski warned.

Then again, industry experts hinted that the pendulum could be swinging back towards higher viewership for live programming thanks to social media.

Panel moderator and co-founder of Insight Venture Partners Jerry Murdock asked, "Is Twitter bringing back the live TV experience?"

Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony USA, admitted this is true to some extent, especially for sports -- although he quickly added those events are going to have a widely-watched live experience regardless.

"In general, what we used to call the 'watercooler effect' has been vastly exaggerated by Twitter," Lynton remarked. "So people want to be in the know when it happens..

Lynton described that high-speed Internet hadn't really presented itself as a competitive market until recently.

Using the United Kingdom as an example, Lynton said that just three years ago, digital satellite TV provider Sky was the only customer for buying movies.

Now, he continued, other buyers such as Netflix and Amazon have flooded the market.

"All of a sudden we have buyers for our product that we didn't have in the past," Lynton posited. "It's a good time to be a seller of movies and TV shows virtually anywhere in the world."

Aside from these new sales figures, it's also been a sticky point of figuring out how to measure the value of online viewership. This is where Twitter might have found its sweet spot in the marketing world.

Twitter CEO Dick Costelo pointed out that a big problem for the "binge-viewing" model on Netflix doesn't offer the kind of "watercooler" moment that film and TV studios relished before.

"With some of these over the top programs like House of Cards, there wasn't a moment where it premiered like [HBO's] Game of Thrones," Costelo explained. "There wasn't a time for people to gather together and converse about it."

"All of a sudden we have buyers for our product that we didn't have in the past," Lynton posited. "It's a good time to be a seller of movies and TV shows virtually anywhere in the world."

Costelo suggested that it would be interesting for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and "folks working on those sorts of programs" to play more with the model setup by the recent debut of the new season of Arrested Development, which also premiered directly on Netflix.

The difference with that debut is that while all of the season's episodes appeared at the same time online, it was announced and celebrated as an event leading up to the premiere. Costelo specified that there was a "moment" where everyone knew to tune in -- at least initially.

With IPO rumors abound, Twitter has been playing with a number of different potential revenue streams. One that could prove fruitful is a new relationship with Nielsen.

The global information and measurement firm will take Twitter data and marry it with its methodology to craft a "Twitter TV rating." Costelo explained that it will offer concrete data about both the viewership and the depth of conversation online.

"That will be helpful to broadcasters who are trying to understand and measure the volume of engagement around their shows," Costelo said, acknowledging that there might be some programs that experience lighter viewing numbers in a particular time slot, but the viewership "passion" on Twitter could make for a story to sell to marketers.

Topics: Mobility, Government : US, Networking, Social Enterprise, Telcos

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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