Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse and the Death of TV

I learn much of what I know about the future of media from my kids. I live with two crystal balls and if you look closely enough, you can indeed see the future.

What I am seeing lately is both my teenager and my five year old both watching more online video than traditional TV. The teenager is addicted to Netflix and YouTube and my five year old has discovered video offerings I never imagined. It turns out Barbie has a video series called “Life in the Dreamhouse” available on it’s own website. There are over 20 videos on the site, none of which you will find on TV. Many other toys and especially dolls now come with website extras like virtual worlds and digital versions of the doll or pet you control in the virtual world. There is so much video, gameplay and other entertainment online, Capella only watches TV when she is bored of the online world; it’s clearly second place. Rest your fears, she isn’t a complete vidiot. She spends plenty of time outside, playing with her analog toys and her little brother.

Television has been loosing screen time to video games for years now, but in the past few years they have been loosing screen time to other video programming. Networks have not been doing a good job either of bringing their own content online. Most make shows available on their websites, but they play games like not making shows available until a day or two after they are broadcast and not keeping them online for very long. In addition, Netflix has been making a play for original content and with the Emmy nominations for the successful House of Cards, Netflix has legitimized itself as a first tier content distribution channel.

Even when they’ve tried to have a go at online, Fox, NBC, and Disney stumble over themselves. The three big networks co-own online streaming service Hulu, which they have not been able to make successful, mostly because they cannot remove the reins and let Hulu run free. That is due to the complex contractual obligations in place with cable and satellite companies. These cable contracts have made a lot of people a great deal of money, but they will ultimately be the very thing that kills traditional TV for good. Now the big three networks say they will not sell Hulu as they tried to do, but poor $750 million into it in an effort to compete with, who? Netflix, of course. If they can somehow unleash the true full force of their combined content, they will win. But I’m not sure they have the guts or the ability to cross that chasm to the new business model that will be their saving grace.

It is an age old business principle that you must be where the customer is. Location is everything in retail. Memo to the television industry: customers are online and they are watching more and more content from tablets and cell phones. Time to get with the program before Barbie eats your lunch.

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