The matchmaking business that is television

Television is a three-way match-making business.

The business of television is simple: using television programming, attract as many viewers of particular demographics as possible to watch advertisements. Television has traditionally always been a three way match making platform between advertisers, content makers and you - the audience. How will the internet change this three-way relationship?

Traditionally the TV network (or station) has played the role of matchmaker among three parties.
  • Content makers, i.e. studios and producers, work with networks to create TV programs that will attract particular audiences. Golf tournaments attract older, affluent audiences. Shows such as Friends attract younger audiences.
  • Advertisers, using ad agencies, buy advertisement slots on the TV network. The advertisers use the TV shows' target demographic to determine which shows the advertisements should appear adjacent to. BMW, for example, wants to reach a large older, affluent audience. Starbucks targets the younger audience that might love to congregate in a coffee shop.
  • Audiences tune into to the TV network, attracted by the programming on the network. If all goes to plan, an older, affluent audience will watch the golf programming and also watch the advertising of advertisers, such as BMW, targeting this audience. Younger audiences will watch a TV programs such as Friends and also watch advertisements from advertisers, such Starbucks, targeting this audience.
If not enough viewers watch a particular TV program, as determined by ACNielson ratings, the network will cut the program to find another show that will bring in the audiences. The process is ruthless and the battle for viewer numbers is fierce. If the network has done its matchmaking job right, particular audiences will be attracted to particular shows in large numbers. The TV programming then becomes the vehicle for advertisers to reach the audience they are targeting. The ability of networks to attract funding, through selling advertising slots to advertisers, is related to how many viewers the network can attract. The greater the number of viewers, the more that can be charged for advertising. This reaches millions of dollars for advertisement slots during the Superbowl.

This matchmaking system is for the masses.
  • The individual viewer is not targeted. Particular times in the TV schedule are used to determine the demographic of viewers. For example, daytime TV is typically for 'stay at home mums', whereas prime-time is family viewing and late night TV is for adults. Particular TV channels also target particular types of viewers, e.g. the Sci-Fi Channel attracts a different audience to Al-Jazeera.
  • The advertising message is not targeted. You may already own the credit card that is advertised during the ad break. The commercial should then surely tell you about the additional features that can be bought with the card you already have. Instead, the advertising is generic.
  • The content is not targeted. If you are watching a documentary on the Internet, you might be watching to learn about the history of the Internet, whereas another viewer may hope to learn something of the technical infrastructure. On the flip side, some content does not need to be targeted: in some cases content makers have refined the art of storytelling to the point on keeping audiences enthralled throughout the program.
The deficiencies in this great match making system are largely due to technical limitations. Television has always been a broadcast medium: sending messages from one to many. There has not been a way for the three parties to easily and dynamically respond to the other parties. The Internet changes this relationship. On the Internet, if the individual member of the audience is logged into a website, it is possible to for the viewer to provide instant feedback to the others in the matchmaking system. Advertisers and content makers are able to change and adapt what is shown to the viewer. This enables a matchmaking system for the individual:
  • The individual viewer can control what they watch. The TV schedule becomes a schedule of when TV programs become available for watching. You are able to watch on-demand the programs that interest you.
  • The advertising message is crafted for the specific individual. Personalization will allow advertisers to determine what is the most appropriate messages to be sent to you.
  • The content is interactive. The high-end of interactivity is video games. The low end is flicking through segments of a TV show, as you might via scene selection menus on a DVD. The future will be shows that gauge your level of interest as you are watching, and craft the show to your tastes and interests. 
The effect of the Internet on television will be to make the matchmaking ever more efficient. With efforts already under way to bring Internet TV to the living room, this may all happen sooner than we think.