When we start talking about digital transformation, I often see people focusing on the digital aspect and expecting the transformation to follow on. Where we see true transformation, the focus is on the change and digital is enabling that change.
In a previous blog post I wrote about the changes digital had on the music industry, well a specific focus on the retail aspect. In this similar post I want to think about the impact digital has had on television and probably more importantly the ways in which we watch television.
Television has been around for a while now. The early 1950s saw an explosion of television ownership in the UK. These were analogue devices that enabled broadcast television in the home. Originally all television was live, it was the development of video tape that allowed television to be recorded in advance and broadcast later.
1998 saw the launch of digital terrestrial television in the UK with Ondigital. However digital terrestrial television really took off in the UK when Freeview was launched in October 2002. In order to view the digital signal you either needed a set top box or a television with an integrated digital tuner. This was very much a digitisation of the television.
Over the next few years we saw televisions become smarter (and flatter and larger).
Well what really transformed television wasn’t the digitisation or digitalisation of the hardware.
If we separate the physical television hardware from the experience of watching television then we are now seeing the digital transformation of television watching experience.
When we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting.
If we go through the story of television again, but rather than look at the hardware to watch television, we focus on the experience of watching television, we can start to see how digital enhanced, enabled and transformed the experience of watching television.
When television was broadcast, you had no choice but to watch what was on when it was on. Yes you had a choice of channels, but not a huge choice.
The VCR (video cassette recorder) did transform the way in which we could watch television, we could now time shift when we watched stuff, and video rental shops allowed us to watch things which weren’t on television. I do remember travelling by train on the 4th July 1990 and there was someone in our carriage watching the World Cup semi-final between Germany and England on a small portable television. It was a tiny screen, it was back and white, and every time we went through a tunnel they lost the signal. The poor bloke was also surrounded by people who also wanted to watch the game. I remember the running commentary when the match ended in penalties. The portable telebision and the VCR were both technologies that led to the transformation of the television watching experience, but this was not digital transformation of that watching experience. However this change would influence how we wanted to watch television and as there were technological changes enabled by digital, this would result eventually in a digital transformation of that television watching experience.
The launch of digital terrestrial television of course changed the watching experience now we had access to lots of channels and the EPG (electronic programme guide) would enhance that experience. Though for some it meant more time scrolling through those channels.
What really transformed the watching experience was when digital technologies detached that experience from the physical television.
Back in the early 2000s I had a Compaq iPAQ handheld PDA with a jacket that could be used with a CompactFlash memory card. I do remember, as an experiment, ripping a DVD, compressing the resulting video file, copying it over to a 1GB IBM MicroDrive CF memory card and watching video on the move. It was challenging to do and not something the average consumer would do. However the concept was there of watching television on a small screen, regardless of my location.
There followed the development of small handheld devices, be they phones or tablets, which now have sufficient processing power to deliver high quality video. Also video content is now much more easily available. Connectivity has changed as well, with 4G (and now 5G) allowed high quality video to be streamed over the internet regardless of location.
Suddenly we could watch television when we wanted, where we wanted and how we wanted. Services exploited this transformation of the television watching experience, we saw subscription services such as Netflix, on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer, downloaded content from services such as Google Play or iTunes really enabled and allowed people to have a very different television watching experience. In many ways the digital transformation of watching television has resulted in box sets being available (as opposed to releasing an episode weekly, though that still happens) . We’ve also seen a huge explosion in short videos, through services such as YouTube and TikTok.
One example of the impact of this transformation of the watching experience is how television episodes are no longer constrained by the artificial construct of broadcast television. Most US series, until recently, episodes were 45 minutes long, so with adverts they would fit into the one hour slot allocated to them. With services such as Netflix and on demand services, the removal of the constraint has enabled television production to produce episodes of different lengths to suit the story for that episode, some will be longer and some will be shorter. The fourth season of Stranger Things is a case in point, only one episode is an hour, five are between 74 and 78 minutes and the finale is one hour 38 minutes. Okay these are all longer…
So to remind us, when we look at digital transformation, it becomes obvious that focusing on the hardware or technology is actually quite limiting. So when looking at the digital transformation of education, we really want to focus on the transformation of education and how digital can enable and enhance that transformation.