Going to the Show: The TV Academy, LA

If you've been following this column you know it's been a busy year. I've traveled all over the world talking to people about the future of TV. I've also spent a lot of time listening to people. I've talked with thousands of people at comic book conventions, gaming roundtables and universities. I've talked to just about anybody who wanted to talk or listen. But this trip next trip was particularly special to me. There's a saying in baseball when a player is called up from a minor league team to the big league--it's called "going to the show." I felt like I'd been called up to the big show--I was headed to the TV Academy!

   Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre with the Hall of Fame Plaza in front (Photo:BDJ)

A few months ago, I got a call from Marcelino Ford-Livene. I work with Marcelino at Intel and he was interviewed in my book Screen Future, but he also happens to be the secretary of the TV Academy. He asked me if I'd be interested talking to the Academy members about my book and the work I've been doing.

I nearly fell out of my chair. Heck, yeah! I asked if I could expand the discussion to include the people who I had conversations with in the book. These are a collection of really smart people doing great work on the future of TV today. People like Henry Jenkins, Amy Reinhard, Genevieve Bell, Gary Wheelhouse and Jeffrey Cole. Marcelino thought it was a great idea and he even signed up to moderate the panel. It turned out that, unfortunately, Jeffrey Cole couldn't make it because he was in Sweden, but everyone else could come. All in all, it looked like it was going to be a great show.

They day of the event, I got there early to make sure everything was set and to get the books ready. Walking up to the TV Academy was both exhilarating and daunting. I'm not a particularly jaded person. I love TV. I unabashedly love TV, watching TV, and talking about TV. But of all these things I have a particular soft spot for the history of television. I feel incredibly fortunate that I get to write and speak about the history and culture of TV and technology, and the privilege of getting to talk about the future of entertainment at the Academy with a group of incredibly smart people was not lost on me.

When you walk up to the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre you stroll through the Hall of Fame Plaza. Set on pedestals all around the plaza are celebrities, executives and pioneers of TV. At first I didn't pay much attention. I was a man with a plan--all business, and no time to sightsee. But all of a sudden I realized I had written about most of the statues I was passing. I was literally surrounded by the history that I love so much.

Uncle Miltie!! TV pioneer and entertainer (Photo: BDJ)

Pat Weaver--not only Sigourney's dad but also has one of my favorite quotes about TV (Photo: BDJ)

"TV Should be the shining light of the home."
Sylvester Pat Weaver


Lucy and Desi helped invent TV as we know it today (Photo: BDJ)

The night went by in a flash. We got to meet some of the Academy's officers at a little pre-event, but very soon it was time for the show. Whisked away, the panel members and I were miced, and lined up backstage for our introductions. After we took our seats one by one, Marcelino started right in with questions he knew the audience would want to hear. During the panel, we talked about the various issues facing the future of TV and entertainment. But the Q&A at the end of the event was really interesting. Here we had an audience of people who are actually making TV. In the audience were the men and women who were going to produce the future of TV. 

Left to right: Marcelino Ford-Livene, Genevieve Bell, Henry Jenkins, BDJ, Amy Reinhard and Gary Wheelhouse (Photo: Mathew Craig)

I think it was obvious to the entire audience that the world of entertainment is moving across devices. People watch TV on their PC and their smart phone and they also get Web content on their TV. So one of the big questions from the audience was how do we meet this new desire for storytelling across platforms and deal with piracy as well.

A lively Q&A session (Photo: Mathew Craig)

Henry did a great job talking about this. He's written extensively about cross-media storytelling as well as the intricacies of consumer piracy. We talked about both of these issues in Screen Future:

I think we are evolving toward a world where every story is going to be told across every available media platform. So, as we expand the number of media platforms, we expand the opportunities for stories to circulate. In particular you can see this with the entertainment industry as they engage with consumers across multiple touch points. They are broadening outward the reach of their marketing and their storytelling to tap into this emerging and expanding landscape.

It is also the case that consumers are demanding the media they want, when they want it, where they want it, and taking it illegally if it's not available legally. Piracy on the part of consumers represents the failure of the entertainment industry and the market. People are trying to cobble together an entertainment solution that makes it fairly easy for them to transmit and collect content across multiple media channels. One of my basic positions is that we can understand the future if we understand what people are doing when it is hard. If we can understand what people are working really hard to do, like piracy, then we have a better sense of what more people will do when it becomes easy. Usually what happens in this early experimental phase of the technology and media takes root and shapes what consumer expectations and habits will be in the future.

Excerpt from Screen Future
Chapter 1: Space Aliens, Pop Culture and What Happens after Convergence

One audience member came to the mic and asked Amy a direct question as to how she saw Paramount and the movie industry reacting to these changes in the technical and consumer landscape. She also addressed this in Screen Future:

In a growing digital world we want to try and replicate the impulse buy we often get on the retail side. We know we need to explore new ways of marketing and reaching our consumer base and we need to invest in research. In a retail store, people pick up a film as they pass by the bin of titles and a piece of key art or a famous actor catches their eye. The same thing happens in rental. You used to go to the rental store, thinking I'll just pick up one title and then something else would catch your eye and there would be an impulse rent. We want to encourage this type of consumer behavior in the digital world and replicate the impulse buy in the home. We need to establish a direct relationship with the consumer but that often gets back to branding. How do we do influence consumer behavior with such a wide range of films that can vary from year to year? Ultimately we have to connect with consumers in a way that we can market to them directly.

Excerpt from Screen Future
Chapter 3: From Star Trek to Paranormal Activity

The questions continued even after the panel wrapped up. I signed books and talked with the Academy members for two more hours in the lobby. What struck me time and time again was that the future of TV that we talked about so much was very real to these folks. They were both excited by the promise of it and worried about its uncertainty. They were grappling with the changes that they needed to make not only to their production and distribution processes, but their own education as well. And these weren't college kids--these were highly skilled people who had made TV their career. Their curiosity and openness were amazing.

At the end of the night, I met the radio documentarian who had been talking with people and capturing the event. We stepped outside the theatre into the chilly night air. Standing in the Hall of Fame Plaza, surrounded by the busts and statues of TV's past, we talked about the trends and technological changes that are transforming TV and evolving entertainment. (Here's a link to the radio show http://blogs.intel.com/research/2010/12/future_lab_the_future_of_tv.php.) It was an amazing night.
Next stop: Las Vegas!

I'm back on a flight now from SFO to Stockholm, Sweden. I've been invited by Teracom, Sweden's largest TV broadcaster, to talk at their TV-Puls event. It's winter in Scandinavia and the weather report says it's going to snow. Then we do a barnstorming trip up and down the west coast, one keynote a day for a week. After that, there's just one stop left and the Screen Future book tour is officially done!

In January we're headed to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. For the end of the tour we're going out with a BANG. My publisher has decided to take Screen Future into a paperback edition, and to celebrate Intel is going to give away a massive amount of complimentary copies at the registration booth. Keep an eye out for the people in the Screen Future t-shirts. If you haven't already, grab a copy of the book. I'd love to hear what you think. See you in Vegas!


Brian David Johnson
Futurist and Director, Future Casting and Experience Research
Intel Corporation

The future is Brian David Johnson's business. As a futurist at Intel Corporation his charter is to develop an actionable vision for computing in 2020. His work is called "future casting" - using ethnographic field studies, technology research, trend data and even science fiction to provide Intel with a pragmatic vision of consumers and computing. Along with reinventing TV, Johnson has been pioneering development in artificial intelligence, robotics, and using science fiction as a design tool. He speaks and writes extensively about future technologies in articles and scientific papers as well as science fiction short stories and novels (Fake Plastic Love, Nebulous Mechanisms: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories and the forthcoming This Is Planet Earth). He has directed two feature films and is an illustrator and commissioned painter.