- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

CANNES, France

Tomorrow’s television on multiple screens, wherever and whenever viewers want to watch, is just around the corner. The problem is that not even the brightest brains in the audiovisual and digital worlds know what it will look like — yet.

Only one thing seems certain. The audiences, users and viewers are the ones who will shape the audiovisual content and devices of the future.

That was one of the few predictions shared by the thousands of the world’s top movers and shakers in TV and digital entertainment who crowded into this Riviera resort for the busiest-ever influential MIPTV featuring MILIA trade show, which closed Friday.

“It’s all about putting the audience in the driving seat,” Ashley Highfield told a packed seminar here on Wednesday. She is the BBC’s senior new media executive.

Gary Carter of the influential content producer and distributor FreemantleMedia, another leading media visionary, shares the same view.

“The reason we’re all struggling to identify new business models is because the audience hasn’t told us what they are yet,” Mr. Carter emphasized. “TV will continue to grow, but we need to rid ourselves of past expectations of what that means,” he added, noting that no medium has ever ended up being used in the way its inventors intended it to be, including the radio and the telephone.

The television set in the sitting room looks as if it will stay there, at least for the moment, most industry experts agreed. However, it will increasingly share TV time with other screens popping up all over the place — from mobile phones to portable TV devices, the video-enabled iconic IPod and, of course, the PC.

In today’s digital universe, the audience is more directly active than ever before, industry experts said.

Viewers understand and feel at ease with all the new digital devices coming onto the market and want to get more involved in the content. Creating communities in which viewers and users can connect to share their audiovisual experiences is vital to the future of television.

Nowhere is that becoming more evident than on the Internet.

AOL chief Jonathan Miller also came to town to beat the drum for the fast-growing importance of the Internet in audiovisual entertainment. He said TV, gaming and Internet users are going to be in for lots of treats.

The company will soon introduce its first online reality game, Gold Rush, in which online users have to find clues that could lead them to the stashes of gold buried around the United States.

Other online entertainment innovations also are in the pipeline, including the BBC’s new interactive drama “Jamie Kane,” which is aimed at young audiences and already is pulling in big numbers.

It’s little wonder, then, that the revolution that’s sweeping the television landscape resulted in one of the biggest and most active MIPTV/ MILIA shows ever, organizers said.

This show was all about where the industry is going and how it should plan for the digital future, said Paul Johnson, director of television for the show’s organizers, Reed MIDEM. Nearly one-third of the 12,000-plus participants who jetted in for the show were program buyers — the highest number ever, reflecting the healthy state of the burgeoning audiovisual entertainment market, he noted.

“This is also our largest-ever MIPTV featuring MILIA market,” Mr. Johnson said. Business during the five-day show was extremely busy, with “a real buzz of buying,” he added.

Key new audiovisual entertainment players such as Internet giants AOL and Yahoo attended the show for the first time, as did virtually all the heavyweight telecom players, including Nokia, Ericsson, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone.

Moreover, the industry’s anxiety about what it needs to do to survive and flourish in the dramatically changing audiovisual marketplace also ensured that the show’s beefed-up conference program would pull in record audiences of media and digital executives.

The major Asian contingency at the show also had a busy week, Mr. Johnson told Agence France-Presse. “It’s been a hugely successful MIPTV for the Asian region,” he said.

Digital hi-tech powerhouses South Korea and Japan both notched up more business at this show than last year, Mr. Johnson added. Likewise, China has been buying more, particularly in documentaries, and India is promising to be one of the next big successes, he said.

All in all, it looked pretty certain that television is not about to disappear.

As AOL’s Mr. Miller noted: “All types of TV will exist.” However, the different forms of media being consumed will all increase, and “prime time will morph into my time,” he said.

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