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Property rights for your living room

The new Apple TV has created a cottage industry of pundits debating the future ownership of your living room. This topic of to whom your living room belongs has been around since the 90’s when Microsoft sought to plant a flag on your TV set and claim it in the name of Gates with a cable box software platform. A few billion dollars later they came away with not a single deed, not even to your couch.

Talk of ownership flared up again in the last decade as various game consoles and boxes paraded in front of consumers. There were wars waged over DVD formats, encoding formats and DRM. Then came hulu and Apple TV and roku and who knows what else I missed.

It’s all bound to go badly. Here’s why this property will remain off limits:

  • The ownership is not for the space but for the time and attention of the audience. The time spent consuming televised content is what’s at stake.
  • That time is increasingly being fragmented. It was first broken into tiny pieces by cable channels that divided audiences into niches.
  • Erosion of cohesive audiences continued with DVD rentals and Netflix. Home theaters ate into both broadcast and outside-the-home entertainment
  • Attention was attacked with PVRs like Tivo.
  • Demographics were exploded with game consoles with age groups separating into different modes of consumption.
  • Migration of other portable devices like laptops, smartphones and iPads into the couch room are now further degrading the value of the “living room” as a significant target for advertisers.
  • Internationally there never was a unified living room. Consumption patterns and even broadcast business models vary widely.

Ultimately there’s really nothing in “the living room” worth fighting for. The disruptive play here is the crumbling of monolithic audiences that used to define “prime time”. It’s not a new box to take over from another box.

The technologies that are coming to invade the living room have already broken it into parcels that lack cohesion.

Just like the division of land among numerous generations of heirs creates land only useful for residential development, it’s time to abandon dreams of owning the farm. That farm has long ago stopped being fertile.