Eric Scherer: ‘the Internet is an incredible opportunity for Oceania’
Eric Scherer is director of foresight for France Télévisions. In plain English, he is the one who tries to light the way several metres ahead to understand what is happening in the world of television that is these days being jostled by the Internet and digital. ‘Like music and press yesterday, now it’s the turn of television to be overhauled by the Internet. We have to change our habits,’ highlights the specialist, who is here at FIFO to offer solutions and to show what the future holds: connected TV. Explanations …
The Internet is taking over from television. What are sort of challenges do TV stations face to compete?
We have to focus our attention on three points. The first is young people. Are those who no longer watch television going to come back? The answer is no, as now they watch on the Internet. So what do we do? The second challenge is devices. The screen came out of the television set to go onto the computer, and above all onto mobiles. The primary screen is therefore no longer the television, but the telephone. A telephone that is a phablet.
What is a phablet?
It is a mobile whose size is halfway between the tablet and the smartphone. You can already pretty much see large telephones everywhere in Europe and Asia. It’s more practical for watching videos, buying, E-commerce, and even working. I should also point out that over half the online traffic of major TV networks and newspapers is now via mobile telephone. Everything is switching to mobiles.
You mentioned three challenges, what is the third?
We must put an end to scheduled television to the benefit of à la carte television. That is television that we can watch when and where we want. There is no reason to wait for the news at a certain time. There is no reason either that the network chooses the next programme to watch. The audience and the public are taking control of their own television experience. Another challenge is a sizeable one: this extraordinary profusion of content arriving via the Internet, and therefore via Internet connected television. The competitors of a televised channel like Polynésie 1ère, for example, are not the other television stations, but Netflix, YouTube, Facebook and Google…That is where people spend their time now, find out about things, are entertained and improve their knowledge. It is this extraordinary profusion of content that is a real challenge.
How do you tackle this challenge?
When there is too much content and information, you are happy to have someone who has selected, who has reduced the Internet buzz. That’s the job of programme and information professionals. Our role is there. The public needs journalists to do the work: to check, process and rank the information. Nobody wants to have an overload of information in the morning without knowing what to do with it, which one to choose etc. We need people to do this work. In this world, a television network is a playlist. We have to personalise this playlist. Television is going from mass media to a precise media, where niches, communities, or even individuals are targeted. It is very difficult to personalise content further, but we are working on it.
What are the lines of enquiry today?
It can be done in an editorial way and in this instance television decides. But, there are also ways of discovering interesting content that are emerging: friends – so recommendations on social networks-, and increasingly algorithms. Algorithms occur when you buy on Amazon or you watch a programme on Netflix, you are offered content adapted to your history, to your friends, to the time of day. Editorial, social, algorithms: that could well be the winning combination for success.
On Thursday you held a symposium about connected television, was it important to share that with FIFO participants?
Of course! Something important is taking place so we have to share it with FIFO participants. For the cultures of Oceania, the Internet is an incredible opportunity. It began with a written, publication-based web, now we are leaning towards an audiovisual web. Professionals in the world of image, films, documentaries and information are therefore legitimate provided that they adapt and reinvent their way of working. A culture of screens is replacing a culture of writing; there is a way to take advantage of it. The Internet has no boundaries; it’s beyond oceans; it’s global! Thanks to the Internet, Oceanians have the opportunity to show that this strong local culture exists, that it is powerful, and that there is cohesion between people.
In certain places in Oceania, we still have speed problems, areas that are not yet well-served…
Everyone is pushing telephone operators and island authorities to upgrade connection speeds and public demand. Island inhabitants will not understand that they are late because the connection speed is insufficient. In 2020, 5G reached Korea, Japan and Europe. With 5G, you can download a film in a few seconds with a mobile telephone. It’s a real challenge for politicians and operators to make sure that they offer and propose sufficient speed to everyone. The President of Polynesia is in addition negotiating a new cable with all Polynesian leaders currently in New Zealand. There should be no discrimination regarding access to content. The Internet is like the air that we breathe, electricity and running water. It has become a man’s right. It is a right of Pacific island inhabitants, provided of course that they gain access in the normal way.