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OTT and TV Will Coexist, and It Will Be Beautiful

Various false prophets have been preaching that the Great War for Eyeballs is soon to be upon us.

Black cats, crows, comets … I’ve never much been one for omens, especially those that purport to warn of some impending cataclysmic conflict. Various false prophets have been preaching that the Great War for Eyeballs is soon to be upon us, a battle where OTT and TV will finally have to fight it out, and to the victor will go the spoils of all that sweet future ad revenue.

But people who make this erroneous analogy are also making inaccurate assumptions about the very nature of innovation. Reach into your pocket — chances are you have every form of currency that’s been invented — coins, bills, a credit card, a phone with PayPal, and for the more fiscally sophisticated, maybe even some bitcoin.

It is rare that the new subsumes and consumes the old. In fact, history has shown the new does not supplant the old, but is instead the catalyst for change and evolution. Humans are creatures of habit. We are reticent to trade in old systems for new simply because they are new, even if they prove useful and advanced.

In the case of OTT and TV, history has already foreshadowed the future. When cable came onto the scene, the industry all but sounded the death knell for television. But look where we are now: Cable ultimately evolved television to the point where we make no distinction between the two. It’s all simply TV.

So if there’s not going to be a decent throwdown to watch (ahem, Mayweather-Pacquiao), what’s so interesting about the future of OTT? It all comes back to storytelling.

TV does storytelling really well. I don’t want to start any fights, but some would say it’s as good or better than anything in the theaters. At the same time, OTT does technology well. It’s interactive, customizable and easy to personalize. As humans, we tend to process story as it hits us, often from multiple, simultaneous sources. The human desire for good storytelling is not separated screen by screen in our brains. Good story is good story, no matter the medium.

I remember the first event I watched with phone in hand — Kanye jumping up onstage at the VMAs — watching the Twitterverse respond to events unfolding on screen. Now I look forward to following along with stories as they play out on multiple screens and devices where I am an active participant in the stories I am watching.

The next wave of creators will take this interactivity between viewers and content to the next level by weaving their stories across all screens. Imagine finishing an episode of a TV show, and turning to your tablet for a related short that fills in a key plot point. Then you open Snapchat to see what happened offscreen at the pivotal moment from another character’s point of view. Later on, you’re sitting at your desk and you get a FaceTime call from the protagonist foreshadowing what’s to come in next week’s episode. Erasing the boundaries between platforms submerges the consumer into the story, making them an active participant rather than just a passive spectator.

Call it the Law of Conservation of Media. Nothing is destroyed or lost, but all that creative energy and innovation just morphs into the next generation of storytelling. OTT will not chew up and spit out traditional TV, but instead will learn to live, integrate and find its place right alongside TV.

In doing so, OTT will shape the development of TV, and (eventually) seamlessly combine with it to become something bigger and better than the sum of its parts. Sure, there will be conflicts, but their resolutions won’t leave behind salted earth, rather even more fertile ground in which tomorrow’s greatest ideas can start to germinate.

And it’s our job to be the drivers of this change.

Dermot McCormack is the president of AOL Video. A media veteran and thought leader with expertise in cross-platform content creation, product development, social media and distribution, McCormack is at the forefront of new media and innovation, particularly specializing in the intersection of marketing, technology and digital media. In his role at AOL, he drives business and strategy for AOL’s library of more than one million videos and original programming. Prior to AOL, he served as head of Viacom Music and Logo’s Connect Content Group. Reach him @dermot100.

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