Someday you’ll get paid to watch TV

November 18, 2019

In 1968, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series and I turned 5. My grandfather and I watched every game on a black and white TV with rabbit ears. Whenever the picture got fuzzy, my Grandpa would say “Jackie, go hang on to that antenna,” and like magic, I fixed the picture.

In the 50+ years since, I’ve watched a lot of TV. In 1984, the last time the Tigers won the World Series, I became a cable subscriber.  No need to hang on to the antenna because cable gave us all a pretty good picture. In 2000, when I moved out to the country, I signed up for DirecTV. When analog gave way to digital television, I brought home an HDTV. When it became clear TV was headed over-the-top of the Internet, I started my company, Syncbak, to take it there.

All told, according to Nielsen Media Research, anyone my age has likely seen around 3 million commercials since that ’68 World Series. For decades now most of us have been seeing commercials and paying a subscription to boot, but I can’t help thinking things will change. By change, I wonder if the fact that we are all connected now, if that may eventually lead such a paradigm rattling that we might eventually get paid to watch TV?

Verizon’s rewards program Verizon UP, turns two this month and it might just be early proof that someday we’ll get paid to watch TV. Verizon Up gives credits that subscribers can use for various things from concert tickets to new phones in exchange for data like web-browsing, apps you use or your location data. That kind of feels like getting paid, doesn’t it?

The natural extension of the Verizon Up concept is in OTT where an average viewer will see at least 60,000 30-second spots per year. At a $50/CPM (the unit used to determine ad rates), just one viewer will generate $3,000 in annual advertising spend off their viewing. You have to wonder, might the powers that be recognize this and maybe pay at least some of that $3,000 back to the viewer? And what if, because we know more about viewers, CPMs got up to $100? That’d be $6,000 per year per viewer based simply on viewing.

Today, its Milo and me, my 6-year-old grandson. We watch the Chicago Bears together, often via OTT. So, what happens in 50 years, in 2069, when Milo is a grandfather? It’ll all be OTT by then. And, since advertising has always fueled the Internet, we can safely assume Milo will continue to see ads. No matter how much subscription binge takes over, advertisers will still need to reach viewers. Free, ad supported TV is going to be a big deal. A bigger deal than it is even today.

The difference however, is that the ads people see in the subsequent decades will be much more personally relevant, entertaining and informative because they’ll be about things we care about. For example, since Milo is going to be the first in the family to scale Mt. Everest, a company like outdoor retailer REI, may elect to buy every 10th ad he sees. And, if initiatives like Verizon UP are on track, REI may even send Milo a message that says, “Milo, come on in to our closest store, we’ve got $100 waiting for you.”

Or maybe, the reward for sharing a little bit about yourself and watching, is that you get paid to watch TV. The math works, so the industry may just follow. Imagine that. Someday you’ll get paid to watch TV.