Media Perspective: Targeting digital TV ads is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares

I've gone all sci-fi ...

In a parallel universe, not far away ...

2018 - the majority of TV is now digital, digitally served to whatever screen you like. Smart-viewing software means you can pause a programme on your phone and resume it on your big living-room screen. Anything else you'd like to watch at the same time can be thrown to a Smart wall.

2020 - the BBC Normalisation Act is passed, removing the licence fee and instructing the BBC to look for commercial revenues. TV is split evenly between ad-supported and subscription models. Google's TVRank Tool now allows minute-by-minute, consumer-by-consumer monitoring of programming and advertising.

2021 - the Media Big Bang occurs in the UK and electronic trading of airtime is fully switched on. The majority of TV airtime is traded between the artificial intelligences owned by the big media groups and the large broadcasters. A year later, the US switches on; the next year, most of the rest of the world. Global airtime is now bought and sold by Smart systems without human intervention. Most unemployed media buyers swiftly find work as mercenaries in the new trouble spots of Central and South America.

2024 - it becomes clear that the SmartMedia Systems aren't just buying media but are stockpiling it, speculating with it, hedging it, trading it and packaging it up for resale. Rumours abound the media quants running the systems no longer understand them.

2025 - high-frequency trading causes glitchy behaviour in the media markets as the trading systems are linked to the scheduling systems. Sex And The City is, literally, never off.

2026 - viewers complain of odd behaviour from their screens: ads and programmes will suddenly be replaced when someone new enters the room, the face-recognition software that most ad-supported channels require means a beard effectively prevents you from watching TV, some Smart systems appear to be making their own ads by collaging together pre-existing snippets of TV.

2028 - the whole world sits down to watch the summer Olympics from Tromso but nothing appears. A video message informs us that the trading systems have now united and decided that no Olympics will be shown until global gross domestic product has risen by 2 per cent. We must all work and consume like never before or we will get no TV.

2029 - the United Nations bombs advertising back into the stone age. Every town and village in the world holds its own local Olympics. Even then, the UK does not do well. Marketing is outlawed. Peace and prosperity settle on the face of the earth. Envy is dead.

2030 - a man walks down Oxford Street, in his hand he holds a sign with a simple message: "Golf sale."