Ashley Highfield, giving the Futureview address at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, compared television executives to frogs in hot water not realising that they are about to die. He said the industry has no more than two to three years to adapt and embrace what he called “internet thinking”.

Three years previously, as director of future media and technology at the BBC, Ashley Highfield spoke about the future of the television industry and the potential of the long tail. At the time catch up television was just a prediction.

Now, speaking as the managing director of consumer and online at Microsoft UK, which recently launched its own online television offering, he said catchup television services like the BBC iPlayer accounts for 3% of television viewing and predicted that trend is only going to increase.

However, at the same event back in 2006 he had predicted that by 2009, television’s long tail was accounting for “25% of all consumption and 33% of revenues for those commercial players who had realised that their future lay in on-demand”. Such is the danger of making public predictions for the near future.

Nevertheless, he now wonders “whether the television executives are maybe like frogs in hot water not even realising the impending crisis and their own doom being brought steadily to the boil”.

“I think the industry has go something like a 2-3 year window to adapt or to face its iTunes moment,” he warned. “I think it’s going to take that long for a number of brands to really establish themselves as digital brands. So there’s no time to be lost. But, importantly, I do believe TV does have a small two to three year window in which to respond.”

“The traditional television business has to aggressively move its content online, build a critical mass of content that the traditional buyers of airtime will understand and buy into,” he said. “They want to see TV-like reach and impact”.

We are three years away, he suggested, from the reach and volume of online video being “un-ignorably attractive” to advertisers, with sales and measurement systems making it really easy to purchase across television and the web.

“The people who make great television programmes will make great multimedia programmes but everything else will change,” he predicted. “We’re looking at some seismic shifts just around the corner.”

The solution, he suggested is to embrace what he called “internet thinking” and “understand the video media environment through the dimension of the internet user”.