End of Television
Era of Internet Viewing
I'm sticking by the last glowing embers of over-the-air-TV. Broadcast TV. This is mostly due to a disinclination to add a cable bill to the atrophy of my clerical wages. Undoubtedly aided by my ambiguous feelings toward television in the first place. I don't have any particular dog in the fight, you turn on the set, and it is what it is. But I have noticed that television is changing. Not just broadcast television in the half-life of its post digital conversion, an endeavor that was -- how can I put this -- thinly conceived, its different. This also extends to cable which has hit a certain lumpy maturity. More, considering television as a system consisting not only of delivery, but consumption and commentary, it is changing ending a way of being. What will stand in its place will be something but will not be television as we have known it If You're Expecting The TV Industry To Just 'Collapse', Keep Dreaming - SplatF.
It was seeing how the next generation, my niece and nephews, interfaced with television that made me realize the changes were skittering towards full upheaval. With Nicole and Lucas, the older pair - a college sophomore and high school junior: it was first consumption of whole seasons on DVD. This wasn't new, it had been around since VHS days. It was a mainstay of PBS catalogues to offer British shows in that manner, but the VHS cassette was bulky and storage awkward. DVD's reduced a season of television to the size of a book. A new profit stream was born. Formerly, a show was run then rerun, and if good enough stripped in syndication and rerun several more times, until people were sick of it. All to linearly diminishing profit.
More recently, changes within the change, my nieces & nephews find themselves relying on iTunes for CoS (Consumption of Season) viewing. Using Video on demand - Wikipedia services Netflix Netflix Wikipedia to pick up/out particular shows and get caught up. My niece liked Hulu Hulu - Wikipedia for its "clean" interface. Though it would more often not have the selection depth she needed. My other pair of nephews initially made greater use of iTunes as content source, partly because Grant and Raine were younger, middle and elementary school aged, these were watched on a desktop (home of the central iTunes installation) by a family group. My sister also stuck with Blockbuster until they carted away the shelves and soaped up the windows. Later as they acquired more devices Grant would watch shows singly on Netflix or Hulu plus, on his iPod touch, the laptop, then the iPad.
Both families engaged in the Hulu dance around their occasionally obscure availability rules, catching shows during the changing and seemly random window of opportunity. The discovery layer for all episodes and webisodes as often as not was Google, rather than any set habitues. With my niece particularly this was recently mixed with site recommendation of her friends and peers. Over all there was a great diversity of sources. What drives this diversity of service, the content stream used, is what is available where and when.The descriptive rubric that came up most was Catching Up; catching up with missed TV shows in bursts when time was found amidst a busy school schedule and extracurricular activity filled life. And all pursued in the name of "taking control" -- this was Nicole's phrase. The sense of empowerment plain felt and unironic, though largely the object of consumption, was traditional television product.
This is what stuck with me most. There were revolutions occurring: technical and social. It seemed at the least a grand battle. Cable (TV inclusive) vs the internet Tubes, broadcast vs narrowcast stated another way. Either way it was on. I felt that Hollywoods standard product was by neccessity going to change.
It was the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) a technical and marketing revolution that completed the promise of home taping and made "time shifting" a program a practical reality. It seems to me that many of the channels running weekend show marathons of Psych are operating in conscious imitation of DVR or dvd patterns. The expanded DTV channels trying to emulate not cable so much as these emerging patterns of use and performing as an aid or adjunct to series recording.
On the other side of this equation are efforts towards preserving an artificial uniqueness of experience (you can only see it here -- right now, through us). This accomplished with Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other regulatory walls. Fostering the need for the consumer to come and return to the gated well.
Bandwidth is another factor in this revolution of means, replicating TV on the web. The story here is how companies push (stream) content thru the Internets to all America (to be sure this same process is occurring all over the world), without incurring insurmountable penalties of latency and cost. The internet was not originaly intended to carry the amount of data that broadcast television dealt in. Nor was it conceived originally as a vehicle for ubiquitous cable content. It has simply rolled up those missions like a big ball of silly putty. The streaming industry's work-arounds for this include prepositioning (cacheing) popular movies and shows at the heads of the teleco tubes (based on a statistical likelihood of being called upon. Leveraging P2P strategies so content is shared around as it streams outward. TC/IP packets of movie content moving back and forth, peer to peer as they are called upon.
In the unlikely event that the advertising model collapses then air broadcast, the networks will move to or sell their premium content to cable entities who will place it behind subscriptions and encryptions. At the least they will complete attempts to make cable (particularly satellite TV) providers pay for broadcast pull downs (where cable providers run the air broadcast networks seamlessly through their boxes), for the sake of additional revenue and to protect the sense of value in network news, sport and entertainment fare.
Sponsorship and the advertising model, the encapsulated regular scheduled grid broadcasting, and even primetime have existed since the 1930's. The general form of broadcasting carried over fairly intact from radio to television, and the same networks delivered it. The original radio networks put a great deal of effort into convincing manufacturers during a period of great mercantile and brand expansion that broadcast advertising could put their product in peoples minds. But there was always a portion of alchemy to it all and required that everyone believe in the power of advertising. The 30 and 60 second advertising commercial product "webisodes" really still holds currency and a great deal of effort will be expended to hold and extend that video value.
As people test the waters of the Internet for the weight of entertainment freight new content forms are being seen This is a new model Hollywood Web television - Wikipedia. Branded micro episodic features. Idiosyncratic and high-concept often leveraging actors from more staid and traditional realms. Comedians in Cars getting coffee for just one modest instance. These featurettes are capable in theory of being serialized to various lengths. They are for what its worth more malleable than the last 70 years of straight jacketed Hollywood fare. It is no surprise that Apple with its initial foray into this world, Apple TV, a device designed to merge the Internet into your existing broadcast or cable TV environment includes direct lines to Vimeo and integration with Netflix and Hulu.
Through the last twenty or so year television has become a creature of massive media interelation. The familiar major networks of the broadcast era long ago began a process of incorporating both other distribution forms -- cable initially, and production houses. A slow process of buying, being bought and partnering where needed that is called vertical integration.
While little of the magic all this media synergy was supposed to bring materialized. The Cable Industry remains for the time being well off. The Washington Post company's bottom line is substantially aided by their Cable One holdings. There are structural -- regulatory -- reasons behind this: regional monopolies and the enforcement of bundling rules. This the proscription that basic and premium tiers of channels must be bought in groups prized channels subsidizing the depth of cable and providing a strong deep income flow. "A la carte distribution" the consumer picking off just the channels they want heralds a major threat to traditional profit model. The End of TV and the Death of the Cable Bundle - Derek Thompson - The Atlantic: It is why broadcast and cable concerns feud with entities like DishTv just outside the monopolized heartland Dish Chief: TV Needs to Change - WSJ.com:. In analogous fashion it is why some networks and their cable partners are leaning towards regimes that specify no Internet views of their product without a cable subscription Why NBC Doesn't Care That You Want to Watch the Olympics Live on TV - Derek Thompson - The Atlantic.
- NBC - Wikipedia is owned by GE and Comcast is a joint venture.
- ABC - Wikipedia is owned by Disney
- CBS - Wikipedia is owned by National Amusement which gathers CBS, CW, and Paramount-Viacom into it's folds.
- under the Sony tent; Crackle Crackle - Wikipedia, known initially for short form, is now moving into traditional longer forms.
Value of Television
The hour judicial or medical system drama, the half hour comedy, a convention of programming dominates broadcasting. Cable's versions of these are slightly less pat. Liberated from FCC restrictions they allow themselves to be freer grittier and increasingly attract better actors and writers. Though anything running with commercial breaks must bring events to a an artless series of mini pseudo-dramatic peaks. As a dramatic form all television is positioned and fixed between the radio serial and film. Compromised territory in terms of the expense of its production and the need to to hold a general mass audience week to week. Exhaustion of format has arrived. We've seen it all before. All the tropes, all the ways ways of telling a bland joke and getting a tired laugh. One thing that retro channels like Antenna TV and RTN demonstrate is that little in TV has changed in two generations.
TV seems a sociologically descriptive rather than aspirational account of American life. Not uplifting or leading. Kultur rather than culture. Even there tinctured and censored to a embarrassing and misleading middlebrow modesty. Falling short of the least social realism as to preclude that from being an intended goal. The eternally lurking question: what is value of Television?
Television has never relied solely on cast-and-script dramas. Programming situated in reality has always been around, reality and reality lite. Since the very beginning sports, the former, has been a major part of programming. An archetypal narrative of opposing sides and rivalries. Individual sub-narratives of heroism victory and defeat. It is all very appealing, very satisfying. Then there are the myriad of so called "Reality" shows (the latter). These are controlled to the point of being scripted falling into pat narrative templates. Flirting with a certain pandering cynicism at times: bad boys, cheaters, manipulators all depicted decadently flourishing. I don't know enough about these shows to know whether they are allowed to win, but I doubt much actual game theory is allowed to guide the outcomes. Beyond all this there is a menagerie of game shows, talk shows, news magazine shows each with its own corner of the day, and argument on the consumers attention. Each based on the idea of a daily programming schedule and a scarcity of position on it.
The singular defense of television; however insipid it seemed was that it had a cultural function. It was the social glue, the warp and weft of the water cooler. It provided a shared experience. A third of the people you ran in to the next day had seen the same thing, and by the end of the day and tales retold everyone knew what was broadcast the evening before. It went beyond that. All these programs told tales from the fountain of existing American shared experience and mores. It was programmatic: social conditioning and pattern recognition. it was about learning the possibilities of an American life. Capturing the attention of young and malleable minds through endless and repetitive zeitgeist morality plays. Television performed functions that ran from baby sitter to guidance counselor. They provided templates for success, for leadership, and vocation.
Critically, I think, even beyond these external socialization functions. Consumption of stories has a special purpose. I recalled reading that exposure to simple narratives is related to general happiness. The idea is that narratives are essential to well being. The idea of keeping a clinical narrative journal for instance Seagal1999.pdf. They teach the individual how to construct frame and tell stories (narratives) about one's own life. Narratives about loss, adversity met and overcome, goals set and achieved. An encapturing of events spun to experience that tells of individual maturity and growth. Eudaimonic well-being Narrative identity and eudaimonic well-being (pdf) is a special form of value driven happiness it is about giving our chaotic experience order and direction and through that delivering the happiness that comes with positive direction and social purpose. A happiness more towards that of Coleridge's dour wedding guest, parting from the loquacious mariner: "a sadder and a wiser man he rose the morrow morn."
Fundamentally it is a matter of how TV is conceived. Outside of certain categories of unique programming specials, movies, documentaries, news shows (and only just barely). Television has never been appointment TV for me. Turning that empty marketing concept on its head I'd name it disappointment TV. I'll watch a fair range of stuff, but my attachment to it rarely goes beyond "because it is what is being broadcast now." There is no imperative about any particular program that I demand its presence, that I would set aside time at a latter date to watch it. It isn't that I have an intense dislike of American TV. It is that I regard it as a fungible good. For the various value any one program one it is as good as any other. They are functionally interchangeable. Even down to their story arcs. There isn't one I would pursue categorically over another. I consider using the Internet to pick off unsubscribed cable programming with diffidence. With the exception of only a few standout shows, it's just a coarse version of vanilla Hollywood. It is not the (potential) depth of film, nor the intense introspective realism of a well written novel.
Largely excepted from this is Public Broadcasting. Shows like Frontline, Nova, American Masters, and various documentaries. these are nonfungible and recyclable (that is re-broadcastable streamable). With the exception perhaps of Frontline they do not dine on topicality and don't become stale for some many years. Maintaining degree of market value. National Geographic can sell dvds as well as anyone.
My main premise is that I believe the imprint of manufacture and distribution laid a heavy imprint on the shape and form of the standard television program. The conflict and resolution content of the scripted hour drama. The pattern of jokes, takes and double-takes of the half hour comedy all this was the persistent and inertial effect of primetime and the grid. Locked in aspic since the first consolidation of radio in the 1930's and following the demands of sponsorship and mass advertising on programming thereafter. It's easy to over-emphasis recent history in entertainment content. It is just as informative to examine the influence of 19th novels and turn of the century "Strand" type magazine serializations to find the roots of today's short form amusements. I haven't mentioned theater yet either which is, after all, the well-spring of all narrative play-acting. Others are better positioned to comment on this than me.
It does strike me that TV series are more like theater than commonly thought. A theatric run will perform the same play night after night for months or far longer. A TV series basically enacts the same essential drama with every episode. It is built into the characters, their flaws and strengths, nature of their relation. The originating situation and the crisis/antagonist it was designed to meet. With minor variations, improvements of the actors in their characters, all episodes are variations of the pilot. A meta-episode can be derived from them. Story arcs only partially hid this.
Television is a lowest common denominator video system. Change is happening; though, and these changes in consumption and delivery schemes will eventually radically change the product. There is book The DVD novel : how the way we watch television changed the television we watch which came through Mckeldin library cataloging unit, where I work, the other day, on just this. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but I am not the only one seeing this sort of potential outcome. I think that if the Internet does become a distribution channel for video TV series, film, teleplays et al and yet still maintains some sense of uniqueness. That it is not bludgeoned into a submissive existence as cable TV 2.0. The content form will change. Content is King they all say. Eventually like a river shaken out of its banks by an earthquake the mode of profit will abandon the dry old banks to plants along the new watered channels Micro-content, looping and less structured narrative shows. A more adventurous fit of narrative and reality that gets beyond singing contests, and summer camp games on faraway islands. One that is willing and able to treat complex social subjects and problems.
Some believe they already see -- within that small circle of elite cable programming a highbrow (well middlebrow) THE HOLLYWOOD ECONOMIST: Role Reversal: Why TV Is Replacing Movies As Elite Entertainment between TV and film. This reversal is tied to the vast expense of production, motion picture production, and the overseas markets that need to be developed for these films so they will profit. While this profit is the Tent-pole programming - Wikipedia that holds up the rest of the industry. To be such a big tent they need to be less American, based less on dialog of any kind. More based on visuals and action. This has opened the door for TV productions to move in, within the restrictions of their format, and tell stories about American characters and landscapes in the cadences of American idioms and gesture. Language as we really speak it to each other.
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