Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Future Of Television Part One

Looking at the radio

According to old people, families would once gather around this thing they called a ‘radio’ to listen to a man tell them about the Queen in an accent that disregarded vowels entirely. “Hrs th Qn”, he might say. The radio was the centre of rapt attention, for through it, the world entered your house. It provided laughter, news, music, entertainment and information of all kinds, delivered wirelessly to your home. Then suddenly, BAM, television, right in the kisser. 

Remarkably, the television had a rudimentary screen on the side and by looking at it, observers could discern crude images of the Queen. This new glowing object was much more visually interesting, more stimulating than the inert, squawking, radio box. Thus the family’s attention moved from the radio to the television and no-one listened to the radio ever again.
What the fuck are you looking at?
Not really. Actually, people are still quite happy to listen to the radio. What radio did when it lost the attention battle to television, was retreat back to its lair for some biscuits, and decide that while it might not be as sexy as it once was, it still had a use. Radio had ambient powers, perfect as a thing to be enjoyed while baking a lemon-drizzle carrot cake, driving to Southampton in a Rover 75 or having a wee. This let it relax into a position of being really very good entertainment for people whose attentions, and specifically their eyes or hands, were somewhere else right now. And that was that and nothing in the world of entertainment technology would ever change again. 

Not really. Actually, since then, the rate of technological and cultural change has only increased. And the speed of change will keep increasing until the planet Earth sets on fire, crashes into the Sun and we all die. The internet happened and it was better than television. It took a while for everyone to realise this, but thanks to pornography, cats and pornography, they eventually decided that the internet was pretty much rad. 
Sweet, sweet pussy
Like radio before it, television is now facing the attention deficit. But statistics currently show that people spend more time watching television than ever before! They also spend longer on the internet than ever before! And longer playing computer games than ever before! 

How can this possibly be?

My television also serves as an excellent source of warmth

There are now three kinds of television. They are live TV, appointment TV and ambient TV. Live TV covers any event that is best watched live. Obviously this includes sport, but it also includes shows like Big Brother and X-Factor that are about viewer participation, teenage boys that look like girls and racism. This kind of TV is fine and dandy and pretty much has nothing to worry about. If you see more and more previously not-live TV becoming live, it's because then it’s an EVENT and people will WATCH the EVENT and then also the adverts. Mmm, adverts.

Appointment TV is the kind of TV you watch on catch-up or download from internets because it’s not on in your country yet because the companies involved in its production want to make more money. No, I don’t really understand that bit either. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Louie. This kind of TV is probably better thought of as video. It has nothing to do with the concept of broadcast. Waiting for the new series of Game of Thrones to be broadcast on TV makes as much sense as waiting for a particular movie you want to see to be broadcast on TV. It’s been observed by many folks that the top TV dramas are better than most Hollywood blockbusters anyway, god damn it. The future of this kind of TV is likely to be much like the future of movies. I have no idea what that is! Why do I even bother?
Louis CK. Mad, broken, bad and a man.
Lastly, ambient TV is the kind of TV you put on in the background because you’re all alone in the world and if you didn’t get to hear another human being’s voice for even an entire minute, you’d bludgeon a screwdriver through your skull and into your brain, twisting it around until you collapsed face first into your coffee table, enveloped at last by the loving warmth of infinite death. While you’re staving off the inevitable realisation that not even you care that your life is a hateful series of painful nothings, you use the internet to look at pornography, read the Thundercats’ wikipedia page and play Angry Birds. The television bleats on and on, filling the air with soothing sounds while your eyes and hands are elsewhere.

With ambient TV, the television is now the radio, and the internet is now the television because as well as showing images of the Queen, it also lets you talk to the Queen and send her pictures of your cat wearing mittens.

I’m quite depressed now, can we stop please?

There’s a little bit of panic in television towers. Sure, things are fine right now, but for how long? Television people don’t want to be left behind. Like the radio people before them, there is a sense of fear, a sense of change and a sense of needing to be ahead of some curve that can’t even be seen. There’s also, much as it pains me to admit it, some kind of vague desire to make new and exciting things by multiplying TV by internet. Probably.

There are a near infinite number of buzzwords being banded about in varying amounts by various television people. Participation TV, Interactive TV, Connected TV, Smart TV, Internet TV, Social TV, So On TV and So Forth TV. What they all boil down to is a variety of ways that TV will continue to be fine in the future and no one need worry about having to skip their second Tuscan holiday of the year. What do they all mean? What is the future for TV?

Tune in, same time, same place, next week to find out! 


  1. Game of Thrones was broadcast in the US at 9pm on Sunday, and in the UK at 9pm on a Monday.. So, just 19 hours later. Which is cool unless you don't have Sky (or HBO, I guess).

  2. That is great, and more of similar please, but I think that's solving a problem that, while it exists, is kind of yesterday's problem. I literally watch those big shows like I'd watch a movie - all in one go, after the series is over. I don't want to wait, don't want to be drip-fed, I just want to see it on my own terms.

    This is why I've had to split this stuff up, it's such a huge area with so much to cover. The potential move from ad-funded, broadcast to pay-to-view, on-demand is going to be potentially apocalyptic, if it ever happens.

    I'll try to address this specific issue soon, it's an interesting one.

  3. Th problem of the collapse of windowing for appointment TV is that it does destroy the business model. So TV companies make less money, but also, eventually, less TV. And Mad Men doesn't get made. See the collapse of funding for the latest James Bond.

  4. To be fair, it breaks the current funding model - broadcaster commissions show, production house makes show, advertisers pay broadcaster - but so long as someone is willing to deficit fund the production, the show will get made.

    Netflix have commissioned 26 episodes of Firefly.

    They're not a traditional broadcaster and they aren't ad-funded in the traditional sense either, but because they have a revenue stream for the show, they feel it's sufficiently manageable a risk to commission it.

    It's not completely beyond the realm of possibility that media related companies like Google, Apple et al might follow suite. They might not, but there is a business model there.

    It's the broadcasters that face the biggest problems. If enough people want high end TV shows enough to pay enough for them, they will still get made. It just may well not be broadcasters paying for, or screening them.