Friday 20 January 2012

Smash TV

Big money! Big prizes! I love it!

That’s what everyone wants to do, isn’t it? Beat TV. Kill TV. Kick TV to bits and throw all the little pieces into a big bin. TV’s been sitting there, in the corner of your personal living room, doing its TV thing since like, forever. How bloody dare it. Did no-one tell TV that there was the internet now? This is the future guy, and we have smartphones and Twitter and Skyrim. You’re not a TV, you’re a device. Get with the program and stop making 300 billion dollars a year without even a ‘like’ button.

"What's that boy? Timmy has diabetes?"
Considering how much the internet wants to duff up the telly, it surprises me how much the problem is viewed as a technical one, rather than a cultural one. That was a lie, it doesn’t surprise me in any way. Tech people see the ‘TV problem’ as a tech problem, of course they do. But they’re wrong. Partially wrong.

TV is a cultural entity. There are a bunch of things about the way it operates that are viewed not as strengths, but as technical issues in need of solving, when if anything, tech could do to learn from TV’s limitations. Linear, broadcast, passive, sit-back experiences that are often more ambient than gripping. Surely we can make TV into a customised entertainment engine, blasting out exactly the right show for YOU right NOW! See what your friends are watching, watch it with them, submerge yourself in the worlds of your favourite shows for the rest of your natural life!

Or we can just press a button and sit down and see what’s on.

Define ‘better’

It’s the shared pain of television's shortcomings that make it what it is. Making TV ‘better’, solving TV’s ‘problems’ won’t do anything to challenge its dominance in these terms. To create something that is both capable and deserving of killing TV, one needs to create something that defines small-talk and office chat by its sheer ubiquity. The race to provide customised, perfectly entertaining streams of content to customers’ unconscious needs is not going to do that. We can’t share experiences we don’t, you know, share.

Did you just zippety bop zoopa bop?
There’s an important difference between TV and video, yet it’s rarely discussed by even the biggest players in this game. Video is a kind of content, TV is a delivery mechanism, but more importantly, it’s a culture. It’s entirely obvious that the delivery mechanism of a product is important to the experience. It’s less obvious that the most convenient option isn’t necessarily the best.

Social proof, the enjoyment and reassurance given by doing what you know others are doing, is a powerful force and one which television gets to enjoy by default. The larger the number of channels available, the weaker this force becomes, as the audience splits into smaller and smaller niches. 

You Tube’s power play with its commissioning of original content and attempt to reposition itself as a serious alternative to TV  is based on a strategy that extends the cable paradigm of more channels with more specialised content. This is probably good for the individual, but I’m not convinced it’s good for society.

Hello, yes, this is Situation
TV has a wonderful ability to remind us how we’re all the same, as much as give us what we personally want. It shapes and informs us a culture. That can surely be a force for bad, as much as a force for good, but I for one would be sad to see that end. Let’s make sure that while we try to make TV better for each of us, we don’t end up making it worse for all of us.

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