TV…. That Thing the Grandparents Watched!

TV just isn’t what it used to be.  When I was a kid, color television finally became affordable to the masses and channels expanded up to five or so.

Folks were so enamored with the television that we started moving out of the dining room and into the den to eat.  Anyone remember TV trays becoming a necessity of the modern world?


It wasn’t until I was a bit older that remote controls became popular.  We all were unaware how radically those clunky, push-button devices would change how people watched TV. No longer did anyone have to move to change the channel.  It  seems like ever since we got the “clicker” the real competition for audience’s attention began.zenith

Fast Forward to today and the race has gone into overdrive. We are experiencing a media overload.  TV is now network, cable, satellite, and live streaming on the Internet. What we once considered TV, has become as old-fashioned as Kerosene lamps.


TV screens get bigger and thinner, with more bells and whistles than I can understand, and the TV industry is changing faster and faster. Henry Blodget, writing for Business Insider, says Television, as we know it, is going down the same path of near extinction as the traditional newspaper.  Among reasons why, Blodget lists

  1. We hardly ever watch shows when they’re broadcast with exceptions of sports
  2. We avoid ads (thanks digital recording and fast forward)
  3. We watch on-demand with little to no advertising
  4. We get our news from the Internet
  5. We watch media on four different screens (TV, laptop, mobile device, or iPads)


I may be exaggerating a bit, but there are a gazingabillion different channels, shows, live stream events, old movies, YouTube channels, digital downloads,cable shows, etc. They’re out in the ether world all vying for your attention. The low-cost of today’s digital production, and the availability of high-tech equipment at reasonable costs, provides almost anyone a chance to produce content . The old gatekeepers of broadcast media have found a mighty foe. This availability of choice is turning our “hit driven” culture into one of unlimited variety.

While big media conglomerates still hold a powerful sway, the options in the lesser end of the spectrum collectively present a potential gold mine of profits as well. Individual content may be viewed in small numbers, but the aggregate views of all “non-hits” add up to big money.  Author Chris Anderson, refers to this in a book called, The Long Tail.

In a nutshell, our economy, nay our society is “hit driven”.  We seek out the most popular “thing” then claim it to be a hit. Top 40 radio comes to mind as the perfect example. Are there really only forty hits? What about number 41? Does it just drop off people’s radar?  Have you ever considered what a hit is?  It’s actually an averaged, homogenized, representation of what “most people” like.  In other words, that hit song, appeals to some “majority” of people – and that’s often due to it being advertised as a hit by powerful media conglomerates. This goes the same for films, books, fashion trends etc.  Since limited shelf space, advertising budgets, and regional distribution come into play with retail space in a brick and mortar store, your selections have been pre-filtered down to a few “popular” choices. In other words, it may not represent the “best”, but simply most profitable. Choice has traditionally been linked to economics of production, time, and space.


Just as retail  succumbs to digital ways, so will TV.  Let me explain in another nut shell. scrat-nut-iceage Take Amazon, for example. They are a retail aggregator that houses millions if not billions of products on its online store.  They do offer some of their own products, but by and large, they are simply a digital showroom for various companies around the world.  What does this mean for the consumer?  HUGE selections of products you may have never been aware of before.  The virtual catalog has unlimited “shelf space” and can easily offer you every imaginable doo-dad without ever running out of space.

It’s the same thing with digital distribution of content. Show and movie titles can be aggregated onto sites and offered whether they’re a top hit or in the bottom 50,000 of most viewed content.  It costs almost nothing to offer them.  Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Vudu, can all offer an endless stream of hits, flops, independent and foreign films.  This makes them extremely competitive for viewer attention.

Still, the long tail has yet to prove itself as a true challenger to the prosperity of hit culture.  Indeed sometimes too many choices confuses and irritates people.  In a time crunched world, most people prefer to be led to “the best” and then make choices from say ten things, rather than 10,000. The Internet has, however, pulled the cork on the elixir of personal selection.  Micro-communities abound, and there’s something for everyone’s taste.  TV has to compete with this and embrace the best parts of technology in order to survive.
retro-tv-set-with-news-copy Now we are no longer simply stuck with watching what the majority likes or what the networks and cable companies deem a hit.  We can branch out and find exactly what we want at any time of the day or night.



With the exception of some sports, being glued to live TV is just passe’. keeping up to the minute ANYTHING only requires a smart phone, laptop, or tablet.  Twitter, live feeds, automatic alerts, and inter-connected social media, keep people tuned in 24/7. TV is countering this move by making their events interactive via social media and text voting.  They’re attempting to encourage audiences into viewing live events again. You have to watch LIVE to vote on American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, etc. By blending old and new media, broadcast television is also able to capture huge amounts of information from the viewing audience who texts in votes, tweets about shows, or go on social media to check out a website about a show. News shows now look like an active page of a website with live Twitter feeds, additional story lines scrolling across the bottom and icons touting websites and blogs.


1            I see the term “TV” becoming archaic.

There will be no differentiation between TV and other forms of digital media.  Content will be aggregated and production costs will continue to drop.  Cable TV will have to offer more option oriented packages for less.  I couldn’t watch ten channels with regularity, let alone the 150 that many Americans currently have. The cable companies have gotten away with forcing us to buy nearly the same packages as everyone else in order to watch what we want.  New media allows us to be selective. If I can go out online and see only what I’m interested in, why would I pay over 100 dollars for all those channels?

Of course money must be made somehow.  Ads have been, and will continue to be the revenue makers. On line, ads appear on the side, scrolling across the bottom or dispersed throughout some of the content.  While still annoying, they’re somewhat avoidable.  But marketing is getting even more ingenious.  Embedded product content, ads being disguised as news, retargeting ads that follow you around the Internet…these won’t be going away any time soon. Heck, entire shows, like American Idol, are nothing put product promotion vehicles with a contest thrown in the middle. Can you say, Ford, Coke, or AT&T? (Coke and AT&T have since dropped sponsorship, showing a decline advertising power for the show).

TV, like newspapers, won’t completely disappear.  It will be incorporated into new forms as the digital rampage continues. The Internet is a veritable playground of endless content that flows freely for the price of high-speed internet.  While cable companies will continue to try to drain our pockets via packages and offers of higher speeds, the savvy customers will demand more options for less. “Adapt or die” means more than ever in media competition.

Where will TV be in the next ten years? 

With the fast paced changes, it is hard to predict what new innovations and convergences will occur.  Will TV survive?  I’m guessing not in its present state. But we’ve seen attempts of  broadcast TV, some successful and others not, to embrace the digital world. With convergence comes the ability to view the same content on a variety of devices. We probably won’t recognize that thing our ancestors called the “television set”.



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