23 December 2008

The future of teevee

Lately my mind has been on soaps and daytime teevee in general. Such memories of idyllic days past they bring.

Yet the economics of television are rapidly changing. And daytime as we know it is likely doomed under the most plausible future scenarios.

This is a TiVo world to-day. We watch what we want to watch, when it is most pleasant and convenient for us to do so. And the commercials can be skipped too. Broadcast schedules mean little to TV viewers anymore.

Cable provides us with a continuous stream of consistent genre programming, and fragments the finite viewer pool into miniscule segments. We can watch Law and Order practically 24/7 now, what with all the syndication about and about. Reality programs, cable news, game shows - all are available in virtual 24/7 format now, through the magic of specialty channels.

Dramas are becoming too costly to produce (at least for a traditional full run of 22 episodes) as the per capita dollar per ratings point equation trends increasingly negative. Advertisers are only willing to spend when they are assured that their advertisements will find an audience. This is increasingly no longer the case.

The future is rooted in technological change and economic viability. Soon it will be determined that it is essentially more profitable to shift to a point on demand model for programming delivery than the current static model, when programming airs at a set time without flexibility. In short, the future of TV will be more like Movies on Demand than anything else. You will be able to choose your program, at the time you prefer and in whatever increments you desire.

This will by nature alter the delivery stream. Television and the Internet will align even more so than they do currently. Soon computers will act as the television for the family. A screen is just a monitor, after all, to display assorted electrons which constitute the stream of programming.

Cable will embrace this model eventually, but it will not be seen as constituting a major break until a major network or two follows the trend. All the future requires to become reality is for one of the major programmers to break from the traditional mold and go all out with this venture. The networks are facing a paradigm shift of monumental proportions, but no one wants to stick their necks out for fear of causing an eternal disruption in the "way of doing business" that the Medium Three are comfortable with. It would also be seen as a capitulation of sorts, and thus a sign of weakness and failure. But soon economic considerations will bring themselves to bear on the industry, and with a paralytically declined economy to contend with, fiscal reality will push one or more programmers over the edge - likely the weakest players who will have little to lose and everything to gain by the endeavor. 

And the future is now, courtesy of YouToob and other similar sites. Already programming is migrating to the online world, and even the networks are involved with this.

To deny progress is to impoverish us all. Let us hope the political means are not employed to arrest these trends. Then we will have the networks coming to Congress next, hoping for a seat on the bailout train.

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