The Future of Television

I still remember the thrill we had when American cable channels were first introduced in Vietnam. I was in middle school, spoke little to no English. Yet it did not stop me from spending hours in front of the TV, constantly watching shows from Cartoon Network to HBO to Discovery Channel. Our family would be fighting over which channel to watch: my dad ESPN, my mom Cinemax, and I would be dancing along with Britney or Eminem on MTV.

Over the year things have changed. However, I did not really pay attention to this until I started reading Cynthia Littleton’s TV on Strike, which offers a detailed and thorough analysis of the 100-day writer’s strike from November 5, 2007 to February 12, 2008 between the WGA (Writers Guild of America) against the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers). As Littleton accounts:

The spread of digital technologies and distribution platforms, broadband access, and radical behavioral shifts among younger consumers are reshaping – some say irrevocably undermining- the business foundation of network television (Littleton, 1)

This next generation technological innovation, New Media, where shows are freely streamed on the Internet and on smart devices has eventually become “a distribution channel for commercial entertainment” (Littleton, 27) as she explains:

What no one disputes is that the one-hundred-day work stoppage will stand as a seminal event in the evolution of digital media as a distribution channel for commercial entertainment (Littleton, 27)

That is the change that I mentioned earlier in the post. For the past summers when I went back home, the TV was obsolete. No longer did we fight over the remote. No longer did we gather in front of the TV after dinner together. Instead, my sister was nagging my dad to hand her the iPad so she could watch anime on Youtube. My mom was on her computer watching Taken 2 on an (illegal) Vietnamese streaming site. The TV was there, fully equipped with hundred of cable channels, just for the sake of having a TV in the house. It was, and is still a social norm to have a TV in the house.

But will it be like that in the future, will digital media, like a laptop, even a tiny tablet, replace a TV?

Reading this book by Littleton makes me more conscious and concerned about the future of television. As I explained in the last post, I am personally not too familiar with the American television culture, so many details in the book are not relevant to my personal understanding. My stand on this book, is the future of TV in regards to the over-dominance of advanced digital technology that is becoming ubiquitous.

WSJ Digital alerts that Decline in Global Tv Sales Expected to Continue. TV shipments in July fell 6.3% from a year earlier, and are expected to plummet for 2 years consecutively. Juro Osawa explains:

In mature markets such as the U.S. and Europe, consumers are not replacing the TVs they already own, and more of their spending on electronic devices is going into mobile gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. (Osawa)

and also:

Even in emerging markets where everyone doesn’t own a TV, demand isn’t as robust as expected, said Nicolas Baratte, head of Asia-Pacific technology research for CLSA. As consumers in both developed and emerging markets spend more time on their smartphones and tablets, mobile gadgets and online content are replacing some of the roles TVs used to play–entertainment and information. (Osawa)

This widespread of digital media is considered a challenge, if not, a nemesis to traditional television. It is also a nemesis to the WGA, as accounted by Littleton. The one-hundred-day strike can be seen as an alerting sign of the impacts of digital technology on the entertainment industry. The writers were unhappy with the unfair share of profits, where they consider the networks greedy for calling web streaming only “promotional” (Littleton, 15) to avoid extra residuals and profit-sharing. The strike ended with producer lamenting “there is no longer a way to make money in series television” (Littleton, 259) but who later became “more optimistic after Netflix, Amazon, et al. begin writing bigger checks to the studios for content-licensing deals” (Littleton, 259). So it seems that the digital giants are again, using money, the very origin of the strike, to settle down the deal and open up a new period of digital dominance. Just as what happened during the transition from big screen to home video, TV writers and producers will have a new screen ratio in mind, that of a computer, of a tablet, of a smart device, and that will somehow change the landscape of the creative industry in the new future.

Towards the end of last year my cousin told me about a project her friend had been working on, the InAir, introduced by his San Francisco-based startup SeeSpace. It is the first step towards the future shown in Minority Report or Iron Man, where you can drag and drop 3D visualizations of images and information in the space in front of you. The company claims that this is the world’s first augmented television, and it will be revolutionary in the evolution of the entertainment industry. I was excited at first when their KickStarter project was almost reaching the goal of $100,000 in the first 5 days, but it seems like things have slowed down.

For sure the increasing swift from traditional television streaming to web streaming is a reflection of the decline of the television as a medium. Is it because people now prefer the portability and social sharaebility of other smart devices? Or is it more because our society has valued independence to such a degree that we prefer watching a show or a movie on our own, in our own time, excluded from all but our digital device rather than gathering with others?

Works cited

Littleton, Cynthia. TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2013. PDF.

Osawa, Juro. “Decline in Global Tv Sales Expected to Continue.” WSJ Digital . WSJ , n. d. Web. 4 Feb. 2014. <http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/10/08/decline-in-global-tv-sales-expected-to-continue/&gt;.

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Comments

  1. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out G-Speak. A forerunner and kindred spirit of InAir.

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