Digital Technology: Redefining Television

For the past two months, whenever I showed up at my 9am job on Wednesday and Thursday, I looked exhausted. My colleagues just assumed it was typical senior’s stress. They all offered me coffee, cookies, and comfort. However, it was not the case. I could never bring myself to tell them the truth that it was because I woke up everyday at 5:45 am to watch this Korean drama being live streamed from Korea. “My Love from the Star” was a series aired on SBS, one of the biggest Korean television channels.  After a long hiatus from watching shows on traditional television, I was hyped. It had been a long time since I last experienced all the excitement and anticipation for a new episode to be aired every week. I was excited enough to tell all my friends to watch it weekly with me, but all of them responded that they would not watch it weekly and would wait until the entire series comes out. None of them wanted to watch it on a television. None of them liked the idea of having to rely on the channel and to follow the show’s schedule.

The fast and easy accessibility to any episode, program, or TV show on a digital device slowly makes it the most popular medium to diffuse media. According to The Telegraph, the average UK consumer spends 3 hours and 41 minutes consuming digital media via their mobile phone, tablet, or PC, overtaking TV (3 hours 15 minutes) as the dominating way to consume media.

One question that really interests me in this week’s reading, the multi-author book Console-ing Passions: Television as Digital Media is Jason Jacobs’ on how to define television in the digital age. He discusses:

Digital television’s promises of control imply disconnection and separateness from the usual nationally socialized presence of television. Television maintains its interruptability and currents of reception, but we do not have to participate in them in order to watch it. Are we still watching television when we watch an entire season of The Wire on DVD in a row? Is this no longer “television as television”? (267)

In this digital age where media convergence dominates most medium, is the definition of “television as television” still relevant? To what extent do we consider watching a TV show (regardless of the diffusion medium) is still watching TV? When I watched that Korean TV drama by watching a live-streaming video on a third party website, was I considered watching TV? When my friends go watch the drama in a row on DVD later, will that be watching TV as well? Is Netflix going to be the future of TV? How will ranking of a show will be precisely measured when there are so many ways to watch TV? To what degree will the hybrid of TV and digital become the new TV?

As Bennett argues in the introduction of the book:

Television as digital media must be understood as a non-specific, hybrid cultural and technological form that spreads across multiple platforms as diverse as mobile phones, games consoles, iPods, and online video services such as YouTube, Hulu, Joost, and the BBC’s iPlayer as well as computer-based media players such as Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and Apple TV (3)

Bennett seems to be very forward-thinking, viewing television as a function of modernity. Because it is modernity, it is always associated with changes and innovations:

Such issues in relation to television’s digitization reminds us that nothing about television is just about television. (…) television emerged in the postwar era as a function of modernity that has functioned to define everyday life, particularly in the way it has structured the routines of daily life and the relationship between public and private space.” (4)

Television in the digital age features advanced interfaces, that that is the reason why audience is leaning towards a medium that offers them more control. Daniel Chamberlain asserts that “media interfaces are quite pointed examples about how control operates in a networked age. They are delivered up as experiences that offer a promise of empowerment, of consumed sovereignty over technology, information, and consumption” (250). Some would argue that one of the specificities of traditional television is the absence of user control. Sure you can control your preferred channels, screen brightness or volume settings, but the scheduling and screening of content is in the hand of the producers. Digital television, “attuned to a particularly privatized and individualized everyday” (Jacobs, 258), offers the viewers the control of time and space. Will that be a loss for the producers? With the rise of user-generated content and the shift from traditionally produced works to online videos, will the audience control television?

Mark Lawson from The Guardian approaches this issue in a more conservative manner:

The point about television programmes is that – unlike theatre or cinema – they live within a flow of other images: sports, commercials, wars. Television should be watched – and written about – as television (qtd. in Jacobs, 267)

Lawson discusses the idea of watching television as a social and traditional practice, that between shows you would be expected to watch commercials, breaking news, etc. Moving digital is stripping away this characteristic of traditional television, so digital television, in this sense, would not be television anymore because it does not meet the social expectations for the act of watching television. However, the question is, do these social expectations hold true in our society anymore? We no longer live in the tranquility age – in fact, everything is expected to happen and to be done at a fast pace. People complain about Internet speed. Other cars honk at you if you drive too slowly. Job-seekers like me live under the stress of responding to employer’ emails as fast as I could. We just no longer have the luxury of watching “television as television”. On one hand we want control over our consumption, but on the other hand we are forced to receive that control in a way to consume media.

However, no matter how much advanced we get and how helpful our digital devices enable us to consume media, “television as television” will stay with us still. Richard Marks, director of Research the Media talks about the future of television:

So where does this leave broadcast television and set-top boxes? Clearly they will be with us for quite a while yet. The infrastructure just isn’t there for more than a small proportion of us to receive linear TV directly via broadband (‘over-the-top’) and we just love watching TV at the same time, it is what makes television the vibrant medium it is.

In terms of the future of television delivery it would appear to be a case of ‘steady as she goes’. The logical endpoint does seem to be in sight but there just isn’t enough room for everyone at the moment.

So, the future is here, but don’t all rush at once and spoil it for the early adopters.

Developers have innovated ways to enhance the experience of watching TV with smart TVs, 3D glasses, customization system, etc. Even if television cannot catch up with these advancements, it is always here to stay. Think about how we never get rid of the bicycles, or pens. We’ll always have TV, that’s for sure.

Citations:

Bennett, James, and Niki Strange. Television as Digital Media. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.

Marks, Richard. “The future of TV is here but please don’t all try it at once.” MediaTel Newsline, March 25, 2014. The future of TV is here but please don’t all try it at once (accessed March 25, 2014).

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