Television as Digital Media: How Individual Viewers are Changing the TV Game

notvNetflix. Hulu. HBO Go. There are a plethora of digital streaming services available nowadays, not to mention a whole host of On Demand features that generally come standard with even the most basic of cable subscriptions. TV just isn’t what it used to be; closer to its inception, television had the ability to bring people (families in particular) together to partake in viewing live and taped broadcasts, and if you were unable to see them, that was that. TV, much like the cinema, used to be an event. But, those days appear to be over.

According to authors James Bennett and Niki Strange, as written in their book Television as Digital Media, the shift from traditional broadcasting to streaming of digital television programming is a phenomenon worth delving into. According to the authors,

“Television as digital media must be understood as a non-site-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 mediaplayers such as Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and Apple TV.” (2)

Indeed, it seems that Bennett and Strange are not the only ones who can acknowledge the changes that are happening in the television industry these days. According to this video, digital media is killing TV, much like video killed the radio star.

It’s clear that TV is quickly becoming something new. According to Bennett and Strange, TV is and always has been a “hybrid media form,” (7) and should be studied and treated as such.

But what about television viewership?

With TV becoming more and more geared towards digital and/or online streaming, it would be safe to assume that the television viewer is changing as well. Nowadays, TV is tailored to the wants and needs of individuals, and a focus on mass audiences is no longer a primary concern. With more viewers watching content on their laptops and mobile devices, it makes sense that TV would have to adapt to better suit the needs of the individuals who access content on a personal device. According to Bennett and Strange, citing Joshua Greene, it’s not just your average Joe who’s taken up a more important role in the eyes of content providers; rather, “the ideal addressee of digital television is the fan.” (42)

Unlike the broadcast TV model of decades past, in the era of digital television, content will be tailored for fan-consumers, not families. Television has ceased to be an event, which would lead many to assume that the communal aspects of television would cease to exist. However, on page 43 of Television as Digital Media, Bennett and Strange, citing Teresa Rizzo, bring up an interesting point regarding the loss of communities as a result of the digitalization of TV:

“while the playlist model is indeed highly personalized, the playlist is also one of the things– just like one’s favorite book– this is most likely to be shared through social networking sites. As a result… the fact that the personal playlist can be and is routinely shared with others means that it does “not result in social isolation, but rather the opposite: [it] encourage[s] sharing and tap[s] into the desire for communities.”

Within a media landscape so tailored to the individual, do you agree that communities can still be formed through the sharing of personal viewing experiences via social media? Furthermore, although it’s not really related to my post whatsoever, how do you think the shift from communal TV experiences to individual, digital (and more often than not, pay-to-view) TV experiences will affect advertising and marketing to viewers? Looking forward to our discussion this week and hearing everyone’s thoughts!


Image found through Creative Commons.


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