What Does Television Even Mean Anymore?

broken_television_by_samgoesdown

More and more it seems like my friends have told me they don’t have cable anymore. Seemingly after years of people going on about their 800 or so channels, the discussion has changed to, how many streaming services do you belong to: Hulu, HBO Go, Netflix, etc? We don’t consume things on TV like we used to. For instance, my favorite show currently on TV is It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia (which really should be on your Netflix queue if you’ve got a twisted sense of humor). However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new episode on TV during its original broadcast. Usually when there is a new episode, I go online through Hulu and watch it there the next day. Another example of this is with History’s Vikings. I’ve always just watched the stream of it off of the History Channel’s website. While I still watch a lot TV shows, with the exception of live sports, I don’t actually consume them in the format of broadcast television.

This brings up some questions on if we can really even call this television. To roughly quote Professor Josh Stenger, “Is watching a show on Netflix really watching TV?” We’ve entered a period where we still associate these shows with their origin point, but are slowly moving away from actually watching them on their initial broadcast medium. According to Cynthia Littleton in her book, TV On Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet, “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).

So let’s swing this back to the WGA strike in 2007. The problem is that in the new media world of today, it’s tough to track consumerism. Whereas twenty years ago everything was off broadcast and tapes, now we have seemingly infinite ways to consume media originally meant for television–some legal and other not so legal (as one of my peers nicely brings up in his own blog post). The WGA strike of 2007 was over how to split profits in an increasingly diverse digital consumerist world. The idea being you should be paid for how many individuals consume your work no matter the format. But I think things go a little further than just getting paid for services due. This really begs the question of what the value of work is in the creative industries. So the real question here is, ‘what is the value of creative work in an environment where can’t rely on traditional sales, rentals, and syndication as a way to determine a successful show?’ More than this though, for years the big money in the industry has been in broadcasts rather than downloads or streams. Even now if you stream something off the internet on Hulu, or Comcast’s online on-demand service, look at the quality of commercial compared to those on television. There’s a lot less of them (so you annoyingly get the same commercial on repeat three times), but also often the quality of commercial isn’t all that great; advertisers aren’t paying the big bucks to broadcast on streaming sites and so, they’re looked at as less of a revenue source for cable companies. So what does this mean for writers and other creative workers? Even 8 years after the strike cable companies still don’t want to embrace the changing media, so where does this leave creative workers who’s work is getting spread through new media, but are getting paid based off an old model that is slowly and slowly becoming more obsolete?

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