Thinking Allowed

A blog to detail my work at QU.

Is Television Dying?

Posted By admin on September 21, 2009

Anyone watching the Emmy Awards on Sunday night might have sensed a change in the climate of the television industry. From the beginning to the end, host Neil Patrick Harris and others made references to the decline of network television in this internet age. That makes one wonder, is broadcast television on the brink of becoming extinct?

In his opening skit Harris sang in part, “Don’t jump online, cause this fine mug of mine needs a huge high-def screen” and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus quipped when presenting an award with actress Amy Poehler that they were “honored to be presenting on the last official year of network broadcast television.”

It is true. I watch much of my television online – when I have time for TV. I guess I must prefer the small screen to the big screen, as implied by this skit from the Emmys.

Cable Industry Unites

While Harris states in the clip “television is dead,” executives in the cable industry are banding together for a new initiative TV Everywhere in which cable companies will make TV content available online to subscribers. According to The Business Insider: “Yes, at first glance, it looks defensive: As more content is made available online, viewers can cobble together a viewing experience that approaches that of cable.  Enthusiast channels like Discovery and The History Channel are not currently available online, but some of the highest rated ones – like USA, A&E, Bravo – are, in addition to the free broadcast networks.  So, the cable companies have to figure out a way to control that viewing before “cutting the cable” becomes a real threat.”

As stated in H. Jenkins Convergence Culture, “Worship at the alter of convergence” (2006): “More and more, industry leaders are returning to convergence as a way of making sense of a moment of disorienting change. Convergence is, in that sense, an old concept taking on new meanings.”

If responding to the obvious convergence of television to the internet keeps cable companies in business, I think this is a smart move. However, once the content is no longer free, I wonder how that will impact the number of people viewing their television programs on their computers or even their handheld devices.

According to Clickz, the popular video viewing site Hulu “has experienced a 265 percent increase in streams over the past year, making it the second largest online video site, according to Nielsen data.” There are some questions over the count of the audience, but even conservative numbers could mean big bucks for the online video site if they switch to a pay to view model. Up to this point Hulu has been a free service. It is rumored that Hulu is moving towards offering a subscription based service at some point in the future. Will cable subscribers still pay to view television content online when it could be viewed as part of their cable package on television?

Nielsen Steps Up

Responding to the change in television viewing habits, Nielsen has started to work on an “Internet Meter” which will measure the online television viewing audience. In competition with Nielsen, another company, Media-Ad Consortium, is working on “seeking out new ways of measuring audiences across traditional and emerging media.” Broadcasting and Cable also speculates that “the formation of the group is widely seen as an attempt to either bypass Nielsen or to push it towards more speedy progress in the realm of online video and mobile measurement data collection.”

This would make sense from all that I know from working 15 years in broadcast news. Television ratings are important from a sales point of view for a television stations. The more shares a program won, the more money the television sales team could charge for commercial time. If an accurate system of monitoring online program usage can be implemented, it could be a very important incoming revenue stream for the struggling television industry.

Y. Benkler in the Wealth of Networks (2006) wrote: “As the networked information economy develops new ways of producing information, whose outputs are not treated as proprietary and exclusive but can be made available freely to everyone, it offers modest but meaningful opportunities for improving human development everywhere.”

Youtube is a great example of a site on which free content is released to the masses over the internet. Much of it becomes viral, like the Jill and Kevin’s Wedding Entrance Dance which made Jill and Kevin Heinz internet stars. Do clips like this improve our development? Doubtful. But feel good clips like this do make us feel better about life sometimes.

So in closing, do I think that television will ever die? I hope not. But as more and more news and entertainment programs are offered online, I think the cost of paying for cable or satellite will become hard to justify for consumers. I think executives for broadcast television and cable are embracing the internet and trying to find new avenues of revenue in order to stay in business. So while the landscape of television may change, I do believe that television as a whole will be around for years and years to come. I just wonder how the landscape of the internet will change once television and cable stations are charging us to view their content.


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2 Responses to “Is Television Dying?”

  1. m8rxgrl says:

    I think the television will absolutely be around for a while. The Doctor Horrible and the Emmys video you brought up was a great example of all the downfalls of watching TV online rather than on a television. Granted I do watch TV online on occasion but it is primarily only when I miss an episode of something as a result of a prior commitment. I would never choose watching an episode online over watching in on TV if I had the option.

    In response to Hulu, I think the draw to Hulu is that it is free, meaning that if they make it a subscription based service I think their numbers would drastically go down. You talked a little bit about cable, and how they intend also to make subscriptions available online. As I said with Hulu I think this would make numbers drop returning viewers to the television which they are most likely already paying cable for.

    My parents just got cable this year with the switch to DTV, as I’m sure many others have. Now my mom was always a fairly big television watcher, but after being introduced to cable and all of the news shows that are offered along with it, my dad’s almost a bigger TV watcher than my mom now! He has certain online video blogs that he looks and listens to because they are only available online, but as long as his shows are available on TV, like me (and I have a feeling the majority of the world), he would much prefer to watch it on actual TV. And with DVRs nowadays, commercials are really not a problem that the internet has solved. If it bothers you that much you can record it and watch it an hour later where you can fast-forward through the commercials; whereas many TV shows that you can watch from the company, such as ABC.com, has built in 30 second commercial breaks that are much more difficult to get around.