Some Thoughts On The Disruption Of Television

May 20th, 2013 | researchmaterial, thinking

From a recent story about Google Fiber entitled "Good news for Google Fiber: Broadcast TV audiences are cratering faster than ever":

Google Fiber and its ilk may be the final straw that will break the back of broadcast television. Once high-speed video downloading becomes widely available, instant access to VOD services will make them even more appealing…

…What makes this possible is the complete paralysis of the broadcast dinos. All the majors are frozen in terror, repeating old behavioral patterns that turned self-destructive years ago. NBC spent the annual defense budget of Mauritius to promote “Ready for Love,” a tired Bachelor clone. ABC is going to build its autumn slate on “Scandal”, “Revenge” and “Betrayal,” as well as a hasty spin-off of its fading “Once Upon a Time” franchise. ABC also handed Robin Williams a comeback vehicle. Sensing desperation, audiences are tuning out in disgust.

Not untrue, so far as it goes. And, without figures to hand so yeah pinch of salt, but I think the US network tv “hits” of last season, like REVOLUTION, would have been woeful cancellation fodder even four years ago.  I don’t know that the hit on Robin Williams is especially called for: the man’s a giant, but I haven’t seen the pilot of the show in question and I haven’t completely forgiven him for PATCH ADAMS.

I’m kind of curious as to how it apparently took Google Fiber, in this writer’s estimation, to make Netflix irresistible.  In the office here at home, I’ve got about 20 mbps down and Netflix fairly rips along.  Perhaps we’re talking about a higher resolution stream or something.

I think it’s worth admitting, now, that “television” has become one of those legacy words, like “phone,” that we use to point at a thing, without really fully describing it.  What do you mean, now, when you say “television”?  HOUSE OF CARDS and HEMLOCK GROVE?  HAUNTING MELISSA on the iPad?  Serialised (periodical) narrative?  Shot for a small screen?  Maybe.  It certainly doesn’t mean what it used to.

(And, obviously, I’m only talking about scripted tv there.  You could make an argument that “pure” television is presentational, or “reality,” or documentary.)

The term is becoming protean. The scheduling of television has quickly become meaningless, and it’s hard to describe to kids of a certain culture how there was once a time when you had to watch tv shows when they were broadcast, in realtime, because you might never see them again.  Time was, the BBC wiped their own tapes.  Now a significant number of people watch most of their selected BBC output in a timeshifted manner through the iPlayer.

When Amazon start commissioning drama series to follow their comedy and kid’s slates, television is going to take a new turn.  Not only are Amazon in a position to take chances, but they have possibly the best analysis in the world of what people watch and will pay money for.  Just crunch down that DVD-box-set data by year and genre.  Amazon could actually own genre drama television within eighteen months if they chose to, either by Nate-Silvering those numbers or simply by creating five times as many productive relationships with important creators than anyone else can.

Cable, both basic and premium, have gotten their whacks in, but the full-on “disruption” of American tv by deep-pocketed internet business is going to be really interesting, not least for what disrupts them.

Developing/not fully baked.


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  1. You can find Warren on Twitter: @warrenellis