Television. Is it really enough anymore?

By Alex Kersten

In an age of the obese, violence obsessed and the iPad, it seems that television will no longer satisfy the needs of today’s ever-evolving society. With web television now offering such a vast array of specialist subjects, spending a daily average of five hours in front of the box just isn’t doing it for us anymore. So where are consumers turning to, to get their much needed fix?

For those with an interest in any given subject, the internet has precisely what the customer is after. The amount of people doing hard time in jail proves this point rather uncomfortably. With videos of violence, pornography and terrorism posted every second, it seems that the internet has no limits. It seems also that internet programmes have society well and truly in their grip, especially the younger, more malleable generations. According to a survey by YouGov, over half of 18 to 24 year-olds watch series online, compared with 12 per cent of those over 55. More than one-third of 18 to 24 year-olds also say they expect to watch more online TV in the future.

‘James Kennedy, of YouGov’s Media Consulting team, likens the growth of online TV to the way the music industry was ‘revolutionised’ through the advent of sites that allowed users to download tracks for free’ (www.bluhalo.com).

Why has web television become so popular?

The reason for its rapid growth lies in the fact that the viewer can pick and choose what he or she wants to watch. In terms of content, this can now be customized to suit the viewer’s needs, whereas television does not have this option. As Morgan states, ‘Going by the recent survey of recent TV audience trends, Smith is right that if your interest is in say, saving the bat, and somebody has a bat watch protection site with video clips and information, then you will watch it’ Similarly, ‘Any one of you who has clicked on the news pages and homepages of servers to get a news update would agree that you have already done away with someone directing you as to what to watch and that you now choose your own reports to open or run, according to your interests’ (Morgan, 2008: 161).

YouTube is undoubtedly a big contributor to internet television growth. The average user will spend an average of 15 minutes on the site daily; nothing compared to the five or so hours sat in front of the box, you might say, but the company is fast closing the gap with television, offering full length movies and music videos to keep users ensnared. The site already boasts 7,000 hours of full length movies and shows and more impressively, more video is uploaded to YouTube in 60 days than the entire corpus of video created by U.S television networks in 60 years; things are starting to look slightly different now, I’m sure you’ll agree. Other tactics used by the company to ensure users stay with the site is the method of what it calls ‘Disco’, which matches the users’ personal tastes to related videos. It is reported that people with this option watch three times as many videos as those who do not. And it really does work. I can vouch for this, as I’m sure so can you. Every time I’m on the site, I’m quite literally bombarded with video suggestions for rocket science and astro-physics. OK, cars, police chases and music videos.

Ever since that fateful day, five years ago, when two friends shot a short clip and uploaded it onto the now world famous YouTube, have more and more video websites been popping up. And this doesn’t only apply to amateur films, news and clips, but also to well-made short series on any subject imaginable. The motoring world, for example, has moved from print to internet, television to web TV. Fifth Gear, Web TV, is a good example of this. As well as airing on our television screens, the car programme also features a web-based series to fill in the gaps. The episodes are typically much shorter, perhaps only a few minutes, and production costs aren’t as high, but what they do is quench the thirst of avid followers. Autocar and Evo magazine too dabble in this new technology, to put a more personal and entertaining spin on many a story.

It is episodes like the ones mentioned above which are really highlighting the success of online television. Typically, web television would have been comedic in nature due to it ‘being the genre most easily expressed and digested in the common short episode times featured. Unlike its mainstream broadcast counterpart, the web-based television series is historically noted for its low production values, most shows starting out in a YouTube sort of fashion or featured on independent websites’ (www.articlesbase.com).

What impact has internet television had on the development of video technology?

Witth the advance in streaming capabilities, recent years have seen an impressive increase of ‘on demand’ video services and specific internet TV channels. ‘This development has been intensified in recent years , where the quality of streaming video signals is getting better and approaching the quality levels known from traditional TV services’  (Küng, Picard, Towse, 2008:57).

It is now that the internet is becoming a competing infrastructure for TV services, whereas it would have been terrestrial, satellite and cable networks that dominated the field. ‘A number of broadband providers simply copy the business model from multi-channel platforms … and offer services in different package’ (Küng, Picard, Towse, 2008:57).

With the digital age in full swing, coupled with the internet, it seems that the death of traditional programming is imminent. Or is it? 

According to Alex Graham, Chief Executive, Wall to Wall TV: ‘Every time there is a new technology, people predict the death of the old one, but movies didn’t kill off the newspapers, television didn’t kill off the cinema, video didn’t kill off television and nor did DVDs, and the internet will not kill off television networks either’ (Morgan, 2008: 163). 

A very valid point you may think, but let’s not forget why traditional television is with us, i.e. advertising. Without it, we’d be stuck with only the BBC. So if the growth of internet television is such, advertisers will digress from the traditional and instead opt for the modern, won’t they? As Hughes comments: ‘We appear to be moving into a world where everything is provided for free. The premise is based on advertisers being there to support things. But if the audiences do move off to Bebo or YouTube then that is going to make it difficult if the revenue follows them.’ (Morgan, 2008: 162). In the past television has provided the perfect platform from which to advertise. Recently, however, the advent of multi platform outlets has meant that advertisers have become unsure of which way to turn to ensure the highest audience is reached. 

As time passes, it is becoming clear that the once distinct lines between television and the internet are becoming blurred. There are many ways to watch content on television, but increasingly, more television to be watched on the internet. Increasingly too, television is advertising the internet, with a big push in online television becoming more and more evident. BBC iPlayer, which is constantly championed on TV, is a good example of this, allowing consumers to watch any programme, any time, any place, as long as an internet connection is available, of course. The phrase ‘making the unmissable unmissable’ springs to mind. Even on sites like MSN, online programmes are advertised. 

The theory of convergence 

The convergence theory too plays a part in the rise of web programmes. ‘There is a theory in high technology called the isoquantic shift which refers to a significant technological advancement that dramatically changes the way people do things and completely reorientates people’s concepts of how things are done’ (Küng, Picard, Towse, 2008: 36- John Skully speaking at National Association of Broadcasters Conference, 1993). 

Convergence can only occur as a result of a combination of developments in the broader industrial environment. As computers become more advanced and prices drop with time, ‘the cost of participation in the global networked electronic platforms is falling dramatically… it is feasible to extend digitalisation of information beyond data to include voice, video and audio forms of content’ (Küng, Picard, Towse, 2008: 37). As this happens, the benefits of computing increase, which in turn increase the amount of people who will participate in this new media.

Another reason why television alone simply won’t do anymore lies in its lack of interactivity. Okay, we now have a big red button to play around with, but I’m not even sure what it’ll do. Nine times out of ten I reckon it’ll just switch my TV off or trigger my car alarm. What internet based programmes offer is the ability to comment, rate, like, or review a particular programme. Think back to the last time you watched Eastenders and thought it was complete and utter rubbish. If this were purely internet based, we’d be able to vent our anger publicly and create a revolution. Perhaps not, but at least our voices wouldn’t go completely unheard.

Internet connection too plays a massive role in the evolution of internet television. If we take a quick trip back to the beginning of the 20th Century and the introduction of the motion picture, it’s interesting to note the length of a typical film. Because technology was scarce, films were very short and limited. In the same way, the internet connection has meant that programmes have had to follow suit. As broadband has been worming its way into people’s houses, streaming has become as easy as sitting in front of the box. No longer do we have to wait for programmes to load, which makes us impatient. As internet connections evolve, so too will the length of online programmes.

As time passes and budgets for online programmes are increased thanks to advertising and demand, what will become of the average living room? Although the internet does offer such a vast vault of subject programmes, it’ll take more than that to fade out the television, especially in England. If we’re not talking about the weather, immigration or how much fuel costs, it’ll be one of three things: Eastenders, Corrie, or Emmerdale. As good or as bad as these programmes may or may not be, they give people a common topic to talk about when conversation about the weather has been exhausted. Without it, the country would grind to a halt and no one would ever mutter a pointless word again.

Television. Is it really enough anymore?

It’s fair to say that for the time being, neither normal TV nor internet TV can solely satisfy consumer needs. Where web TV gives access to any conceivable subject, the fact that it is still a relatively new media platform means that it is not advanced enough to suit the needs of the average viewer. Programmes are much shorter, typically less well made due in part to advertising, and demand that they are watched at a desk instead of in a comfortable leather recliner with fish and chips on your lap. Although TV does offer a certain comfort factor of kicking back and relaxing, what it lacks is the interactivity and unadulterated choice that the internet so effortlessly gives. What TV also lacks is a certain freedom from media regulation. As Doyle puts it: ‘Broadcasting, film and the press are subject to a variety of rules and laws that deal with societal values such as standards of decency, protection of minors and minorities, privacy and so on, including censorship, libel and pornography laws’ (Doyle, 2002) With the internet, however, such rules need not apply. Take pornography for example. The internet is littered with websites allowing anyone of any age to watch it- as the saying goes, sex sells. The ease with which a video or programme can be uploaded onto the web means that media regulation doesn’t get a look in. Bad for protecting society and those at risk, but good for those who seek something risqué, if not illegal.

It is fair to say, however, as connections, downloads and streaming become more advanced, the impressive qualities of television as we know it will become a thing of the past and internet programming better, faster and easier to use. Whether or not society will embrace such a shift in media platforms waits to be seen. For now at least sitting in front of the box with a laptop at hand sounds like a fair compromise.

I’m off now for a spot of Eastenders and ‘motorbike vs. police car’ on YouTube

 

References

1)      Doyle, G (2002) Media Ownership: Concentration, Convergence and Public Policy, London: Sage

2)      Morgan, V (2008) Practicing Video journalism, Oxon: Routledge

3)      Küng, L, Picard, R, Towse, R (2008) The Internet and the Mass Media, London: Sage

Internet Resources

1)      http://www.bluhalo.com/news/view/7874/young-adults-flock-to-online-tv  17th May10

2)     http://www.articlesbase.com/domain-names-articles/rise-of-webbased-television-825050.html 19th May 10

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