In the summer of 2009, conventional television saw perhaps the biggest sea-change in the industry since the advent of color in the 1950’s. Although smaller broadcasters still have until 2015, traditional analogue transmissions were replaced by digital feed, with much fanfare but few snares. Now, the general move towards digitization is manifesting in a less monolithic manner, but with more far-reaching implications. Indeed, the transition from real-time broadcast television will not only turn the industry on its head, but it will also alchemize content itself.
The Mad Scramble for Digital Broadcasting
Currently, “television-free” television is readily available for those who want it in a variety of ways. For example, New York City based Aereo Inc. began providing a streaming service for all broadcast TV via the web in 2012, and plans to expand to over 22 more U.S. markets in the near future—all this despite having faced a salvo of lawsuits from content providers.
While such one-stop-shopping of streamed content illustrates a possible model of next-level consumption, many consumers are already making the move through the use of stick or box streaming devices offered by Roku, Apple, and Google (not to mention the many folks who stream through their Xbox hardware). Indeed, even at this stage of the game, more people take in internet-based video content through their TVs than through computers.
Apple’s innovative gambit Apple TV is a good illustration of how the new model works. Using a set-up that costs less than $100, users can bounce web content from iOS mobile devices to a digital television. Google offers a very similar option with its Chromecast stick, which for a very attractive $35, can feed video content from YouTube, Netflix, and any Chrome browser through a computer or mobile device. Roku, Vudu, and Amazon Plus all do more or less the same, and all the above are decidedly user-friendly in both set-up and operation. However, given that this model comprises a number of streamers offering content from a myriad of content providers all vying to monetize their wares, consumers may need to take a crash course in home-networking to streamline it all into one place.
In the future, will ALL programming be on demand?
Image Courtesy of Lauren Lewis of Flickr.com
The New Medium is The Message?
While broadcasters parry over every scrap of media territory, it’s certain that the ongoing changes in consumption will also reverberate into the way programming is conceived. In fact, significant changes are already here, as demonstrated by wildly successful original programming from providers such as Hulu (The Awesomes) and Netflix (Orange Is the New Black; House of Cards).
House of Cards, Netflix’s maiden roll-out for its self-produced product, is a prime example of programming that bypasses traditional networks. HOC wasn’t just an independent series pitched to Netflix for distribution; it was cultivated by Netflix from its inception. Taking advantage of its estimable Big Data mine, Netflix predicted that a sizeable chunk of its subscribers would be more than eager to see a stateside remake of a British political saga starring Kevin Spacey—and the numbers were spot on. Traditional creatives may bemoan this kind of de facto authorship by committee, but given the sterling quality of the results, expect to see more algorithmic auteurism in the near future.
But data-driven concepts are only part of the equation. In part, because teleplay writers can increasingly bet that viewers will consume programming in their own time, rather than in weekly installments, we’re seeing a revolution in television long-form storytelling. Even though shows such as AMC’s Breaking Bad or HBO’s True Detective weren’t concocted specifically for streaming, their script density, sprawling through-lines, and richly evolving characters are best viewed in the sort of marathon doses after-broadcast streaming allows. In fact, True Detective is such a popular draw, it literally broke HBO’s HBO Go streaming service on the night of TD’s finale with an influx of streamers that Go’s network did not have the capacity to facilitate. At least HBO has the HBO Go service, which has seemingly become its premier and most valued platform. Streaming may have not caused the New Golden Age of Television, but it’s an ideal home for it.
In the end, the larger question may be whether culturally we want to give up the conventional time-specific programming schedule that grew out of analog television. On the one hand, only truly “live” events like news or awards ceremonies command a need for real-time broadcast, and there are no true obstacles to streaming such specialty items over the top (as demonstrated by Al-Jazeera). On the other, as suggested by media theorist Richard Dienst in his book Still Life in Real Time, many people consume TV programming in an unconsciously ritualistic way, with morning talk shows and evening dramas marking the day as surely as the sun. While the technology for a streaming-only world is here, it may simply be a matter of a lagging paradigm shift.
Camille McClane is a writer, researcher and editor. She particularly enjoys writing on anything tech, social media, entertainment or marketing-related. She is honored to be featured on ViralGains, and hopes you enjoy this article!