Wednesday, April 11, 2012

C is for cookie: that's how I watch TV

When I was a kid, I watched the "boob tube", not YouTube. Cross-legged on the floor, glued to the TV set, I had no idea what a cathode-ray tube was, let alone that "Flickr" would come to mean anything other than an annoying behaviour of said tube. As I sat there, watching Sesame Street, I didn't think outside the "idiot box". My world view? "C is for cookie: that's good enough for me."

Today, I don't even own a television set.

Don't get me wrong. I watch TV—on my laptop, across the Internet.

The move from traditional media is accelerating. More and more people are looking to the Internet for information and entertainment, getting content from a wide range of online services. Although many previous TV viewers are watching online video, how many of them do so via the television screen? TV viewers are switching off in record numbers. Some even argue that television will be the first traditional media medium to fall.[1]

This really begs two questions:
  1. What is television?
  2. Has the World Wide Web killed television?
What is television?

In the broadest sense, television consists of
  • an image source
  • a sound source
  • a display device
  • a means of turning electrical signals into sound waves

By this definition, the World Wide Web hasn't killed television at all: it's reinvented it.

Has the World Wide Web killed the TV star?

The answer is both "Yes" and "No." The death of broadcast television coincides with the birth of original Web content.

People still want information and entertainment, but they resent that TV is merely a distribution service offering only a very limited set of choices, rigidly delineated into pre-set timeslots. Television viewers want a much more convenient and flexible way to get that news and entertainment. They want to be able to watch whatever they want, whenever they want.

Most people these days can and do watch TV shows online instead of waiting for their set timeslot.

There has to be a better way

Digital convergence refers to using a single device to access any type of information or entertainment you want. It implies profound changes to the conventional boundaries between different mass media.[2]

Convergence of online content and the TV screen as an easy-to-use display device for that content began in 2007, when Sony announced Internet-enabled television sets. In 2008, set-top boxes from Netflix and Apple started to bring digital content to the TV screen. Today, the Nintendo Wii and similar game consoles, as well as the Internet, deliver personalized content.

Online download and streaming threaten televised broadcasts. The number of shows available presents yet another advantage of watching TV over the Internet. Viewers can access individual episodes of nearly every major TV series online. This convenience, availability and ease of use challenge conventional analog and digital TV.[3]

From networks to the 'Net

Networks today spend less creating content, switching to reality TV and other genres that are relatively inexpensive to create and that, often, have low production value. This causes even more viewers to switch off and log on.

The Internet turns distribution methods on their ear and allows content creators to market online, without needing TV as a conduit and financial backer. Production companies, not networks, create many of the shows produced for TV, and some—the smart ones—produce exclusive online content.

Enter Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, born out of the frustration and long days spent on the picket line during the Writers Guild of America strike.

Joss Whedon's 40-minute "Web miniseries" is a prime example of a movement among screenwriters to harness the Internet's marketing and distribution power for their own creative ends, sidestepping major studios and networks in doing so. Available as a free streaming option on the Web or paid download via Apple's iTunes, "Dr. Horrible" was a big hit when it debuted in July 2008. Three years later, it still has a strong cult following, thus proving screenwriter Aaron Mendelsohn's assertion that "there is a new way of financing professionally produced content that does not pass through the traditional (studio) gatekeepers and mediators."[4]


There's no shortage of enthusiasm for the possibilities of Web content, whether major TV series or original shows.

Although sitting around a screen watching current affairs or entertainment programming won't change, content delivery via broadcast television has changed. A lot. In fact, I think it will inevitably fall. I may get a TV one day, but, like my laptop does now, the set I choose will deliver digital, on-demand, custom content over the Internet.

Yes, C is for cookie, only, this time, I need to remember to clear cookies from my browser at the end of the programming day.

  1. Television will be the first traditional media medium to fall. The Inquisitr.
  2. Allen, Ian. e-Media Part 1: The decline of television.
  3. Pendlelton, Michelle. The slow and steady decline of television. Amazines.
  4. Littleton, Cynthia. Screenwriters strike back. Variety (18 Jul 2008).

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