Television on the road to nowhere

Television on the road to nowhere

Posted October 26th, 2011 by debritz

I know the broadcast media is having a tough time at the moment, but some of it is due to a complete lack of foresight and a head-in-the-sand attitude.

It's well known to readers of this blog that I love radio, so it may not come as a surprise when I say that I think radio is more future-proof than broadcast television.

Why? Because radio is still largely about the creation of content; there are real, live people talking to you, devising and organising program elements (interviews, songs, comedy bits) to entertain and/or inform you.

Meanwhile, television is often just about broadcasting shows that have been made by somebody else - sometimes quite a long time ago. There are exceptions, such as news and current affairs programs, but they are very much in the minority in the schedule.

Radio can also react immediately to its audience's needs, to trends and to breaking news, in a way television still cannot. A radio show can change direction midstream as dictated by events, or simply on a whim. Television has to overcome many more technical and physical obstacles.

Given that it relies heavily on "bought-in" programs, television, especially free-to-air television, is going to have to adapt very quickly, or it will die.

Increasingly, TV stations simply act as "middlemen", trying to second-guess what kind of programs the audience wants to watch and when they want to watch them. There was a time when TV programmers made those decisions for us - variety shows on a Saturday night, movies on a Sunday, sport on weekend afternoons, news at 6pm nightly - and we had no choice but to go with the flow.

The VCR changed that, meaning we could record shows and watch them at our convenience. Now, with almost everything digitised and available on the internet (legally or illegally), each one of us can make personal programming decisions.

Television as we know it may play a role in introducing us to new material but if we're hooked on a particular show, we won't be waiting for them to decide when and how often to screen it, we will download it ourselves. Thousands of people are already doing this, and as their numbers grow, legal attempts to stop them will be increasingly ineffective.

It's a small world, and we're not going to wait weeks, months or years to see programs that have already been screened on free-to-air television in their home markets. (The second series of the popular UK drama series Downton Abbey is an example of something Australian viewers will have to wait too long to see on FTA TV.)

It's only a matter of time before content producers demand that their contracts with broadcasters are redrawn to also allow one or both parties to sell the shows directly to the public via download.

Producers and broadcasters who try to defy the tide of the torrent clearly haven't been paying attention to what happened in the music industry. When Apple gave people the option to download songs at a reasonable price, many of them did so - thus ensuring that the creators of the product got some compensation from people who were previously taking a free ride thanks to technology.

The challenge for the TV networks is to make production their core business, not just something they have to do (for example, to meet Australian content
requirements). Make great shows that people want to watch, and the future is assured, whatever the method of delivery happens to be.

Trying to make a buck simply buying product and screening it at leisure after stuffing it with advertisements (sometimes cutting the show to make way for them) is a certain road to ruin.