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No signal for television

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Sean Black's picture

Does anyone actually watch television anymore? Hasn’t that television “thing” just become something you turn on for background noise while surfing the web? No and yes, respectively. Well, maybe with a few exceptions like Game of Thrones (that Purple Wedding though).

No signal
 
White noise: the past
 
Television has always had the same formula. Weekly episodes, with ad-breaks periodically and maddeningly breaking up the action. Bouquets of channels offered by providers at set costs; usually ridiculously priced and with hundreds of channels you honestly don’t give a shit about. Television is inherently mass market – viewers watch the same basic programming as everyone else, at the same time as everyone else – there is no individuation, no customisation, and no on-demand. The focus is on maximising audience, advertising, and profit while minimising cost. Why do you think so many game / reality shows exist? Because they are cheap to make.
 
Colour: the present
 
That is where Internet television (ITV) comes in. ITV comes in like the badass superhero to save you, the end user, from the commie television’s evil reign. ITV is niche; you pay for the content that you want, the content that is of interest to you. And you can rest assured that your content is readily available for your tailored, binge consumption, and not ‘be-there-or-be-square’, set for 22:00 Sunday night viewing. You get your content when you want it and how you want it. And that is what we, the audience, ostensibly wants; as Kevin Spacey so eloquently said.
 

 
Infomercials 
 
But is that a good thing? It sounds good on paper but what about the bubble-culture that ITV promotes? Think of it like this, you only want sport channels and premier serial channels. So you pay for those services on the Internet, you get those services, and you are happy. Watching Game of Thrones every week and keeping up with the latest scores online – what else could you hope for. Well, it’s the equivalent of putting blinders on. Becoming so focused on your chosen niche interests, you get cut off from other, potentially important issues (like breaking news). This is probably a crude example but you get the gist; we are essentially creating a neat bubble around ourselves, letting little-to-no other content through.
 
And what of the instant gratification culture that ITV is aiding? Again it seems great that we can, after a hard day of work, come home and put the latest movie release on. It is seemingly trivial to this generation because we have all experienced traditional television, but think of the next generation. ITV is the perfect nutrition for a generation weaned on instant gratification. In many ways these kinds of services are engendering an ethos that is focalised on self-fulfilment over communal good, breeding a class of worker that scorns routine labour and/or the patience to achieve an end goal. However that is arguably the nature (and pitfall) of all new media, today.
 
4K: the future
 
It would be remiss if I did not mention Google Fiber somewhere in this stream-of-consciousness blog post. As you probably know Fiber is Google’s well-publicised attempt at providing Gigabit Internet. What you may not know is they are also offering a bundle where a host of television channels are provided along with the Internet. Their tagline “The goodness of Internet and TV. Times 100.” says it all, right. When looking at what they offer the deal starts to look very attractive. Over 150 HD channels are offered to you, with innumerable (not really, I am too lazy to count them all) other channels, streamed directly to your TV, through your Gigabit Internet line.
 
 Cable companies
 
I would argue that this is the way forward. This kind of service, like that of Fiber, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Hulu, or DSTV CatchUp (from my native South Africa) breaks the monotonous cycle that traditional television breeds. It allows for innovative and refreshing content (see House of Cards), delivered right to your living room, and prevents you slipping into the bubble-culture routine.
 
Maybe then, when we see the more widespread use of this technology, television will become more than mere background noise, undergo a renaissance, and force its way back into socio-cultural relevance, circa 1940.


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