If you’ve ever gotten into a debate with someone about the future of television, you’ll often hear them get over excited and say “oh TV is dead. Just dead”. What does that actually mean? Television is such a multi-level thing. Are you talking about the cable service? The actual television programming you see? The physical device? Generally speaking, people are referring to the concept of coming home, sitting down, turning on the television, and watching a TV show. That has so many variables, and to say its “dead” is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is, television is evolving.
I won’t sit here and start to say that television as a concept is not declining. The number of people watching traditional television is definitely on the decline. According to the the 2014 CRTC report released last September, there was a 3.9% decline in the 18-34 category, an important category for television advertisers and programmers. There was a decline in cable TV subscriptions as well, showing a downward trend in traditional TV becoming an option for in-house use. This factor has accelerated even more in 2015, with our neighbour the U.S. experiencing TV declines of double digits; 12% in January 2015.
“The number of people watching traditional television is definitely on the decline.”
We all know why: streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Internet TV is a major component that has been in play for a few years now. The 2014 CRTC report showed an increase in weekly viewing from 1.3 hours in 2012 to 1.9 hours in 2013. Digital is for sure on the rise, and more people – especially in the younger age brackets of 18-35 – are opting out of traditional TV, and opting into options that allow them to consume media on multiple devices, allowing them to engage with their shows beyond the simple concept of “watching” them.
The question, however, is if TV is dying (or dead, according to some people)? No. It’s not.
From John Logie Baird’s mechanical system utilizing the Nipkow disk (a 1884 invention by German student Paul Julius Gottlieb Nipkow) to the early all-electronic television by Philo T. Farnsworth, the television has spent the last 80+ years evolving, and molding itself to the norms and expectations of the time. The original television was broadcast only specific hours of the day, with programs shown sometimes just once a week. Something new didn’t happen for years at a time, as inventors and engineers took the space they needed to refine new designs. As technology started to evolve, and consumerism took centre stage, the television was pushed into the system of mass production. What was once a luxury item, is now a commodity that can be purchased for any budget. With it, we must look at a bigger factor: Us. We as consumers walk into a Best Buy and complain about the amount of confusing choice we have, and that whatever we buy becomes obsolete a year later. This is, in part, our fault. We are a part of the commodity business model, and our need to buy is what drives constant innovation and change. That push is what brought us to the big question: where is TV headed?
“We must look at a bigger factor: Us.”
TV is certainly not dead, as consumers are still watching an average of 23 hours per week, with the 18-34 category still watching 15.3 hours per week. It is therefore not a discussion about television, which involves everything from the device to the service, but about content. The important thing to understand is that consumers are still watching TV, but they are changing the way they receive that content.
Let’s take an example that has already gone through major steps of evolution: storage. When was the last time you remember using a floppy disk? Who still has one? Many of us, myself included, used floppy disks as a means to store data. That evolved to CD’s and DVD’s, to portable hard drives, to USB’s, and now, cloud storage. The main activity here is storage. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the distribution model for storage. What was once a physical thing highly dependent on other physical devices, is now universally available anywhere in the world. That is the same with television.
What the discussion should focus around on is how people are getting access to their content. Piracy and bootlegging has been going on for many years because people have the need to consume content, and major barriers to that are accessibility, financial constraint, and sometimes no interest in “investing”. The physical use of television has evolved, to be frank and honest, very little. Sure, we invented fiber optic cables, better cable boxes, and stronger signals. From a consumer utility point of view, you still need to get a box that connects to your TV and you have to pay excessive amounts of money to watch content from a fixed location. It’s the same when we had TV antennas. It’s the same with the latest fiber optic programming. This is not a discussion about quality or superior programming. That has definitely changed. The utility, however, the benefit the consumer gets, has not changed one bit.
We know for a fact that the newer generations are working longer, are more mobile, are more picky on the content they see. We, however, also know that they enjoy the big screen experience. They enjoy movie night with families, and want a bigger screen experience to have a, um, experience. It’s why major gaming consoles are not hand held devices to carry around. They invented handheld devices as another way to enjoy the experience of gaming, but the core experience of gaming still remains on the big screen. It’s also why theatre productions are now being recorded to see in movie theatres, interviews and Q&A’s are broadcasted into cinemas, and people want to watch game competitions on the big screen. It’s how people get content to those big TV’s that is really going to make all the difference.
“What the discussion should focus around on is how people are getting access to their content.”
It took them a while, but cable companies are seeing the threat of the new age philosophy and the push for internet TV. They now understand the power companies like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have in a world saturated with content. People will pay for an experience. It’s why people still pay $200 for good concert tickets. However, people now will not compromise on things like time and accessibility. Cable companies like Bell, Shaw and Rogers are finally making a move with services like Shomi and CraveTV. They are restricted to their own customers for now, but they are moving towards an “everyone” model. Shomi is definitely on its way to doing that with the latest news that Rogers and Shaw will expand to any subscriber nation wide.
This change in consuming television content is going to bring important technological and operational fluxes in the next few years. There will be a rise in internet TV boxes such as Apple TV and Chromecast, which will have the ability to use different streaming apps for larger televisions. With that said, televisions themselves will continue to evolve their internal hardware, to a point where every TV will be internet ready out of the box. Cable television as a concept may or may not die, but the cable companies will surely adopt a more online model to not only capture viewers on traditional televisions, but continue to advance in the mobile space. Finally, the way content is created is certainly going to change. With shows like Daredevil, the new car show from the former Top Gear trio, and The Mindy Project going straight to streaming services, it is only time when we see major production studios cutting costs of dealing with too much red tape and opting for more direct to consumer options. We are already seeing a lot of that in Canada with shows like Between from Don Carmody Television.
“This change in consuming television content is going to bring important technological and operational fluxes in the next few years.”
It is amazing to see that we are at an important point in time where we will see the next evolution of television, the experience, and the content that goes with it. It certainly isn’t dead, and it will likely never die. As long as there are consumers who will immerse themselves in content, the infrastructure to bring that content isn’t going anywhere. It will just be different.
What is your opinion about the shifts we are seeing in the world of television? What do you think are some changes we are likely going to see in the coming months, years? Leave a comment below.
Daredevil Poster – Netflix Canada
Hamlet Poster – Cineplex Live Theatre
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond & James May Poster – Amazon Prime Video