Thursday, February 23, 2012

There is Nothing on TV

Last weekend, I had a very interesting conversation with a number of folks over canned beer, sitting in a hot tub overlooking Lake Tahoe.

Someone made a sweeping statement about the end of broadcast television and that in a few years everything would be online. YouTube would be our new ABC, NBC and CBS, and almost everyone agreed. I thought this to be ludicrous and the conversation took off.

The main issue the others had was that the lack of choice we have today with traditional TV will push people to a specialized, personalized media experience. They were saying that technology will enable an on-demand media engagement: connection to scheduled entertainment would go the way of mini-disk and Eight Track.

The main issue I had was the value of intellectual property and the investment it takes to generate serial quality material. For example you aren't going to get a show like "Modern Family" or "House" out of a group of buddies uploading to YouTube. There are just too many moving parts that cost too much money. And even if you can demand it, without content your demands go unanswered.

And after much back and forth and long after our hands became pruney these two points came out:
My Point: Without a significant investment in the product, the entertainment, educational, or news value of the product will not live up to the standards of the consumer; this is especially true of my chums in the hot tub.

Their Point The old advertisement business model no longer will work as technology advances and those who create must change the way they do business in order to survive; without a change of distribution, taste makers, like my chums in the hot tub, will no longer consume mass media.
These issues are not diametrically opposed, but both are at the core of consumer media's future.

This conversation isn't anything new but as technology makes TV less dominant, it becomes more pressing. However, the quality content question has never been more important.

A friend of mine, someone who often calls himself a socialist and believer the "people," went to work for a newer media company a number of years ago. He no longer works there for a number of reasons. He said of the advancing media paradigm and mass consumption:
“I was a populist going into [it] in 2007, psyched that we'd be democratizing the media. When you say, 'WE’LL PUT YOUR NEWS STORY ON TV, ESPECIALLY IF IT DOESN'T GET MAINSTREAM PRESS;' that’s a great idea on paper, but who comes? Anti-George Bush, Conspiracy Theorists, Pot People. The lumpenproletariat should not be making mass culture, because when they do it turns into Fox News (without the production value).”
In his point my buddy, who saw all this in action, illustrates that there is a need for quality control, for production value and for mass appeal. While the news is often entirely too narrow in its scope, entertainment must appeal to a wide array of the population to work: there must be lots of people watching to make it valuable and therefore sustainable for future creation of similar programing for consumption.

And all of that said, most mass media consumers are not the people who were sitting in that hot tub. They are not people with the disposable income to hit the slopes for two days or in a position to be studying for GMAT which is what we collectively had done that Saturday. That is why we were in the hot tub, we were relaxing from such a tough day.

The beauty of TV is that you sit down, you put it on, and you zone out. It makes it possible to relax after a truly tough day; it provides escape and easy entertainment. And for those who say that is universally bad, you are wrong. Like anything else, in moderation, simple and mind-numbing entertainment is good and perhaps even important.

Rarely there is a fantastic program that is popular, lucrative and critically acclaimed...but if it does exist, it is still easy to zone out. TV is a completely passive activity. The Internet takes work to enjoy. You need to know where to look and it takes time to cull through the crap, which is even more prevalent on the web than it is on TV.

But in the end, the conversation was cut short because we were all out of beer. We are committed to continuing the conversation at the beach house this summer.

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