Monday, January 25, 2016

TV Convergence

I have been intrigued by the convergence in technologies that we use to watch episodic video-based media – what we used to call television.

I know most of you still call it television, but think about it.  Television is a box with the display. It grew up receiving broadcast signals over the air via an antenna. 

When we moved to cable and satellite, the delivery technology changed, giving us tons of capacity.  But the experience didn’t really change.  We still had to wait for a designated hour when the latest episode would be released.  On-demand promised new capabilities, but the cable companies were so worried about diluting ad revenue that they limited access.

VCRs gave us some time shifting capability, but things did not vastly change.  Mostly we used them for movies. For TV, it usually just gave us an opportunity to watch a show the next day or week.  DVDs were much more powerful.  We could store dozens of shows at a time. But still, not much changed.

The web started a greater shift.  You could go to, etc and watch shows even more on-demand. As bandwidth and display technology improved we started watching shows on our phones and tablets.  And we were not tethered to the living room any more. 

Then we got a whole new model.  Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon are creating their own content, not just making the network and cable shows available online.  Even though we could always binge watch using DVDs, that required a $20 purchase that we didn’t really need (and none of us use the public library!!).  Now, it has become equally acceptable to binge watch. 

Except that it isn’t really. Social media has created the first really fundamental change in the viewing experience.  Instead of watching a show, we socialize it.  We live Tweet it with the viewerverse.  We post about it with our friends on Facebook.  We use network chat services to discuss the show with other fans.  All in real time while watching the show. 

But I guess what comes around goes around.  In order for the socialization to work, we have to watch the episodes in real time.  Reading the posts, tweets, and chats after the fun has ended ruins the experience. It prevents you from contributing.  We lose our status as the prosumer (producer-consumer).

Of course, there are some of these in each of us.  I am more of the binge watching type because my schedule doesn't give me a chance to watch on schedule and I have little desire to socialize it. But some of you are probably socializers.  Some wait for the network schedule and watch with your family in the living room.  It's all good.

But why do we still call it “television”?