John Hartley’s chapter ‘Less popular but more democratic?’ in Television Studies After TV, explains that television is in constant flux, and what constitutes television is diversifying. Technologically, Hartley says, “TV includes non-broadcast technologies (DVDs, TiVo, BitTorrent files), and it can be viewed on computers (YouTube) and mobile devices (phones, iPods) as well as via traditional TV sets, which have evolved to flat-screen technologies.” Hartley also suggests other changes in television: the mode of production, the domestic context, and the content and study of television.
Hartley makes the point that “because audience choice is increasingly fragmented across more channels and platforms, it is unlikely that any single TV show will ever again achieve the audience numbers of ‘I Love Lucy’s top-rating episode, or the series finale of M*A*S*H.” But Hartley still accepts TV as being possible to experience ‘live community’. “For instance … the telecast of Senator Obama’s acceptance speech in August 2008 reached 38.3 million viewers.”
During the Heyday of representational broadcasting, popular TV was regarded as democratic, both politically (it reached most people) and semiotically (it represented ordinary folk on screen)
But now, as Hartley posits, a new model is emerging, based on social networks, consumer-created content and multi-platform publication. It has transformed the medium from “‘read only’ to ‘read and write’, from network tv to social networks”.
Indeed, the role we play while watching TV has distinctly changed. We can be contributing to a livefeed of our thoughts about the Olympics, or asking actors questions on Facebook while we watch the newest Grey’s Anatomy. But what role does The News play in TV?
Since the beginning of television, the news has played a big part in scheduling: typically broadcast at a time when the working father would be home from work, and maybe dinner would be on the table with all eyes pointed at the screen. The six o’clock news. A ratings winner. Even in the 21st century, the nightly news can be guaranteed a spot at prime time, with other stations taking a 24 hour approach.
The news creates an identity for the whole television station it plays on, from the messages the slogans imply (eg, “See it first” and “News you can trust”), to the authority or simple likeable-ness of the presenter/s.
The ritual of watching the news is often an important one. Families tend to gather at around news time, taking it in together and discussing what has happened over the muted ad breaks. It is this ritual that will keep television alive and well. Nation-building, live events like the footy and the olympics will remain into the future, as will the social institution of watching The Gruen Transfer with your folks every Wednesday night. Maybe these ideas will change in the future… maybe we’ll be watching them on our portable screens on our watches, or interacting with our many multiscreens, viewing our favourite sports from every angle in each corner of the screen, zooming in and out with the touch of our fingertips, or maybe our voices!
The future of television is anyone’s guess. Maybe more niche markets, maybe features like i-view will be standard on all our ‘smart TVs’. Maybe we’ll be watching TV on our portable screens instead of listening to our iPods on the train. Maybe trains will come with built-in TVs.
Please feel free to comment your predictions! 🙂