As other media continues to grow and expand, television is left in an interesting middle ground; it certainly isn’t going away, but its face is undeniably changing. It all starts with the introduction of new technologies that allow us to watch what we want, when we want to.
Part of TV’s staying power is about the culture centered around it. Watching a show was a special experience because it only aired at one particular time, and no one knew when he or she would be able to see it again. But DVDs and the Internet completely turned that notion on its head.
Now thanks to digital recordings, and the addition of services such as Netflix, Blockbuster and Hulu, you can view almost any episode, of any show, whenever you want, typically without commercials. Even brand new episodes are often released a day or two after their original airing on the network’s website. With this sort of freedom, for those of us accustomed to operating DVD players or surfing the Internet, who don’t mind watching our favorite shows on a computer screen, there’s not much keeping us on the couch.
This isn’t meant to imply that television is on its way out. Although the younger generations are more inclined to use computers or DVDs, the shared viewing, complete with commercial breaks to go to the bathroom or get snacks, will always bring a special cultural quality. Television has been around for decades and is embedded within the heart of our society. Even for the ever-important demographic of 18-25 year olds, their collective childhood, when they formed that comforting attachment to television, was largely devoid of these newer technologies.
And while the Gen Xers and Ys alike might be watching less television, it will be much harder to convince those who are 60 and older to move to other technologies. Televisions are simple in a way that the Internet will still take years to match. Watching TV shows through a website can require an account, a high-speed connection, and the configuration of numerous options and features. Conversely, televisions just need to be turned on and flipped to the right channel.
Eventually this simplicity, undying cultural love, and technology are all going to merge to create television that is better looking. It is already happening with Netflix and Blockbuster. Both DVD rental-by-mail companies have fairly extensive online libraries that allow subscribers to watch both movies and television shows on a computer with the click of a button. The push that Netflix is going for though is connecting a computer to a television, making it no different than ordering a DVD or watching the program on an actual TV channel.
Unfortunately, this connection is still being perfected. Running a cable from your desktop or laptop computer to a television requires the right kind of cable and a level of familiarity with both technologies to make them sync up. As the technologies advance though, it is the logical next step. Televisions are always looking more and more like larger, better versions of a computer screens. It is only a matter of time before watching Hulu through your TV will offer the same ease of use as tuning into your favorite broadcast channel.
But for the time being, television is safe, which believe it or not, is actually reinforced by all of this interest in other technologies. Because people are still bothering to find a way to watch the programming, it shows that what is being broadcast is worth people’s time, which is really the deciding factor. If there was nothing worth watching, then TV producers would really be in trouble.
Though as it is, a computer screen doesn’t really do justice compared to a steroid-injected television, especially when it is big enough to crowd a bunch of chairs around for all of your friends. On top of all this is the programming that people prefer to watch live, such as sporting events and the news. Although these can be streamed through the Internet, it is presented on TV in a much cleaner and easier format than online. And as much as people complain about commercials, they give us a chance to take a short break and critique the last scene, thereby bringing in that important social element that lies at the heart of this country’s love of television.