Whither TV?

August 29, 2006

Very interesting programme on BBC Radio 4 on Monday (28th August Front Row Special from the Edinburgh Television Festival – you can listen to it again on the website for a week).

One of the discussions touched a nerve with me, being about how a humble audience member such as myself finds “content” in the new convergent digital world. That is to say, when TV is dead and all content is in digital huge repositories (a la YouTube) accessed via the Internet, how do I find something worth watching? And what will broadcasters, like the BBC, do when there is no more broadcasting.

The answer seems to be that “brands” might form, still providing a form of “channel” that might provide content that you like. For example, I suppose BBC2 might become an internet channel linking to content produced by all sorts of people (not dissimilar to the post-Birtian arrangements that exist now I suppose), but likely to be of interest to a BBC2 type of person.

I guess this would still need to be organised in various ways by themes (natural world, current affairs, science, music, and so on) and chronologically (fresh stuff at the top), because a consumer could still drown in one channel’s worth of content as much as in a whole world of it. Indeed, there might well still be an argument for a default “broadcast” strand selected by editors of the channel for those people that can’t/won’t/don’t want to go searching for things they might be more interested in.

This is a fascinating subject though, and it will be very interesting to see how it plays out if convergence continues, although I dare say it will be over a much longer period than anyone expects. How much consumer choice can we put up with? If we have to make our own channels before we can watch them, will we be bothered? And how will we discover new stuff, stuff we didn’t know we were interested in, if all our channels are customised to stuff we already like? Amazon-esque “people who watched this nugget also enjoyed these…”?

How easy will it be just to switch on the telly and watch some good programming? (How easy is it now!)

And how will the production be paid for? The programme mentioned some stars by name (Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand) who may be able to produce their own shows and publish them, as they already do with podcasts, but the case was made some TV/video (drama let’s say) is still very expensive to make and that few people would be able to fund it themselves. In that case, would subscription services, advertising, or both fill the gap. And if that cash is spread too thinly, will production values (continue to) decline?

More is not necessarily better. Could not the digital TV revolution, as it arguably has with music, give us much more to choose from, most of which is not worth having? Discuss.
And another thing. TV (and radio before it) has proved a tremedously powerful social aggregator. What happens when you turn up at work/school on a Monday and say “Did you see…?” and everyone always says “No”? But perhaps this is one of the ways we will choose our content, sharing “playlists” as people do now with digital music.

I suppose it’s these sorts of problems that people like Robert Scoble are trying to address at new media companies such as Podtech (although I guess we could all end up with evenings like this), and good luck to them.

It’s a brave new world. Now, where did I put my video iPod?

Update: Seems like someone is already working on the idea.

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