TV – Finding a New Stability

By Soyoon Bach


One of the topics that caught my attention right away was the idea of  how the media industries will make money with the rapid onset of digital media and other technologies. In the “On the Media” podcast from last week, the main issue discussed was the idea of “who’s gonna pay for this stuff?”

I want to specifically concentrate on television. In the podcast, they mentioned that the golden age of television may be coming to an end and that solely relying on advertising revenue is an unstable economic structure. I wholeheartedly agree. Digital media provides users with the ability to download and stream in ways that let’s them skip ads. Therefore, advertisers are having less and less of an incentive to pay large sums of money to place their ads in TV slots since barely anyone is even watching them.

Television networks started as almost monopolistic content providers. Before the arrival of outlets like cable and the Internet, only a handful of networks produced all the programs that were aired. Viewership was concentrated and viewing methods were limited. Therefore, advertisers were almost guaranteed an audience when they placed ads in television programs. However, newer technology has been creating smaller and smaller niche audiences. Cable networks, for example, created numerous more networks to divide up the audience and the Internet has even confiscated the network’s right to control when the audience can view the program since viewers can decide to watch their programs at times of their own convenience.

With illegal downloading and streaming running rampant, TV broadcasters have tried to use copyright laws to prevent losing revenue but that has proven futile. Although broadcasters did win a small victory when the court recently permitted an injunction against FilmOn X, a startup company that streams broadcasting content without paying royalty fees, copyright lawsuits will only stall the breakdown of the traditional ad-funded system.

I believe it is time for TV networks to construct an entirely different economic model. It could involve product placement rather than ad-placements in commercial breaks. That way, the advertising will be embedded in the content so that viewers can’t simply fast forward through it. The podcast also mentioned choices like subscription fees and crowd funding. Whatever the new economic model will be, it will need to fully embrace the capabilities of digital media and find ways to still earn revenue even with the presence of illegal content acquisition. Although copyright laws do make them illegal, I highly doubt that such illegal viewing would diminish in the foreseeable future.

The television industry could be depicted as a nonlinear ecology. As Manuel De Landa mentioned, in a nonlinear ecology, “the notion of a ‘fittest design’ will lose its meaning…since the criterion of ‘fitness’ itself changes with the dynamics” (14). Before digital media, the notion of the “fittest” broadcasters was who could get the most ad-sales because during that period of time, that was what was required for their survival. With the introduction of newer technologies, the idea that high ad-revenues could categorize you in the “fittest” group began to falter. Change happens all the time.

However, I’m concerned with the broadcasters’ views that this change is evil. De Landa emphasized that ecologies don’t “follow a straight line, as if everything pointed toward civilized societies as humanity’s ultimate goal” (16). Instead, they change to find a different state of stability and “once actualized…[coexist] and [interact] with one another” (16). Ad-funded broadcasting was not the ultimate goal of the TV industry and enforcing or revising copyright laws and other such gimmicks aren’t the answer to the problems they are facing today. We are simply changing, shifting towards a different form of stability. In the specific case of the TV industry, I don’t think we have found that stability yet. I believe we are in the transition stage. But I do think that once that stability has been achieved that people will begin to realize that ad-funding is not the ultimate, correct solution for TV economics. In fact, no solution is the ultimate, correct solution. Every solution only serves the purpose of satisfying the current need.

I think the biggest problem with arguments concerning the TV industry and its economic model is that many people argue it as right or wrong. Illegal content acquisition is wrong because it interferes with the traditional stream of revenue. While that economic model may have been fitting for that specific time period, we are no longer living in that time. The ecology has transformed and accordingly needs a different form of stability.

~ by sb3691 on September 11, 2013.

One Response to “TV – Finding a New Stability”

  1. post that made me think..

    I liked your take on the “nonlinear ecology” of the television industry. Its crazy how the dynamics of this ecology are in such a flux, with software and hardware advancements delivering content on an unprecedented scale.

    With regards to ads, the argument can be made that broadcasters would actually prefer online distribution methods as opposed to traditional tv, if only for the reason that you can’t forward ads on the internet. What I’m most interested in seeing is the shift in power away from the cable companies. Because companies like Google and Apple have the capabilities and are actively pursuing content distribution services, the cable companies themselves are in a bind. Google and Apple can negotiate directly with the networks for broadcasts. I think this shift in the dynamics of this ecology will be most harmful to the cable companies.

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