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Current Trends Within Television Industry And The Beginning Of Post Television Era

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Throughout this paper, I will be weighting up the argument of whether or not we have entered the times of the post television era; supported by academic literature, viewing figures and studies. I will discuss the revolution of new, lightweight personal technologies which are used in association with subscription streaming sites such Netflix and Amazon Prime; arguing the increased in these on-demand and subscription services and platforms is a direct result of new technologies and our current neoliberal society and attitude of expectation, consumption and dissemination; founding the discussion of whether or not we have shifted into a new Post-Television era. I will also identify the attractions of these sites to the audiences and implications of younger demographics choosing to cut the cord on broadcast television, alternatively relying solely on the Internet. I will also discuss current trends within the Film and Television industry and how these trends are tailored towards a post-television era; using specific case studies sourced from social media and commenting on the continued success of Netflix and the impact it has on traditional broadcasters such as the BBC.

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As cord-cutters grow in numbers, cancelling their traditional cable and satellite services, the outlook for traditional TV is going from bad to worse. For most of its history, in most places where it is available, television has been a national medium. Too expensive to be taken on by an individual or private company, its projected benefits at the outset closely connected to the public good, television broadcasting was introduced by governments for specific national, cultural or developmental policy objectives and addressed to the citizenry of a single nation-state, who were promised more or less universal access. Ultimately, TV has escaped the confines of the domestic space. Recent studies of transnational and global television suggest that the connection between television and the nation is becoming more attenuated. Screens are getting smaller and videos are getting shorter. With globalizing industries such as Amazon Prime, Netflix HBO and social media creating content that contradicts the fundamental component of Televisions original character. Once the founding medium of mass communication and social activity, it’s now been mutualized into a highly personal and privatized medium that can be accessed on any electronic device, anywhere; meaning the days of the nation viewing Strictly Come Dancing or Call The Midwife together are numbered – BBC’s Director General Tony Hall. In a recent speech, where he discusses the future of the BBC and their plans to transform iplayer from a catch-up service into a streaming service. Posing the question of are we already in the post- television era or just inevitably heading towards it? As the General Director of the most historic public funded broadcaster in the world is making preparations for an internet only world. Changes in communication technology, changes in computer storage, changes in interfaces, changes in the size and shape and price of devices. Does anyone think these changes are going to stop? Or even slow? The questions answer themselves. The Big Shift is already upon us, and we have got to run with it.

Traditional Broadcasters such as the BBC are forced to compete with global giants such as Netflix in terms of viewership figures and business; and of course however, 80% of UK households subscribed to at least one subscription-video-on-demand service; statistics which raise the question of whether traditional Television has lived its course and now it is time to embrace and encourage the post-television ear.

Television scholar, Raymond Williams discusses the process, anxieties and impact on other mediums of news and entertainment that the invention of TV had; along with the scientific and technical research behind technological innovation towards creating what he describes a “A modern word”. Williams goes on to describe in his paper Technology and Society (2003) how new technologies are discovered by an essentially internal process of research and development, which then sets the conditions for social change and progress. Although this statement is slightly outdated and intended to relate back to the development of the traditional Television; I argue that the same principles of technological development are present in today’s society in regard to the increased in on-demand and subscription streaming platforms. The world is continually modernizing; meaning societies, attitudes and audience’s needs, are also continually changing; and the need is a post-modern alternative to traditional TV. The invention of TV came about it had unforeseen consequences, not only on other entertainment and news media, which it reduced in visibility and importance, but also on some of the central process of family, cultural and social life.

Traditional TV is embedded in the post-modern era; however, I believe societies need for broadcast television could be over as the popularity of streaming services continues to “reduce its visibility and importance”. As new technologies are continually redeveloped, and we continue to build upon the scientific and technical research outlined by Williams, which was initially founded for the development of traditional TV; to use Williams phrasing, we are reentering the next stage of the “modern world” which encourages the popularity of streaming platforms and therefore pushes us towards the inevitable Post-modern era where cable TV is no longer required.

To help and weight up the argument of whether or not we have entered a post-television era, I have researched scholar John Hartley’s work; particularly where he comments (2003 Reading Television) on his belief that Television has a different function to play rather than simply entertaining the nation. Hartley goes on to discuss how through its history, TV has granted audiences access to an abundance of different cultures and backgrounds, being the main tool in accessing ‘high’ culture. Something audiences would not have been able to access through other mediums. Offering the popularity and mass access to formerly closed recourses such as opera, drama and music. Television has played an important role and is the original origin and symptoms of social ins. It is feared that without traditional TV then these ins will be ignored as audiences are overcome with selection. Deciding that they like comedies so will only watch comedies. Audiences have changed.

A corporation that I believe supports Hartley’s theory today and is at risk of falling victim in a post-television era is the BBC. Today most of the BBCs audiences continue to enjoy the BBC’s programmes and services in a traditional broadcast schedule. The majority will continue to do so for some time. But rapid technological changes driven, in particular, by the internet and mobile devices mean more and more people are choosing to consume content online. Bodyguard may have us all on the edge of our seats but for young British audiences, Netflix is now roughly the same size as Channel 4 and close to the size of BBC television and iPlayer together. Traditional broadcasters are aware of these changes with the BBC already producing content solely for its iPlayer service in a desperate bid to compete with global giants such as Netflix; which, offers quick and easy access to content at viewers ease. The BBC ambition is to fully and clearly understand their audiences across all their platforms. Enabling them to reflect and represent todays UK in all the content and services provided; reflecting the diversity of the nation accurately and effectively. I believe broadcasters such as the BBC offer a more local perspective on society addressing audiences as geographical masses, a slightly outdated approach for today neo-liberal society. An approach global giant such as Netflix cannot compete with given the scale of the company. However, I do believe that the BBC will need to resort to streaming this localized content onto their on-demand site iPlayer, as we enter the intruding post-modern era.

Ten years ago, when the App Store first launched, not a single member of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google were among the top 30 most valuable companies in the world. Fast forward ten years, that group of five has increased in value by about 3 trillion dollars. All but one is now ranked in the top 10 of the most valuable companies in the world. The appeal of subscription streaming platforms is based on its convenience and scientific research that was originally developed for traditional TV, such as the use of strategically placed signs which streaming services then developed into algorithms. Television by the 1980s became less of a socio-political thing and began to move towards becoming more of a commodity forum, embedded in systems of consumption, capital and commodification. Television began to focus texts around the use of semiotic practices creating a discourse of signification, which Fisk argues, following Williams, that TV was in fact entirely a commodity production which simply focused on semiotic practices, in particular the use of signs and language; audiences would view these signs and begin to relate back to their own personal lived experiences. A sign or representation, is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. These theories are important because they reveal the way in which signs communicate ideas, attitudes and beliefs to us. In the context of television, film, newspapers and other forms of media, semiology explains the way in which images are used to represent and relay information to the audience. This is an example of commodification. Television commodifies its audiences; not specifically through advertisements but more subtlety through the use of these signs, such as the way someone dresses in a soap opera. Audiences see an actress in a soap opera wearing the same jumper as them, or drinking from a mug that they have, and this becomes appealing; meaning television is the ideologic commodity forum. However, the textuality of the text means nothing without the audiences; and the reality is Millennials, and younger audiences are the ones setting up new households and therefore are the deciders of traditional televisions future, with many expressing a preference towards streaming sites; highlighting a generational divide opposing the stricter, traditional timetabled approach. As I stated earlier, the text is nothing without the audience, with texts being broadcast on traditional television simply not achieving the audiences that are required to reflect the reciprocation of the commodified desire of our society on each other like they once did.

Our current neoliberal society is selfish, obsessed with the idea of “self”, self-surveillance and self-representation. The idea of “self” is dominate, and this is reflected in the outcome that there is no “self” in the traditional broadcast era. Fiske (1990) underlines that people can’t be generalized into a “mass”, we all consume differently, and a ready product can be changed and used in our own way. When we buy a product, we make our own meaning to it- for instance, a simple woman’s bag can be decorated by the consumer, so that it can fit the needs and satisfy the person’s desires. This is why the producers of the commodity are the consumers, the final product is our needs and meanings and therefore we gain pleasure when consuming. Traditional broadcasting addresses their audiences in the masses, whereas subscription sites in the post-television era such as Netflix offers a unique, tailored and privatizes experience, prioritizing the “self” through their use of algorithms; addressing the audience individually. A sense of trust and understanding is built. More than 80 per cent of the TV shows and movies people watch on Netflix are discovered through the platform’s recommendation system. That means when you think you are choosing what to watch on Netflix you are basically choosing from a number of decisions made by an algorithm.

The WallStreet Journal discusses younger households’ choices to cut the cord with traditional TV services, relying on the Internet for their entertainment needs; offering conflicting characteristics to the television era. Providing the audience with the freedom of logging on whenever they want. Watching whatever they want, pausing and return to their chosen program whenever they feel appropriate. Contradicting traditional broadcasters stricter, timetabled approach. Fiske (1990) uses an example “People can, and do, tear their jeans” and we are not talking only to fit it into our daily round, but also to our uniqueness. I argue that it’s this sense of freedom and personalized individualism reliant on algorithms which is what’s so appealing for our contemporary, neoliberal society; where subscription as an identity and choice becomes very powerful and something analogue TV can’t compete with in today’s climate. Desire, Greed and choice and mapped into the Post-broadcast era; and I argue recent technological advancements now makes the historical and ideological social experience of consuming Television impossible, and forces society towards the Internet only era of post-television. Simply due to the abundance of option audiences are faced with.

Expanding upon the idea of neoliberal expectation, consumption and dissemination which have caused a direct trend in the way in which content is being produced due to the predominance over television by social, digital and network media. The popular demand for microdocumentaries is an example of how the Film and Television industry is adapting to our changing culture. By the word “culture” we refer to the social circulation of meanings, values and pleasures to the processes of forming social identities. ‘Popular’ is a more elusive term even than ‘culture’. One meaning of the word, is what is most popular is what appeals to the most people.

Every day brings new ways of producing, distributing and enjoying content. When audiences actively engage with TV weather it be broadcast or streaming, we are usually engaging with multiple smaller screens at the same time. A recent study found that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 (around the time smartphones began to dominate) to eight seconds today. Sociocultural factors such as this essentially mean that today’s audiences would rather watch lots of shorter videos rather than one full length television program. This sudden interest in short films is a simply a direct relation to how we are consuming media and our obsession with social media on easily accessible devices. Young people are now spending up to nine hours a day on social platforms, while 30% of all time spent online is now allocated to social media interaction with 60% of social media time spent is facilitated by a mobile device.

Our attention spans are getting worse and while we are spending more time-consuming content on the web, were not actually spending any more time focusing on particular pictures, articles or videos but simply scrolling through a vast sea of content. Watching a 30-minute documentary on your laptop feels like watching a 60-minute doc on your flat screen. The reliance of self-publishing is the main reason for this current tread. Anybody with a camera and internet access now has the ability to become a creator to some degree, meaning that there is such a vast selection of self-published material online in particular social media. We live in a culture where subscription is powerful. Society desires self-broadcasted content and there is a huge demand for it; YouTube is the largest platform for self-broadcasters. With over 1.8 billion users. YouTube proudly boasts the tagline “Broadcast Yourself”, which I argue perfectly feeds our societies neoliberal entertainment needs as a forum of rebellion. Suggesting that we will no longer be broadcast to, instead we will broadcast ourselves and others will be consuming the broadcast away from the conventions of the broadcaster, with self-broadcast content being broadcast over the internet for free. I would suggest that with the abundance of self-published content free of charge combined with the personalized and convenient access to streaming sites such as Netflix; that TV has become a secondary forum of entertainment, embedded into the post-television era which liberates the traditional founding of television, yet also marks its death. 

09 March 2021

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