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Ed Driscoll

Life After Television

April 8th, 2013 - 3:15 pm

The little Roku box is a giant killer.

Last year, when I made a big upgrade to my home theater cabinet by installing a new large LCD TV, a Blu-Ray player, and a Roku box, I also installed a four-port gigabit Ethernet hub in the bottom of the cabinet. A decade ago, I had a hardwired LAN outlet installed behind the cabinet in an effort to future-proof my media room and home office. Which worked out well, as the DirecTV receiver that I installed there a few years later needs Ethernet to play YouTube videos, among other things. The Blu-Ray player needs Ethernet so that it can play the MP3 files on my computer through my big home theater speakers (among other things). The Roku box needs Ethernet to pump out everything else.

It occurred to me while I was wiring all this new gear up, that I was basically building a large deconstructed personal computer, designed to be interacted with via remote control while lying back in a comfy chair* as opposed to sitting upright in a swivel chair typing into a keyboard.

In 1990, George Gilder wrote a book titled Life After Television, in which he noted:

Data is rapidly approaching a level of 50 percent of the bits in a telephone network and already comprises 20 percent of the profits. Data income is growing six times as fast as voice income. As the telephone network becomes a computer network, it will have to change, root and branch. All the assumptions of telephony will have to give way to radically different assumptions. Telephony will die.

* * * * *

Television faces a similar problem. It is a broadcast system that assumes all human beings are essentially alike and at any one time can be satisfied with a set of some 40 or 50 channels moving up to 500. In Europe and Asia, 500 channels may seem wretched excess. But compare this array to some 14,000 magazines and a yearly output of some 55,000 trade books published in the U.S. alone.

* * * * *

TV defies the most obvious fact about its customers — their prodigal and efflorescent diversity. People perform scores of thousands of different jobs; pursue multifarious hobbies; read hundreds of thousands of different publications. TV ignores the reality that people are not inherently couch potatoes; given a chance, they talk back and interact. People have little in common except their prurient interests and morbid fears and anxieties. Necessarily aiming its fare at this lowest-common-denominator target, television gets worse and worse every year.

Nearly a quarter century later, Gilder’s predictions of television’s impending doom are starting to sound rather more plausible — including to those inside the industry. For the past decade, as more and more computer-savvy adults began to eschew the 6:00 PM news, the notion that television’s demographics were beginning to get more and more gray was tacitly reflected in the medium’s advertising. (Super Beta Prostate, indeed.) As Brian Anderson of City Journal told me in 2005:

Writing in the New Yorker recently, the media critic Ken Auletta pointed out something I hadn’t noticed: the commercials on the Big Three network newscasts are frequently hawking drugs like Viagra and Mylanta, and the broadcasts themselves often focus on health issues. There’s a reason for that emphasis on infirmity: the average age of a network news watcher is now 60; only about 8 percent of viewership is between 18 and 34. Ten years ago, 60 percent of adult Americans regularly tuned in to one of the network newscasts. Now it’s only about one in three.

But increasingly, those in the industry are becoming more verbal regarding their legacy media status, as we’ll explore right after the page break. (Which helps pay for our own sponsors.)

“Broadcasters worry about ‘Zero TV’ homes,” Yahoo notes today, via this AP article:

Some people have had it with TV. They’ve had enough of the 100-plus channel universe. They don’t like timing their lives around network show schedules. They’re tired of $100-plus monthly bills.

A growing number of them have stopped paying for cable and satellite TV service, and don’t even use an antenna to get free signals over the air. These people are watching shows and movies on the Internet, sometimes via cellphone connections. Last month, the Nielsen Co. started labeling people in this group “Zero TV” households, because they fall outside the traditional definition of a TV home. There are 5 million of these residences in the U.S., up from 2 million in 2007.

Winning back the Zero TV crowd will be one of the many issues broadcasters discuss at their national meeting, called the NAB Show, taking place this week in Las Vegas.

While show creators and networks make money from this group’s viewing habits through deals with online video providers and from advertising on their own websites and apps, broadcasters only get paid when they relay such programming in traditional ways. Unless broadcasters can adapt to modern platforms, their revenue from Zero TV viewers will be zero.

“Getting broadcast programing on all the gizmos and gadgets — like tablets, the backseats of cars, and laptops — is hugely important,” says Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters.

Of course, there’s another reason why millions don’t like TV. Just don’t expect it to be addressed by the big three networks, Time-Warner-CNN-HBO, AP or Yahoo anytime soon.

On the flipside, the Yahoo article also begs the question that Rob Long asks from time to time at Ricochet: Why do those who want to have their information as customized, individualized and as forward thinking as possible vote en masse for a guy offering 1945 smokestack-era “solutions” to healthcare and retirement?

* I purchased the plush Naugahyde chairs now in my den for a song in the spring of 2011. I bought them used from the giant Borders Bookstore in San Jose as it was shuttering its doors, during a period in which the computer was also rendering the idea of books published on dead tree increasingly anathema.

Update:  “Leaked memo: ESPN manager encourages employees working Brazilian X Games to lie on timesheets,” the Daily Caller reports:

A high-ranking ESPN operations manager has urged staff at the upcoming Brazilian X Games to lie on their timesheets and underreport the number of hours they work, according to an emailed memo obtained by the sports blog Deadspin.

“Financially, things are extremely difficult,” the manager, Severn Sandt, said in the memo. “Please help me to keep your part of the budget in line.”

Wow. If ABC-Disney-owned ESPN is complaining of expense account padding, things really are tough, in sharp contradistinction to old media’s glory days.

More: “As Emeril would say: BAM! The Canadians are doing it. 8% of the Canadian population are [cable TV] ‘cord cutters.’”

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I do NOT believe that quote of "5 million zero TV households" at all. I would put that number MUCH higher because most people who dont have a job or are hurting for money will cut TV first because it is a HUGE expense for the ten dollar an hour crowd.

Think about that, you work for $10 and hour and you have to fork over more than 1/4 of your monthly income for broadcast programing????

NOT

DVD's and streaming will keep most kids entertained nowadays and if you told them they either had to give up TV or their cell phones what do you think they will pick?

I kissed off the ever-rising cost of TV 2 years ago and feel good with all the MONEY THAT I SAVED!!!!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We just went Zero TV and it wasn't because of the money. As a cable subscriber I was supporting cable channels like MSNBC and CNN, organizations that hate and despise me and my beliefs and who are trying to bring about the transformation of our country into socialism. And I'm paying money to these people? It had to stop.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I cancelled my cable years ago, for a number of reasons:

- Excess commercials. "Hour long" programs were rapidly approaching the 40 minute mark.

- Uninteresting programming. I have no use for so-called "reality" shows, remakes, reboots, etc. Nor do I much care for "professional" sports (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one).

- Political programming. More and more often, producers were including blatant political posturing in the storylines of their programs. I (used to) watch television to be entertained, not preached at.

- Unreliable "news". Much has already been written on the fact that the so-called "news" has become little more than the propaganda office of the Liberals. Feh.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (40)
All Comments   (40)
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98% of EVERYTHING is crap.
Finding that 2% is the challenge.
Truth be told this is a Golden Age of TV programming. But only for that 2%. The problem lays in sorting out the gems from the detritus. And you still have to pay for the detritus. And work around IT's schedule.
The sad thing is that the easiest choice is to just dump the lot and do without. Those who do produce worthwhile content will move on to other venues where it might be easier to access them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I wrote about how I happily went Zero-TV last year on G+. Here's a link on my approach, which not only includes smart/fast WIFIing a Roku using an old router, but also getting sports via over-the-air broadcasts:

http://bit.ly/dean-cuts-the-cable-cord

Your mileage may vary.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
George Gilder wrote, "People have little in common except their prurient interests and morbid fears and anxieties. Necessarily aiming its fare at this lowest-common-denominator target, television gets worse and worse every year."

YouTube supplies the "lowest-common-denominator" material now. Free prurient material is available elsewhere on the Web.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We have seven kids and are avid TV lovers, but we recently dropped our cable coverage (saving $800 a year) because we simply were not using the service, not watching TV on TV. We get everything from Netflix (including instant play), and shows that stream over the internet.

We still have a land line phone but aren't sure why. All we get are recorded urgent messages about our credit cards!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
C.R., what's a "phone"?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Rusty,
I don't like anyone to indoctrinate my thinking.Its whats wrong with Obama&his czars that want to warp us.Sad part is whats not heard on tv,is learned by what young people hear at public schools.Is why its got to be overhauled completely.Liz
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I snowbird here from the European Continent and used to look forward to the vast choice of TV channels; this time round, the TV's black eye stares at me reproachfully because I haven't sat down in its embrace since I got here. Okay, I admit, every now and then I light the wick but as soon as I see the contorted face of that erudite presenter of the 'no spin zone' or of the tosser with the tingle up his leg, I switch off. Mind you, talking heads are no sporadic phenomenon in Europe either and, regrettably, that now includes Auntie Beeb in her Estuary English.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Since around 1990 when our TV's picture tube ceased, we have gone without TV (via TV set or computer device) at home. There wasn't and isn't enough true, useful content to balance out the escalating moral and factual degradation of TV programs. It's a special, or maybe unhinged, person who would pay to be lied to and corrupted in his own house.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As soon as I can find a way to watch the Detroit Red Wings, Lions, and Tigers on the internet for less than it would cost me to keep cable, I'll drop TV. Otherwise, I'd rather just watch movies (older ones).

As for the rest of the TV shows - the one wag in the 60's called it a vast wasteland. He was right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If the TV exec wants to find the source of all their problems they should take a good hard look in the mirror. They are creating programs for themselves, not the vast majority of their audience-most of whom find both the 'worlds' that their shows take place and the propaganda they try to push offensive. They are the ones who have made us turn off, tune out and drop out. I have said for years that if someone wanted to make some real money in broadcasting they would create a network with 'red state' people, places and values.

For decades the broadcast/cable networks broadcast shows that did entertain and inform. All that started to change in the late 1990's. Now the Histroy Channel has no history related shows, the only thing you will Discover on the Discovery channel are 'reality' shows or endless shows on Sharks, the only thing you will lear about on TLC is all about trailer trash toddlers, MTV/VH1 are chock full of the likes of Snooki (why do I even have to know who that skank is?) the last thing you will find on the Weather Channel is weather-it is either storm chaser shows or NBC propaganda thinly masked as being 'weather related'. National Geographic channel has become little more than the Global Warming propaganda channel, etc. I dumped my cable TV years ago because I go tired of paying over $100/month to for nothing I wanted to watch.

The broadcast networks do have a few good programs on(Body of Proof, The Neighbors are a few examples) but for the most part they are either 'reality shows', shows with a very thinly veiled political agenda (Scandal is the poster child for that) or shows with nihilistic plastic people who live in either L.A. or NYC who spout the typical leftist/liberal/Democrat propaganda in their scripts. I would not talk to or care about people such as this in real life, I am certainly not going to be 'inviting' them into my home via TV.

All news outlets on both broadcast and cable TV are little more than propaganda. I find out more real news in 30 minutes on the Internet than I would in waching them.

My sister put it best this weekend when we were watching a show produced by ITV (UK TV network) called 'Doc Martin'. She said these are shows about people and situations you can actually believe exist (or existed) who are being played by actors who LOOK like real people not Barbie and Ken-they don't have perfect skin, perfect hair and glow in the dark fake teeth, they aren't all metrosexual males or plastic women in size 0 idesigner clothes and stilletos-they look like real human beings. The programs are well written and entertaining plus they are not trying to work in the latest lefty Obamapropaganda in every single episode.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Have you seen Vikings on history Channel? an actual DRAMA based on history, great show, but why bother with cable? Hulu has it up on Monday morning! And, Why is it that I don't mind Hulu commercials? I can Customise them, a relevant ad is much better than a Geritol ad,
Bob
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Vikings are not exactly my cup of 'historical tea' but I do agree about Hulu. I have watched excellent programs on Pompeii, Life and Death in Ancient Egypt and the Voyager space probes on the BBC over the last couple of weeks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've pretty much had it with cable. 200 channels and nothing worth watching. Endless commercials, insipid "reality" shows and the constant drumbeat of leftist propaganda. Who needs it?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It appears that a Blind Squirel fond an acorn back around '92.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAlDbP4tdqc
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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