Ed Driscoll

Fracturing The Mass Media

In our piece on the Internet’s Long Tail for Tech Central Station, we quoted a pretty nifty line from Jeff Jarvis about Johnny Carson, who had then recently passed away:

Carson also represented the golden age of America’s shared experience in media. That era lasted about three decades, from the late ’50s to the late ’80s, when the three networks turned most cities into one-newspaper towns and we all watched the same thing. I don’t regret that era dying; it means we now have more choice and choice equals control. But it was a unique time in our culture, when popular culture became a common platform, a common touchstone for Americans. We all got Johnny’s jokes.

The launch today of OSM is but one of example of the continuing demassification of the media; In a post titled “The Revolution Is Upon Us” that links to an AOL article titled, “AOL Launching Online Video Of TV’s Favorite Oldies“, Hugh Hewitt explores another example that portends an even greater fracturing of mass culture:

At launch, the available shows will include:

Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Alice, Babylon 5, Beetlejuice, Chico and the Man, Dark Justice, Eight is Enough, F Troop, The F.B.I., Falcon Crest, Freakazoid, Freddy’s Nightmares, The Fugitive, Growing Pains, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Head of the Class, Histeria!, Kung Fu, La Femme Nikita, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Maverick, The New Adventures of Batman, Perfect Strangers, Pinky and the Brain, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Sisters, Spenser: For Hire, V, Welcome Back, Kotter, and Wonder Woman.

AOL expects to add more shows over time.

Hugh adds:

First, given that F Troop is perhaps the most politically incorrect show ever made, I am astonished that AOL is leading with this classic television series as it moves to compete directly with broadcast television.

Second, this is the sound of doom for the networks. Before long their audience will go the way of newspapers’ audiences –splintered far beyond their already shattered state as Americans simply call up whatever it is they want to see, whenever they want to see it.

Television in general, and televised sports are arguably the single biggest remaining aspects of mass media. As television continues to demassify (a process begun about 25 years ago with cable TV) and further splinters via video-on-demand and now web-based video-on-demand, the idea of New York and Hollywood dominating pop culture may begin to fade with a speed that will only grow expontentially.