The Future of TV
TV critics and bloggers weigh in on were they see TV headed.
April 17, 2014 | The Future | Print #3
This article originally appeared in full in our 3rd print issue, The Future. To purchase a copy, click here.
Television has been a constant throughout my life. The event in the past that changed how I consume television in the present can be summed up in one word: Twitter. With Twitter, I discovered hordes of fans that revelled in and enjoyed the same shows I did. This was a great novelty, as not many people around me in Moncton, New Brunswick enjoyed Smallville. Twitter brought me more than fellow fans-turned-friends, though. It also initiated me to the wonders of TV criticism. By following countless TV critics and bloggers, my appreciation of TV changed, as my eye was sharpened through the prism of recaps and reviews. When I started pondering the future of TV for this issue, I knew I couldn’t flesh it out on my own. The following TV critics and bloggers have greatly inspired my writing and my TV choices. Now, heed their wise words as they peek behind the curtain and reveal what they think the future of TV will look like.
I see TV going in two different directions. On the one hand, technology is advancing and letting us be more selective aboutI the quality and theme of what we watch. You can’t discount web series, as many (The Guild, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) are becoming incredibly popular for their content as well as easy-to-digest format. We’re also in early days with Netflix Originals. High-quality TV shows, sans commercials? Sign me up! They release a series like Hemlock Grove or Orange is the New Black in its entirety, meaning you can have a Netflix binge over the weekend and watch the whole season.That’s what people expect these days – flexibility and ease of access. Whoever is bringing it is going to get the most attention. Right now it’s Netflix. It’ll be interesting to see if they stay in the lead with viewer popularity.
Now, the other main direction that TV is going…. is a less encouraging path. Reality TV is spreading out its life-sucking tentacles further than ever before. These guilty pleasure TV shows are the equivalent of fatty junk food…and Americans are simply gorging on it. (I’ll confess: I’m drawn in by many a Bravo and HGTV show starring a preternaturally tan housewife or millionaire designer with a penchant for novelty pocket squares.) Reality TV lets people “hate watch” shows, fixing carelessly judgmental stares at everyone from naive bachelorette’s to aspiring models with amputated legs. Touted as a way to understand other walks of life, reality TV is less of a documentary and more of a way to breed a nation of cold voyeurs.
So, be accountable and self-aware when you’re deluged with more TV options in the future. Make sure your ratio of quality dramas and comedies is higher than that of reality TV. (But indulging in a caramel-coated hour of Texan celebutantes starting their own eyelash bling company now and then is fine…. in moderation.)
The future of television is as uncertain as any other media in our age of immense technological, cultural, and social change, but I believe that the actual form of television is more stable than some people realize. While we often speak of how the television form is evolving in light of serialization or premium cable, it’s still recognizable as television, whereas new forms of distribution have evolved much more dramatically. Even as we gain new ways to watch television, and as we continue to see more platforms through which we can access television content, the television form itself stands at a crossroads. Do these new modes of distribution lead to revolutionary forms of television, inspiring writers and creators to break down the bounds of broadcast and cable? So far, while the web has brought us web series (which may be shorter than an average television episode but maintain episodic structure of television), services like Netflix and Hulu serve mainly as a way to access the same TV we access through more traditional means. While it’s possible—though unlikely, in the short term—that broadcast will implode and cable will evolve and the entire industrial television landscape will change, the actual content feels like it will remain more familiar. We might be accessing television in ways that no one had ever imagined, but I’m not sure if the television we access will be quite so removed from our televisual past.
What can we take away from this little experiment? TV industry people, BE MORE LIKE NETFLIX. I tend to agree, and I’d like to add one more little thing. Like books, TV shows provide an escape from the drudgery of everyday life. That was true yesterday, today, and it will be true tomorrow. As long as we, humans, will need a fictional world and fictional characters to complete us; as long as we, humans, will need fellow fans to identify with and connect to; as long as we, humans, will need to zone out our troubles for a span… TV, in whatever way it will manifest itself, will be there for us.
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Gabby is an Acadian who’s missing the sea and splitting her time completing her Master of Social Work at UOttawa and watching TV. She also writes for Fantastic Fangirls & Heroine TV and tweets at @gloryisben.