Friday, July 31

TV wasteland

Remember when there were only three networks, PBS and later FOX. Where there was only half an hour of news? Families would fight over which show to watch because there was only one set and you arranged your schedule around what was on that night. Ah yes the good ole days. Not anymore.

Three things came along to ruin the network hold on the viewing public. The Federal Communications Act, cable and the internet. Cable, of course, meant you had 50 channels (hundreds now). From CNN news 24/7 to MTV and the invention of the music video to HBO where you could watch movies-uncut- in the privacy of your own living room.

Then FCC - long the guardian of public interest and protection -decided to do away with limited ownership of media and the fairness doctrine where you had to offer two side of any issue. Multimedia companies gobbled up competition until today all TV, radio and print media is in the hands of about five multinational corporations. The fairness doctrine gave rise to conservative talk radio and removing the last remaining vestige of objectivity from reporting.

The internet was the most dramatic and unforeseen phenomenon to change television. Now you could watch any show anytime, anywhere. How could the big four possibly compete with that?

Now that more and more people watch cable there is a demand for original programming instead of endless reruns of network shows. That demand is making FX, AMC, HBO and other channels worthy competitors for the networks in ratings and quality. One only has to look at the growing number of Emmy nominations to see the challenge to broadcast networks (ironically most of these channels are owned by the big four). Digital TV will further erode the broadcast hold as people switch to cable.

As technology changes the way we digest media so it changes society which in turn changes the technology. Some may insist that television is it still a vast wasteland but it is an increasingly diverse wasteland. What’s next? Stay tuned.

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