Ask many high school and college-age kids today how often they watch television and, unless they are a sports fanatic, they are likely to say very little. To them, television refers to the device that receives and converts electronic signals into moving images or watching specific shows on networks when they are broadcast. However, given the enormous change in television today, the definition has broadened – or should – to cover any way shows are broadcast or displayed on a distant screen through transmitted signals.
Yes, kids – Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, live streaming from a network, and mobile apps like HBO Go and Watch ABC count as watching “television.” The broadened definition really shows how we really partake of shows now – on our schedule, where we want.
Not too long ago, you needed to remember when your favorite show aired and either be home to watch it or, starting around 1980, video-taped it. The idea of knowing the airtime of a television show hasn’t completely disappeared, but viewers are not dependent on it.
Here are some huge changes that have been made in recent years to the television:
Changes in Viewing Habits
For most people, watching a favorite show now can be done when they want on their choice of device, depending on the subscription service, cable or satellite company. (10-15 percent still do get their shows over traditional broadcast means.) Some weekend days, I catch up on several shows that aired during the week.
Binge viewing first started when television season DVDs emerged. Now, with DVRs and streaming services, binge viewing has become commonplace. Netflix recognized the viewer preference for binge viewing when it all the episodes for a given season of House of Cards and Orange is the New Black at once to facilitate it. Fans don’t have patience for serials that air little by little.
Television has only been around 75 years. For a while, the viewing experience was everyone gathering around the set as a family to catch The Ed Sullivan Show or the final episode of MASH. Now, viewing programs in more individual – family members in different rooms or watching devices with headsets.
Changes in Screens
There are two big ways the physical devices (and their screens) have changed in recent years:
- The first is size. If you are using a traditional television set, odds are it is bigger in diameter and thinner overall than the ones you were using 10-15 years ago. In 2004, the average TV set had a 27-inch screen diameter. By 2011, flat panels began to dominate and the average screen size was 37 inches. Some predict the average will hit 60 inches next year.
- Then, there are iPads, iPhones and all the other mobile devices that are frequently used to watch shows today. Basically, with the new TVs that are Internet ready and mobile devices, they have all become glass-covered Internet viewing devices that allow watching from the den couch or local McDonald’s (most have WiFi).
Changes in “Networks”
The television broadcast networks used to refer to ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. Then cable added an infinite supply of new networks. Nowadays, you have various YouTube channels/networks, Netflix serving up content and so many other non-traditional options. Expect more players to get into the original content game. it looks like the future will be anyone who wants to having a “network.”
Actually, the idea of networks was really for sales and distribution purposes. But, the old idea of channels is clearly an outdated way to organize television programming. Luckily, the experience of browsing TV is still rapidly improving.
Changes in Content
Here is the one area that has not “improved.” Creativity and originality is lacking on many broadcast media. Reality shows took over the airwaves and encouraged interactivity with viewers (voting by Twitter, online or phone). Many of the heralded shows in recent years (Homeland and House of Cards) were actually remakes. Dancing with the Stars and American Idol are looking tired, so are many other long running shows. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good shows on traditional television (Scandal, Big Bang Theory and The Good Wife) just not enough.
Hopefully, the viewing options and storytelling will evolve and offer fresh content, perhaps gears to particularly environments. For example, a series of short vignettes that are designed and shot for airing on mobile devices. For many years, cable has had the best content (HBO, Showtime and AMC!). Downton Abbey got people to watch PBS again. But, Netflix hopefully launched a missile over the networks’ bow that will improve the offerings for the 2014-2015 television season!