It's that time again. Every six months, or thereabouts, there's a bundle of news stories and opinion articles predicting the death of television. Much of the material is generated because of marketing efforts done by services that claim to free consumers from traditional TV – Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and others.
Also, about every six months, someone writes to me and declares that I write about an irrelevant medium. They proceed to tell me how they ditched their cable and watch TV shows and movies online. And then, with the same predictability that requires people looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend online to declare that they enjoy "long walks and live theatre," the same people tell me they get more exercise and read more books. The gist, smugly declared, is that television is dead.
It isn't. There is a mess of confusion about the future. But it is mainly about how TV content will be delivered. Yesterday, this newspaper ran a much-read piece about the pros and cons of abandoning traditional TV. "Five reasons you should give up TV bills – plus five reasons you shouldn't" was an interesting read. But it was really about having "no TV provider" – it wasn't about a life without TV content.
Right now, with such online services as YouTube and Hulu holding "upfront" presentations to advertisers in New York, the chatter about the end of TV rises noisily again. Much of the chatter is absurdly out of touch with the realities of human nature, technology and consumerism. TV isn't dead or dying, and here's why.
One: Most people are angry about cable TV fees and a lack of choice in what they want to watch. They're motivated by fiscal prudence, not fear of TV or hatred of TV.
Two: The main concern of people who abandon cable TV is continuing access to TV shows they want to watch. Downloading an episode of HBO's Girls, because it's the most talked-about TV show of the moment, is not a signal that TV is dead. It actually means that TV is thriving.
Three: Sports. Ditch your TV and you miss the communal experience of watching major sports events. Try watching many sports events on your computer and you're either a) paying a fortune for it or b) wishing you were watching on a big HDTV set.
Four: YouTube, Hulu and AOL can have all the upfronts they want, presenting original content. For a start, we can't access Hulu in Canada and we won't until copyright issues are sorted out. The point of the upfronts is to tell advertisers that new measurement technology allows an outfit such as Hulu to tell how many eyeballs watch their ads. It's about forcing viewers to watch advertising. If there's one thing that puts people off traditional, network-model TV, it's the ads. You cannot – repeat, cannot – avoid the ads while watching these online services.
Five: Nobody knows what to watch or download online unless the content is on TV first.
Six: In Canada, apart from the CBC, most television is now controlled by cable/satellite/phone companies. What they want is for you to watch TV content through a multitude of platforms. That doesn't mean TV is dead. It means the traditional TV set, hooked to your cable or satellite provider, is in a precarious position. But what most consumers watch on a tablet or smartphone, is still TV content. That is, what I review and write about for you.
Seven: It's a myth that a generation which has grown up with easy access to TV content on computers will never accept the traditional TV model. Considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that getting a big ol' TV set is a rite of growing up. It comes with the first real job and first home.
Lastly, people, the future of television is in on-demand. That means on-demand on the box in your house: a TV/computer hybrid or your laptop or tablet. And what people demand is TV content. What's on YouTube is what you watch while taking a break from work or chores. It's not the equivalent of television content.
Go ahead, give your cable company heck. Cut the cord. You are still looking to watch Game of Thrones or Big Bang Theory. Netflix has one, not the other. And they're both TV shows and always will be. The death of television is not something to put your money on.