Once made accessible, television has been a centerpiece of American life. Simply owning a television set once meant that one had reached the proverbial American middle class. But now, the end of television seems imminent and where America turns its attention is significant.
In recent years, many have looked back nostalgically on the days where there were fewer television stations. It was not so long ago when viewers were surprised to find that there were enough options to reach into the triple digits. When the number of stations reached into the hundreds it seemed to many that the options had become more of a burden than an upgrade.
High-definition stations further complicated the leisure activity. When high definition was still considered a luxury, it doubled the number of stations to allow those who declined to pay to still watch standard, and then became a way for many service providers to incentivise package upgrades.
This concept of buying television packages became increasingly popular as more niche channels were created. Instead of ESPN, one could subscribe to a sports package and get whole channels devoted to golf, baseball, football or hockey, but all for an added price. As television became more personalized, it also became more expensive.
It is no surprise that online content providers were able to so quickly steal the attention of a large portion of the nation. Netflix — which was not long ago a company that would mail a customer rented DVD’s — has made television even more personal than the service providers but for a smaller price tag.
In the past six years, hours of “traditional television” being watched by college-aged students has dropped substantially. Whereas one was watching 26.78 hours per week on average in 2011, the average time spent watching TV now is 14.52 hours a week, according to Marketing Charts.
Although more personalization and convenience have been gained with the development of alternate forms of entertainment aside from television, there are some reasons to worry.For example, as cable is attracting fewer and fewer viewers, advertisers are looking elsewhere. Internet and online service providers have drawn the viewers away from television, and advertisers have followed.
“Time on Instagram — owned by Facebook — can replace time on television; Facebook is trying to turn its News Feed into a social television feed; Google owns YouTube, which not only substitutes directly for television on music videos, highlights and more, but also has its own cable-bundle lookalikes,” wrote Derek Thompson for The Atlantic.
It was not long ago that there were not advertisements before YouTube videos, but now they are to be expected. Advertisements on Facebook have become less recognizable and are often disguised as other user’s content. These are two such examples of the changing landscape of advertising which has arrived in-light of the increasing internet market. When advertisers compete as they are, viewers should be weary.
Netflix has annexed their content behind a subscription wall to keep advertisers out. YouTube Red offers a similar service, but one should not regard these as permanent arrangements. If the end of television means the end of the television commercial, there will be new and innovative approaches used by advertisers to get at consumers. As viewers become more willing to pay to escape these advertisements, advertising strategies will become more subtle and pervasive.
A second possible reason to lament the end of television is that it was once a unifying force among Americans but no longer serves that role.
As cable packages became more personalizable and more channels were created, there was less of a chance that Americans around the country were watching the same thing. Just as sports stations were able to attract specific fans, news stations with particular political leanings were able to silo viewers into separate groups, and supplanted the vitality of the once essential six o’clock evening news.
Political scientist Charles Murray has suggested the decline of television and the increasingly personalized content viewing habits in America has left the nation without a unifying mass popular culture which was once imported into every living room daily, despite any differences in income, geographic location or ethnic group.
The positive side of the end of television is that it has created a market for viewer-funded content. Subscription sites like Patreon allow for users to become patrons for the content they want, which allows more creativity and freedom from content creators. Many YouTube channels are funded in this way, and it has given producers more accountability to their audiences but most viewers are still reluctant to fund specific content creators so the efficacy of crowd-sourced content still remains in question.
As television becomes obsolete, where America seeks its entertainment will be significant. While there will unlikely ever be another Walter Cronkite, all should hold new internet content providers to an equally high standard. While these online services have excelled in the realm of entertainment, it is yet to be seen where Americans will settle to get their news.