Saturday, May 8, 2010

Is Television More Powerful Than Ever?

I remember well the Michael Crichton address to the National Press Club in which he predicted the death of television as a result of the Internet. This was the mid-nineties and indeed, the Internet was coming on strong.

I've quoted Crichton's prediction on numerous occasions over the years, only to discover through enough recent observations that I was wrong. It wasn't long before my Twitter involvement (aka ennyman3) revealed to me that the things most tweeted about are usually streaming from television sets around the country, almost always the main networks. Sport, politics, reality television and the seemingly eternal Justin Bieber... All of it originates on what used to be The Tube, but is now more often than not a flat panel.

According to a "A Special Report on Television" in this week's The Economist (May 1st-7th), television is far from dead. The average person still spends more than three hours a day in front of the tube.

The special report has articles on various aspects of television in 2010. One article is about the problems of bringing TV programs to the Internet. Another discusses piracy issues, the television equivalent of Napster. A third shows how 3-D will emerge as a powerful new app for television, via sports. Another article takes time to assess the future of interactive TV.

The article that especially caught my eye was the one dealing with how people really watch television. One researcher spent 100,000 hours videotaping viewers to analyze their behavior and learned that most do not fast forward through commercials, and even though many say they are watching more TV online, they really aren't doing it as much as they say. In fact, most are more couch potato than they care to admit.

One of the articles here credited George Gilder for prophesying the demise of television in ten years, purportedly in 1990. Yet I remember the Crichton statement on NPR during a lunch hour listen circa 1995. Guess they were both wrong, eh?

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