Following my semi-snarky review of ABC Playback in Crikey last week, journalist Melinda Houston thought I might have something valuable to say for her piece in Melbourne’s Sunday Age yesterday. Apparently I did, ‘cos my quote led the piece, and there was a slab of me later.
The article opened thusly:
“I SUSPECT many people who have had extremely successful careers in television are baffled by what’s happening now,” says former broadcaster and now new media consultant Stilgherrian (yes, just the single name — very 21st century). “They need to spend an afternoon with a bunch of 15-year-olds.”
The self-confessed uber-geek is one of a coterie of middle-aged men who have lost patience with traditional broadcasting. But if he was 15, or even 25, he’d be the norm. Rumours of the death of television may be exaggerated, but there’s no doubt it’s taken a hit.
It’s worth reading the entire article, because it’s a good summary of how the Internet is affecting TV, aimed at a mainstream audience. However I’ll quote my own bits here, just in case Fairfax decide to take it offline one day.
“Commercial television networks have an infrastructure built around the industry, and the world, operating in a certain way,” says Stilgherrian. “And it doesn’t work that way any more. They’re used to fixing viewers into a habit — 7.30 Sunday night, sit down and watch television.”
But teens and those in their 20s are used to the exact opposite. “The next generation — and I’m talking five years from now — will be astounded to think of television as a big box in a dedicated room, just as the idea of having to go to a particular part of the house to make a phone call now seems completely ridiculous,” Stilgherrian says. “Fast connections and portability mean that young people are very fluid in the way they use these technologies. They’ve never known a time when there wasn’t the internet. It’s like a time before cars or phones or electricity or running water.”
The broadcasters are largely relying on compelling content to counter this trend, but it’s a strategy with inbuilt flaws. “There’s no allowance for the fact that just because someone didn’t watch something at the time it was broadcast, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to watch it,” Stilgherrian says.
But it is impossible to measure — and therefore generate revenue from — the other ways things are watched. You can look at the number of downloads from a website, but where does it go from there? How many more times is it distributed? That’s when it gets tricky.
“Free-to-air television won’t die. Any more than radio died, or newspapers,” Stilgherrian says. “But it will have to evolve. The broadcast signal needs to become less important as a proportion of the total revenue mix. And there are people in these organisations who understand that. The question is, are they decision makers?”
Now, where can I get a hard-copy of the Sunday Age in Sydney…?