Why TV Lost

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Via BoingBoing, the latest in a long line of predictions of the death of TV, this one from Paul Graham: Why TV Lost.

When I was a student, I worked as an iMac demonstrator in PC World for a while, and the manager would bore me with his opinions about the future of computers: convergence, he said.

Convergence has been a buzzword for a long time now. If you predict something often enough and for long enough, is it bound to come true? I’m sure there are millions of people who enjoy watching stuff on their computers. But I have a number of questions about this habit before I’ll be convinced that the 32-55″ flatscreen in the corner of your living room is going to be replaced by a 13-24″ computer screen.

I’m an old has-been, so the fact that I’ve never watched a whole TV show online – even using iPlayer – has no relevance, but what exactly is the average attention-grab of an online video? Aren’t the most popular videos on YouTube the 2-minute ones? Does anybody really click through and watch a whole show in 10-minute chunks? Does something count as a “viewing” on the YouTube stats, even if you only watch the first minute or so of it?

What’s the most comfortable and convenient way to watch a 44-minute TV show? Which system has the best sound? If 20 million people are watching TV at peak time, how many million are watching on the internet?

On the other hand, if the revenue stream of TV dries up, it dries up. If there’s no TV, then there’s no TV on the internet, except for the amateur stuff that users generate. If it costs a million dollars to make an hour of quality TV, where is that million coming from if nobody is watching? How many DVD box sets do you have to sell to break even? Questions like this are going to have people scratching their heads for years to come. And remember this: there are more older people alive than there are younger people. The baby boomers, the biggest generation in history, now getting into their 60s, are going to be with us for 20-30 years yet. Are they really going to give up the TV that they grew up with so easily?

Here’s Paul Graham’s take on what we were talking about today (audience and influence):

After decades of running an IV drip right into their audience, people in the entertainment business had understandably come to think of them as rather passive. They thought they'd be able to dictate the way shows reached audiences. But they underestimated the force of their desire to connect with one another.

Facebook killed TV. That is wildly oversimplified, of course, but probably as close to the truth as you can get in three words.

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