Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No more prime time?

So, I'm a bit behind The Times, but I just came across this article in the NY Times by Brian Stelter from May 12. He writes about how there 6 million fewer people watching prime time TV this year than last year (according to ratings from this year's "May sweeps"). The article goes on to attribute this not to the writer's strike, but to the increase in use of DVR's and streaming online video. I find this figure interesting now (2 months later) because it quantifies and demonstrates just how rapid this change in how people watch television. Stetler calls it "time-shifting" - a term used first (it appears) in a book by Rechtschaffen in 1997.

One consultant, quoted in this article says that the increasing amount of time-shifting will mean the end of the network's "lineup." Woah! That got me to thinking... what if the "lineup" did go away, or more importantly if the viewer created their OWN lineup? There is so much that goes into creating a "lineup" and so many things that a "lineup" says about a show and a network's confidence (or lack thereof) of how it will perform in its time slot. When a show shifts to Friday or Saturday night after having a Thursday night spot, that is usually a cue that the show is a season away from being cancelled.

Aside from all that this article does beg the question that I've been dealing with all summer - how is TV online going to affect TV? With 6 million viewers missing the writing is on the wall that networks need to sit up and pay attention to what is happening online. And, impressively, it appears that they have done just that. By offering their programming for free online through their network sites, hulu.com, etc. the networks have met the demand of their finicky and demanding audiences. We really can watch almost anything at almost anytime... as long as we have an Internet connection.

Despite my new found love for Hulu.com and my increasing tendency to watch online, it will not replace my television anytime soon. My TV is so lovely and so brainless. On a quiet Saturday at home I can turn on the Food Network and know that I'll be at least mildly entertained and I don't have to go searching or be hunched over a small screen and keyboard. I can simply lounge and watch. So, until they make it even easier than watching TV, I don't think I will be 100% converted and taken away from my TV set and cable box.

The minds who churn out this technology know this about me (well, maybe not me specifically, but audiences in general) and are making strides toward making online streaming and viewing as easy as sitting down on our favorite couch and watching mindlessly. With SlingBox, AppleTV, TiVo, DVR's, NetFlix on XBox, and many other advances we're getting closer to being able to surf our favorites shows online from the comfort of our couches and on our TV sets.

OnDemand channels and DVR's are the training wheels. The technology and capabilities are advancing quickly and it looks like only more change is around the corner as we get better quality videos on Hulu.com and advertisers seeing online video content as being nearly as important as broadcast content. The future is upon us, so sit back and enjoy the 15 second ads.

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