Television as a medium is less than one hundred years old, yet in the sense of a broadcast over radio waves, it seems doomed as the rise of “streaming” sites takes over the role of providing the entertainment traditionally provided by broadcast television.
My first recollection of television was watching the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. I can’t say that I was particularly interested at the time, but I do remember that what seemed a large number of people (probably 20 or so, kids and adults) crowded on one side of the room while the television across the room showed its flickering images on its nine inch screen.
I remember when at a later date my father brought home our first television. It was a large brown cabinet with a tiny noticeably curved screen. When it was set up properly and working, it displayed a black and white image on a screen which was smaller than the screen of an iPad.
The scan lines on the screen were easily visible, and the stability of the circuits that generated the scan were unstable, so the picture would flicker and roll from top to bottom and tear from left to right. Then someone would have to jump up and twiddle some knobs on the rear of the set to adjust it back into stability, or near stability.
To start with many people did not have aerials on their roofs. For one thing, television was new, and secondly the aerials were huge. They were generally large constructions, either in an X shape or in a H shape several feet in length. Most people started with an internal aerial, the so-called “rabbit’s ear” aerials.
These were small, low down and generally didn’t work too well as they were nowhere near comparable to the wavelength of the transmitted signal. Nevertheless they enabled people to, in most cases, get some sort of a picture on their new televisions.
The trouble was that with a weak signal and unstable circuits, the person leaning over the television to tune it more often than not affected the circuits and signal. With the rest of the family yelling instructions and with a clear(-ish) picture on the screen, it only took the movement of the person tuning the set away from the set for the picture to be lost again.
Of course soon everyone had an aerial on the roof, and the aerials shrunk in size as television was moved to higher frequencies, and as the technology improved. The classic shape of a television receiver aerial consists of a bristly device, sometimes with smallish mesh reflector, one dipole and several reflectors and directors, which pretty obviously points towards a television broadcast station.
Many tower sprung up on the tops of convenient hills to provide the necessary coverage and it is a rare place these days when the terrain or other problems prevent the reception of a television signal. Even then, coverage could probably be obtained by usage of satellite technology.
However, after several decades of dominance the end of the broadcast network looks like it is in sight. The beginning of the end was probably signalled by the Video Cassette Recorder, which enabled people to record programs for viewing later. People were no longer tied to the schedule of a broadcaster, and if they wanted to watch something that was not on the schedule, they went to a store and hired it.
The video cassette stores appear to be going to have an even shorter lifetime than television itself. Of course most of them have switched to DVD as the medium but that doesn’t make a significant difference.
What does make a difference is the Internet. Most people are now connected to the Internet in one way or another, and that is where they are getting a major part of their entertainment, music, news, films, games, and also that is increasingly where they are getting their TV-style entertainment, what would otherwise be called “TV series”.
TV companies produce these popular series, an example of which would be “The Big Bang Theory”. This show has run for years and is still very popular on television, but it also available for download (legitimately) from one or more companies that are set up expressly for the purpose of providing these series online, on the Internet.
In countries at the end of the world, like here, it takes months or even years for the latest episodes to be broadcast here. If they ever are. So more and more people are downloading the episodes directly from the US, either legitimately or illegitimately.
This obviously hits at the revenues of the companies that make these costly shows, so, equally obviously they are trying to prevent this drain on their revenues. The trouble is that there is no simple way of ensuring that those who download these programs are paying for the service. If they are paying and the supplier is legitimate then presumably the supplier will be paying the show producers.
Once an episode is downloaded, then it is out of the control of the show’s producers. The recipient’s ethics determine if he will share it around to his friends or keep it to himself. If thousands of people (legitimately) download it, then presumably some of the less ethical will then share it on, and it soon becomes available everywhere for free.
It will at some stage reach a point where broadcasting a television program is no longer economic. The producers will have to primarily distribute their programs via the Internet and somehow limit or discourage the sharing of the programs around. That would mean the end of TV broadcasting as we know it.
We are not anywhere near that situation yet, and the program production companies will have to come up with a new economic model that allows them to make a profit on the shows without broadcasting them over radio waves. The more able companies will survive, although they may be considerably smaller. TV actors will only be able to demand much smaller salaries, and budgets will be tighter.
Another factor that the program production companies will have to take into account would be loss of advertising revenue. Losing advertisers can scuttle a television show, so this is not a minor factor.
Whatever happens in the long term, as I said above, a new economic model is necessary. I’ve no idea what this will look like, but I foresee the big shows moving to the Internet in a big way.
Broadcast TV will continue for some time, I think, as there are people who would resist moving away from it, but it is likely to be much reduced, with less new content and more reruns. It may be that the broadcast TV may be reduced to a shop window, with viewers seeing the previews and buying a series with a push of a button on their smart TVs.