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The Television Will Be Revolutionized: What’s Next For TV
July 18, 2013
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An untitled work of art by Keith Haring (Photo: Getty)

Homer Simpson once described television as his "teacher, mother, secret lover."

That was way back in 1994, a long time before streaming video, smartphones, apps, and the ability to watch pretty much whatever you want on demand.

Things have changed sharply in the media landscape since Homer declared his love for TV, but people still watch a lot of it - even if the way they're watching it is shifting.

Figuring out what TV will look like and how people will consume it a few years from now is a big challenge for the major players trying to do just that.

Here's a look at a few theories about what might be next on the box. Or what the box might be, next.

Original Programming, On Demand

future-of-tv-house-of-cards.jpgToday Netflix, the on-demand streaming service, received an Emmy nomination for Best Series for 'House of Cards', a Kevin Spacey-starring original drama.

It's the first time an online series has been nominated for the top award, CBC reports, and it's a bit of a milestone: critics are starting to take original content produced for on-demand services seriously.

And although Netflix doesn't release ratings, judging by the Twitter buzz around shows like 'House of Cards' and the new season of 'Arrested Development', it seems a lot of people are watching streaming shows, as well.

Back in April, Netflix released a strategy document describing their vision for the future of television, and top-quality original content was high on the list.

So was expanded bandwidth - basically, CEO Reed Hastings says, in the future a lot of the cable and fibre that's currently transmitting regular TV signals will be switched over to data transmission, letting people pick and choose what they watch and when.

More 'Sharknado'-Style Social Buzz, Along With More 'Scandal'-Style Strategy

future-of-tv-sharknado.jpgIf you didn't hear about the TV movie 'Sharknado', which was made for the SyFy network, well, you're probably not on social media.

Twitter and Facebook lit up with people talking about the movie, which was a fairly low-budget exercise in high-concept science-fiction silliness.

But despite all that buzz, the film didn't actually pull in very high ratings - only 1.4 million people, lower than some other ridiculous SyFy movies have managed in the past.

future-of-tv-scandal.jpgSometimes social media chatter actually does translate into larger audiences: the show 'Scandal' on ABC is one of the few network programs that actually grew its audience from its premiere in the fall to its spring finale, a ratings rise that's been attributed to the use of Twitter, GetGlue and other social media sites to engage its audience.

TV site Zap2It says one reason for the success of 'Scandal' is definitely social media: "To watch "Scandal" was to experience it, both onscreen and on Twitter, GetGlue, and other such outlets."

But it's also about great content. The show is so compelling, Zap2It says, that the audience "can't bear to wait any longer than necessary to consume more of it."

So the ultimate lesson seems to be: buzz is nice, but the content of what people are buzzing about has to be strong enough that people will tune in when your program is on.

Programming Decisions Guided By The Children

future-of-tv-kids.jpgWhat's going on with kids today? It's a serious question for companies like Amazon and Netflix: they're spending a lot of money on programming that will appeal to youngsters now, and it's all part of a long-term strategy.

Victor Luckerson writes in TIME that streaming services want to created the next 'Spongebob Squarepants' or 'Dora the Explorer' so they can get young people to influence their parents to get rid of cable.

At the moment, Luckerson says, families with kids tend to hold onto cable partly because that's where their kids catch their favourite shows, and parents are in the habit of letting kids watch those shows at a given time.

If the streaming companies are successful, though, those habits will change as children demand the same things some adults are asking for: whatever shows they want, whenever they want them.

More Miniseries

future-of-tv-miniseries.jpgLong-running TV series demand a lot from viewers. You have to become invested in a character, and keep returning year after year to find out what happens next.

If the series hits a rough patch creatively, or goes in a direction you don't like, you have to stick with it if you're a fan.

And ultimately, you have to spend a lot of hours of your life to watch the whole thing. 'House' ran for eight seasons. 'Lost' went for six.

According to Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment, people won't be willing to do that for much longer.

He spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, and said he sees another form of TV as the future: the miniseries.

He points to the success of recent series like 'Hatfields and McCoys', and suggests that audiences will be more likely to devote their time to a contained story arc with a beginning, middle and end - and that the form may inspire talented writers and directors more, too.

Another example of a highly successful miniseries? 'The Bible' (the finale of the series scored 11.7 million viewers - almost tying hit series 'The Walking Dead').

We had executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett on the program to talk about their decision to create the series, and what it's like taking on the Good Book for TV.

Maybe More Of The Same?

future-of-tv-chart.jpgAmidst all this talk of the shifting television landscape, it would be easy to believe that people are watching less and less traditional TV.

Except that's not true: Canadians are watching more TV now than they did a decade ago.

The chart at left (created by CBC/Radio Canada Research using data from BBM/Neilsen) shows that since 1988, people in this country have continued to watch television regularly, and that on average, they're watching more of it each week than they did back then.

The data doesn't include cable video-on-demand, online, or mobile TV - so although we may be seeking out programming elsewhere, a lot of us are still watching TV the old-fashioned way.

But there are questions about the age demographic of the people who continue to watch television this way - according to a recent study by media analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford C. Bernstein Co., nearly half the viewers of traditional TV will be 50 or older by 2015.

That shift is important, since advertisers tend to target younger viewers.

"The Future Is Fuzzy"

future-of-tv-future-past.jpgThere are lots of theories out there about what TV's going to become, but as Brad Oswald at the Winnipeg Free Press writes, "the future is fuzzy for its next incarnation."

He points to the failing revenue model of traditional television, as explained in Juenger's study, and suggests that a lot of people are heading online to get their content.

But in the end, the only way to find out where TV is going is to wait. And to stay tuned.

One thing we know for sure about the future of television: Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, is on our show tonight, Thursday, July 18 at 7 pm.

He'll share his thoughts on the media landscape and what his company is doing within it. Catch it on CBC Television (and then tomorrow online).


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