When we talk about a post-broadcast era of television, we are undoubtedly recognising the digitisation of the medium – a new era, where television programs are merely audiovisual content to be consumed whenever and wherever users demand, on whatever device they choose.
The essential structure of television has monumentally shifted, and along with it, its configuring of social life. Roger Silverstone argues that:
'…in its spatial and temporal significance, in its embeddedness in quotidian patterns and habits; as a contributor to our security…television is part of the grain of everyday life.'
Television as a digital medium therefore threatens to upset ingrained assumptions about the medium, but also the organisation of everyday life, social structures and culture. James Bennett in Television as a Digital Media argues that removed from its traditional structured flow, television embeds itself in a new digital media context:
'…instead of flow, here we have an interface, hyperlinks, and a database structure experienced via broadband rather than broadcasting. Moreover, where such services allow downloading or are available on a variety of digital media platforms, such platforms bring their own distinct viewing protocols to bear on the experience of content…'
A commuter wearing a suit cradles an iPod, by the water cooler he grazes on content across multiple browser windows. A uniformed student shares a clip to friends at lunchtime in private group message. Our breezy enjoyment of television content on computers or portable devices in public (and domestic) spaces provides a freedom which, “fragments the previously mass audience of television intoa series of personalised choices.”
Television is no longer ‘a box in the corner’ by which the family convenes to share a viewing experience. Television is a digital media with socially transformative powers of diversifying, individualising, and polarising effect. Previously a mass medium used to define the collective social experience – rhymes and routines of the working day, shared national or international moments – the television has now become an atomising medium where we all make our own choices, self-schedule, download and rewind.
In a rat race to hurry up and own the next iDevice 2.0 are we sprinting away from a last truly nationalising mass medium? Where is the community in 1:1 consumption? Where is there democracy in an iPhone? Indeed, William Uricchio, Professor and Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT agrees that:
'While not yet individualised…we inhabit a moment where the steady erosion of the mass viewing public has created anxiety in political terms regarding the future of television as a collective mode of address.'
These are all highly relevant and sizeable questions. While it’s an easy assumption to make, that digitisation has killed an essentially democratising mass media, it is important to look ahead: What is television? Bennett argues that we must now see television as a:
'…non-site specific, hybrid cultural and technological form that spreads across multiple platforms as diverse as mobile phones, game consoles, iPods, and online video services such as YouTube, Hulu…'
Although these technologies might not be television as it is traditionally understood, they represent just some of the new technologies on which television is experienced, produced and regulated. Graham Meikle and Sherman Young in Beyond Broadcasting? TV for the Twenty-First Century sum this idea up nicely:
'TV is being reshaped, reimagined and reinvented in unpredictable ways. Broadcasting has become only one of a set of options for the distribution of TV content, alongside cable, DVDs, internet downloads, and online video streams. Simultaneously, audiences have embraced new modes of engagement with audio-visual products…'
- OzGirl, an Australian web series achieving mild YouTube success
Jinna Tay and Graeme Turner are optimistic about the perseverance of television as a continually nationalising mass media in their article, What is Television? Comparing Media Systems in the Post-Broadcast Era. They argue that the end of television as the leading ‘old media’ format is a premature argument, and despite changes in televisions content, structure and mode of consumption:
'…these changes are highly contingent…with manynational systems still dominated by broadcast media and national regulatory regimes, and others framed by subscription services and multi-channel, transnational, commercial environments…the ‘old media’ such a s television are still the main game in most locations.'
While new media are undoubtedly recontextualising television as we knew it, we must ask ourselves, what are we contributing to???
Bennett, J & Strange, N 2011, Television as a DigitalMedia, Duke University Press, London
Meikle, G & Young, S 2008, ‘Beyond Broadcasting? TV for the Twenty-First Century’, International Media Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, no. 126, February 2008, 67-70
Silverstone, R 2003, Television and Everyday Life, Routledge, London
Tay, J & Turner, G ‘What is Television? Comparing Media Systems in the Post-Broadcast Era’, International Media Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, no. 126, February 2008, 71-81
Uricchio, W 2009, ‘The Future of a Medium Once Known as Television?’, in P Snikkars and P Vonderau (eds), The You Tube Reader, Wallflower Press, London, pp. 24-39