Opinion

Castle Made of Sand: Can Television Survive the Internet's Rising Tide?

Troy Polamalu has won two Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2006 and 2009. - Wikimedia Commons
Troy Polamalu has won two Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2006 and 2009.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons

An interesting bit of information arose on Tuesday, interesting because it's not at all surprising, really.

In 2013, of the 10 most watched televised events (in America), the NFL owns nine spots. The Oscars owns the other. The Super Bowl and its moving parts took the top four – the entire top four. It's football and a little bit of fashion, basically, and while Canadian audiences are very, very different from American audiences, it's more of an AdLib than an anything else. TV in the United States makes TV in Canada, only we substitute the Stanley Cup and the CFL for football and film awards. The trend you see today is a trend you should have seen 10 years ago, and it's a trend that – I believe – is not a trend at all.

It's a revolution. A sea change. The sort of societal shift that happens culturally before it happens financially, which is uneven and shoddy but still inevitable.

The same thing happened maybe a year or more ago with video rental stores, which were wiped off the face of the earth before there was a feasible, convenient online alternative – honestly, can you really (legally) find any movie ever made on the Internet right now? No, I'm not asking if your 10-year-old son can find it... I mean, can you find it?

It also happened just last week with Canada Post, which will completely phase out door-to-door hard copy mail delivery in the next five years.

Forget that a vast majority of small businesses still use it. Forget that a vast majority of people use it. Fact is, there isn't enough money to sustain the operation, and we'll need to cope with that. We'll need to get used to it and, one day, we will.

We'll need to email more, Facebook more, and FedEx more. And TV – sorry, bud – you're no different, only we've already outgrown TV.

Football is keeping American TV alive. When it's not, the Oscars is helping. And when that's not there, X-Factor and junk like that is doing the same.

News is nothing now, even if it brings in millions of eyeballs a night. Cable news, too. News is free, even if information isn't. Sure, those 6 o'clock anchored hours have the ratings their advertisers desire, but the time will come when those stats fall away and fall away rapidly. We will learn, soon enough, that TV ratings are largely built by default.

And they – those shows – can be done online. They can be done online cheaper and easier and with greater reach. And, unlike on TV, that reach can be tracked and converted.

Five-minute news shows on YouTube – Ray William Johnson, Philly D, and Bethany Mota, for a few examples – mop the floor with their broadcasting counterparts.

Philip DeFranco's stable of online entertainment – his shows, which include SourceFed (or as Howard Hughes might call it, the way of the future) are produced through DeFranco Inc. – does in minutes what Brian Williams or his more rabid cable clones do in a whole night, and sometimes a week.

Eventually, advertisers will realize they're not avoiding the internet, but they're missing out on it. They'll realize that, just maybe, TV isn't the best way to get their brands out. When that happens, it won't take long for established networks to collapse in on themselves like DiCaprio's Asian palace in the opening scene of Inception.

The NFL – and the NHL in Canada – is the last bastion of television journalism and entertainment journalism. It supports everything else, it pays for everything else, and I'll bet half of CBC's weekend news numbers come from the folks who fell asleep during the third period of the Oilers game and didn't turn the set off.

Sports – any sport – is the one 'event' that needs to be watched live and (preferably) on the biggest damn screen possible. If it's the Super Bowl, it needs to be watched with chicken wings, a lot of friends, and a hangover.

Everything else, even sitcoms and reality TV, can be handed over to the digital realm immediately. (I already exclusively watch almost everything on the web, and I actually make an effort to turn on my TV or flip through a dead tree with a cup of coffee.)

Eventually, the television will be no more than a screen.

As for the people inside the television? Who knows, but I'd suggest you login into something, anything real soon.

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