With the emergence of new platforms such as internet connected TV and smartphones offering increased choice in how we view television, it stands to reason that when it comes to what we choose to watch, expectations and tastes are likely to change too. Internet growth and development has provided us with a seemingly limitless supply of content with pretty much anything being available or dismissable at the click of a mouse. It has also helped create a culture of impatience and immediacy where only the very best in terms of entertainment is going to penetrate a short attention span. Sites like YouTube have proven popular because they combine this ‘feast of footage’ with a platform for people to communicate with each other i.e, spout off about how much they hate/love what they have just seen. In this interactive age, getting the audience involved is an effective way of keeping them engaged. Popular shows like Big Brother, The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing which rely on viewer involvement through phone-voting bear this out.
The upcoming merger of web and tv through ventures like YouView in the UK and Google TV in the US, will provide a single platform where all available content, including catch up and on demand services can be found and viewed in one place. Google has recently concluded deals with a variety of content providers including Netflix, Twitter, Amazon & Turner Broadcasting. It looks like an odd hybrid but will allow web surfing and viewing activities to be combined. The downside is they haven’t been able to get any of the major Broadcasters on board and these networks have actively blocked shows from their websites appearing on Google’s service. Presumably it’s a financial decision. Ad revenues are low enough online why should they accept these losses and hand over the profit to Google? Although the network’s programming will still be available on the service via ‘free to air’ this could still cause problems for Google as the ethos of their service is based on accessibility and choice. With a different TV landscape in the UK, YouView’s internet TV service appears a little more straightforward. With all four terrestrial broadcasters on board, plus their catch up services, the digital channels currently available on Freeview along with all the internet and app stuff, it’s looking like an attractive proposition.
Having more hours to fill on these new platforms will inevitably mean a need for more content. It’s all well and good providing more opportunities to view repeated programmes with ‘on demand’ but inviting the internet, where currently “anything goes,” to sit alongside linear TV, means viewers will expect greater choice. The question that hasn’t yet been answered is where all this additional content will come from? The open source nature of these new services suggests that perhaps programming could be obtained from new sources. There is no reason why hypothetically Google couldn’t commission or even make its own shows. Perhaps Independent Producers could provide programming in the same way they are commissioned to by Broadcasters, essentially cutting out the ‘middlemen’. Or maybe there is an opportunity for viewers themselves to participate. Back in the early 1970s the BBC set up a department called the Community Programme Unit. Its remit was to help members of the public create short programmes that could be broadcast nationally. It produced series like Open Space and Video Diaries and would generally highlight an issue or topic that was of concern to the person making the programme. In a sense it was the true definition of ‘reality tv’. In an age where social networking has become part of our lives and is already being utilised within TV programmes to encourage viewer participation, giving control to the audience to create its own entertainment is an option to consider.