McAdams On: Truly Free TV
11/12/2010 2:02:26 PM
The Internet is becoming to television what Walmart was to small towns. Cozad
Hardware once neatly displayed china tea cups and Hummel figurines as well as
claw hammers and elbow joints. Jeannaud’s had shoes you didn’t see outside of a
metropolis. The drug store really did
have a soda fountain.
It all sounds very quaint, but there was an artistry to it; something personal.
The people who started and ran those businesses were neighbors. Everyone knew
them, but that unfortunately didn’t matter when Walmart moved in. It was
fascinating, at first, to see so much stuff under one roof. Cheap stuff. Train
carloads of cheap stuff. Folks loaded up on cheap stuff, which fed landfills,
thus generating demand for more cheap stuff.
Viola! America’s economic infrastructure.
Walmart represented a cultural shift within households from procurement to
consumption. People became “consumers.” We bought stuff because we could, not because
we really needed it. TV encouraged the dynamic. It was brought to us by Procter
& Gamble. Procter & Gamble said our colors were dingy, our hair was
gray, our teeth were yellow, our skin was wrinkled and our potato chips should
come in a can. Who knew?
And who knew the cheap-consumption mindset would become collectively
pathological? Who knew it would translate into all-out anarchy online,
particularly for TV.
The innertubes increasingly leak TV programming as bandwidth and compression
move towards each other. For a long time, watching any sort of full-length
video online meant cooking dinner while it downloaded. Now, watching online is about
as easy as turning on the TV, which still for the most part adheres to
scheduling. For people who don’t care about image resolution--and most
don’t--the ’Net’s where they can watch what they want when they want.
Googling “TV shows online” gets 218 million hits. The count likely includes a
few pirates who probably aren’t getting scads of traffic, but those who feel
they have a right to retransmit TV shows online are becoming more brazen. The
purveyor of ivi.tv is making a legal
point of it by challenging the copyright model by which TV content is
Sticking up for TV networks online is a certain path into flames. There’s a
prevailing attitude that because broadcast content goes out free over the air,
it’s fair use. Never mind that shows are meticulously measured there and paid
for according to that metric.
Oddly, when the editor of a cooking magazine recently took that same position
(albeit rudely) on an article she lifted off the Web, the woman was
fire-balled. Because the Web made writers of everyone, and we want our $10
contributor’s fee, dagnabbit. The going rate for freelancing used to be $1 a
word, but the Internet opened up a whole range of publishing opportunities that
smoked the prevailing business model. The one that supported illustrators,
photographers, copy editors, content editors and writers. This is how the
Internet contributed to the nation’s akseptuns of therd-grade level spellng.
The same erosion will overtake TV content. The first wave is what’s known as
“reality” TV. The next wave is the transmission of Web content to the TV set,
where folks will soon be able to watch Justin Beiber in large sunglasses do absolutely
nothing of any consequence whatsoever. Not that it’s bad per se to be able to
observe Mr. Beiber in his natural environment. It would be a shame, however, if
doing so starts defining the new high-water mark for content.
I think of the folks I saw last night at the Hollywood Post Alliance Awards
receive recognition for mixing audio, for calibrating color and for
compositing. Hearing and seeing the results of their work--an admixture of art
and science--was a wonder. Surely the business model that supports that type of
innovation and creativity is worth preserving. Otherwise, what we’ll have is
truly free TV, where we all just watch each other and ourselves on Webcams.
Please pass P&G’s Pepto Bismol brand digestive treatment.