Beyond the cat's attempts at world domination, the internet has helped propel a few other things into the spotlight as it attempts to reshape how some industries do business. Few, however, have been affected more than cable television. The way we watch TV has changed; we now watch whole series on weekends, provide spoilers over Twitter and download or watch TV online. As a result, TV's business model is under pressure to change (although it's resisting), as new technologies enter the arena to shake things up (hello, Netflix).
Of course, TV is a pretty old technology, so its transition to 2.0 has been anything but smooth. There have been legal issues as entertainment companies struggle to avoid copyright violations through streaming and illegal downloads. There are the technical issues that come with new technologies, such as compatibility problems and a lack of standardization. Bandwidth trouble may be on the horizon. And, of course, the fact that most people are getting used to the idea of watching what they want, when they want and how they want is a bit of a problem – at least for network TV.
Despite all this, it's pretty clear that TV viewers are the main beneficiaries of this evolution. In that sense, the extent to which technology has changed TV is a bit of a marvel. Here are seven of the biggest changes we've seen so far. (Want some background on the history of TV? Check out From Howdy Doody to HD: A History of TV.)
Shows Step Into the Spotlight
The remote control may have been considered a major leap forward for mankind, but internet accessibility is relegating channel surfing to the past. Now, viewers pick and choose exactly which shows they would like to watch. This has led to the development of custom phenomena, such as TiVo, DVR, Hulu and other on-demand services that have given fans the ability to watch what they want, when they want – often without commercials. We'll never look back. Plus, the flexibility created by these technologies has placed an emphasis on shows themselves, instead of networks, leading to some some intense TV fandom (ahem, "Game of Thrones," anyone?). (The remote control's days could be numbered. Read more in Buh-Bye Remote Control: Things You Can Control With Your Smartphone.)
We're in the Game
TV was never intended to be an interactive medium. For decades, it talked, and we sat and listened – until social media, especially Twitter, came along. Rather than idly watching, social media has given fans a new type of voice, allowing them to connect and discuss shows in real time. Both sports and news talk shows have capitalized on this ability, and many are integrating it into their programming and advertising. Experts call this phenomenon "second screen," and for younger viewers, engaging with one during TV time is practically a given.
No one likes a middleman – it usually means higher costs to consumers. So, one of the most exciting prospects that resulted from technology’s influence on TV is what is known as over-the-top technology (OTT), which allows users to get video content delivered directly to their devices without a conventional intermediary. What this amounts to is a direct link between broadcasters and consumers. While the technology is still in its early stages, it is poised to grow robustly. According to a report released by Digital TV Research, OTT revenue is expected to reach $64.78 billion by 2021, up from $29.41 billion in 2015, and only $4.47 billion in 2010.
Both Google and Apple made their marks on television with the introduction of Google TV (later renamed Android TV, and then replaced by Chromecast) and the Apple TV. Other similar products include Roku, Boxee and Western Digital Media Center. These inventions effectively gave TV internet access and computer capabilities. This means no more HDMI cables to stream videos to a TV, as well as online access to content, like movies and shows. It also allows seamless access to downloaded, stored and streaming content. (Read more about this in How to Cut the Cord on Cable TV – Legally.)
The Soundbite Hits the Spotlight
This may not be one of the better changes caused by technology, yet it is very significant. The viewer's ability to choose video content and zero in on specific excerpts has changed the way we consume television. As a result, there has been an increased focus on condensed versions, snippets and soundbites. Unfortunately this segmented method of consumption has been the cause of confusion, miscommunication and distortion. By focusing on five- to 10-second clips of video, it's possible to lose context. Of course, that's less important in entertainment programming, versus in news, where full content can be critical.
Network programming used to rule the airwaves. Now, mediums like Netflix have provided new avenues for shows, whether they're old with a large fan base, or new shows specifically created for a new medium. In May 2013, Netflix changed the game when it revived the popular TV series "Arrested Development" after it was canceled by Fox in 2006. Netflix also broke new ground when it entered content creation with "House of Cards." Both shows are popular with viewers but also appeared to benefit Netflix, which reported a nearly four-time increase in profit in the second quarter of 2013, compared to Q2 in 2012. Since then, Netflix has produced over 100 original series, as well as dozens of movies, documentaries and comedy specials.
The past several years have been full of what are known as YouTube sensations – people who develop a very large following by posting videos on YouTube and gaining traffic, fans and followers. Stars of this type may move on to TV or music, but YouTube is increasingly becoming a profitable channel for stars in its own right. Either way, YouTube sensations benefit from their established brand with loyal followers. And watching them gives us all something to do when we're supposed to be working.
TV execs and networks may be struggling against the changes in television distribution, but for the most part, viewers are benefiting, at least for now.