As TV goes online, the Internet becomes more like TV

As I said in my So You Think You Can Dance confession, it's quite possible that the Internet will end up complementing mass media, rather than competing with it. It turns out this is a current topic.

At Rough Type, Nick Carr rounds up some recent evidence, including a Nielsen report showing that American TV viewing per person is at an all-time high:

A year ago, the Nielsen Company reported that Americans' TV viewing hit an all-time record high in the first quarter of 2010, with the average person spending 158 hours and 25 minutes a month in front of the idiot box.* That record didn't last long. Nielsen has released a new media-usage report, and it shows that in the first quarter of 2011, the average American watched TV for 158 hours and 47 minutes a month, up another 0.2 percent and, once again, a new all-time high.* Twenty years into the Web revolution, and we're boob-tubier than ever.

… and more, here.

Meanwhile, in the mainstream press, the Globe and Mail's John Doyle has been to Beverley Hills to listen to TV execs talk about their line-ups, and they are surprisingly cheery about the state of the biz. A decade ago, according to NBC's Robert Greenblatt,  “there was a sense that it’s a declining business, and let’s just sort of manage the decline and hope we can get the best out of it.” Now, things are looking up. Here's CBS chief of research David Poltrack, echoing some of what Nick Carr reports (emphasis is mine):

"As this century opened, the focus of the world was on the Internet, and the focus of the television industry was on the DVR. At that time, the business of prognostication was booming, and no one was too optimistic about the future of the broadcast networks. Yet here we stand 11 years later, and the business of network television is alive and well. That doesn’t mean that the entertainment market has not been transformed by the new technologies. It has. What the pundits got wrong was not the impact of the new technologies but the alleged vulnerability of the television networks. … As the broadcasters and the cable networks move more content online, the viewers’ online video diet has included more and more episodes of television programs.

“It would be no surprise to find, for the first time, a significant number of viewers reporting that they’re watching more television than last year. The fact is, the viewer’s perception of television viewing is program- or content-driven, not distribution-driven. Whether they are watching their favourite program on their computer, their tablet or their smartphone, they consider themselves to be watching television. So contrary to the expectations of the pundits, the explosion of new sources of video distribution has actually fortified the market for the broadcast networks’ content.”

A couple of years ago Cosma Shalizi said this about search: "If your search process succeeds in aggregating what large numbers of people think, it will mostly reproduce established, mainstream cultural hierarchies, by definition."  (link now rotten – no, fixed) The same goes for social media as a whole.

Along the same lines, it is perhaps not surprising to see that Wikipedia is, like other institutions, male dominated with less than 10% of edits made by women. The full paper, from the University of Wisconsin, is here.

For me, what comes out of these observations is not that the Internet is retrograde — despite my posts, I do try not to be an old fogy when it comes to technological changes –but that it is best viewed as a site of contention rather than as an actor in the continuing struggle over the future shape of society.

Bookmark the permalink.


  1. I think that a far bigger influence on the “tv-ification” – or whatever we should call this – is the stranglehold on content that the DMCA and all its brethren have given Cable and TV and the Motion Picture consortiums. Without this incredibly effective set of weapons, we would have been in a far different state than what we have drifted to.
    Thanks, Senator Feinstein!

  2. link now rotten
    The statistics department server is being upgraded (hopefully not a euphemism in this case), but the appropriate link will eventually be to my lecture notes on page-rank.

  3. TV 2.0

  4. “If your search process succeeds in aggregating what large numbers of people think, it will mostly reproduce established, mainstream cultural hierarchies, by definition.”
    perhaps this is the worm at the heart of the rose: “what large numbers of people think (on the web)”. Early denizens of the intertubes surely had a counter-cultural view of the world. With Facebook as the face of the Internet, phatic utterances reiterating the conventional wisdom dominate, and the mainstream re-establishes its hegemony. The maze of the Internet approximates the maze of the world ever more closely.

  5. A great book that addresses specious arguments about media supersession is The Social Life of Information (Brown and Duguid 2000). Their critique of the idea of a newer form of media necessarily replacing another also apply to necessarily competing. If you haven’t already read it, I think you would enjoy it and find it useful for many of your other technology-related interests (though only based on my several years reading your blog).

  6. Hal – Sounds like there is a lot behind your opinion. My own has been that DMCA is a symptom rather than a cause. When Comcast owns NBC it is straightforward to see what the attitude of ISPs will be to copyright. If you are right, it is galling for those of us from outside the US to have our culture shaped by local laws.
    Cosma – Link fixed. Thanks.
    Doug – I agree, the countercultural nature of the Internet was more to do with who was on it than anything else.
    Matt – Googling “TV 2.0” sends me to a Wired article from a few years ago looking into the future of TV. Unfortunately for them, the future never does what you want it to.
    Dan – Yes: great book. And you’ve been reading for years? Thanks!

  7. Regarding “If your search process succeeds in aggregating what large numbers of people think, it will mostly reproduce established, mainstream cultural hierarchies, by definition.”, that reminds me of something I tossed off a while back, which I called the “Central Pundit Theorem” (apologies to the “Central Limit Theorem”)
    “All programs which do popularity data-mining of a topic, tend to converge to a small pundit subset.”
    Roughly, if one has a tiny number of gatekeepers on a topic, then reconstructing the set from “bottom-up” references will give the same result as “top-down” specification (all roads lead to Rome, all links lead to the A-list …).
    On another point – “as a site of contention rather than as an actor in the continuing struggle over the future shape of society” – this is the divide between the technological determinists versus the non-determinists (indeterminists?).

  8. In the UK, TV has become generational. The older you are, the more TV you watch. Part of the difference is accounted for by online video (OFCOM doesn’t break out traditional TV-but-on-the-Web) but not enough to reverse the trend.

  9. I… have an urge to retweet this…

Comments are closed