Digital video recorders and portable viewing devices are changing people’s viewing behaviors, but these innovations will not lead to the demise of television, according to a University of Michigan researcher.
These gadgets, as well as better ways for viewers to see TV shows after their original airing, are revolutionizing the television industry, said Amanda Lotz, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies.
"The changes in television during the last two decades are extraordinary and on the scale of transition from one medium to another, as in the case of the shift from radio to television," Lotz said. In her latest research, she describes this period as the post-network era, which finds television viewers having more control over when and where to view shows instead of limiting them to watching at certain times or channels.
"The post-network distinction is not meant to suggest the end or irrelevance of networks—just the erosion of their control of how and when viewers watch particular programs," Lotz said.
For decades, watching television involved walking into a room, turning on the set, and either selecting specific content or channel surfing. But the integration of new technologies is changing people’s viewing behaviors, Lotz says. Viewers now have greater mobility—reception of breaking news or a live sporting event on devices such as cell phones—and convenience.
Distribution also has been affected by television’s revolution. Viewers no longer have to wait for shows to air in syndication on cable channels or local stations. Some shows can be seen within hours of their original airing on the Internet and viewers can buy complete seasons on DVD. The profits from these new distribution routes have created animosity between producers and Hollywood writers, who have been on strike since Nov. 5 because they want a greater share of program revenues from the Internet.
"It is clear that the old business norms are no longer adequate, yet the future financing models also remain uncertain. This makes establishing long-term contracts dubious for both sides," said Lotz, whose expertise also includes gender and advertising as it relates to television.
But television’s revolution does come at a price. For instance, consumers with analog televisions will need to purchase a converter box because the FCC has ruled all TV programming will be transmitted by a digital signal in early 2009.
"Viewers have faced many changes at once and it is unclear to the average viewer how these new technologies, ways of receiving shows, and program forms—like the growth of reality TV and product placement—fit together," Lotz said. "What we see on television is tied directly to its business norms. The shifting business norms have created tremendous opportunities for new and varied storytelling."
Lotz’ findings appear in her new book, "The Television will be Revolutionized."
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