Can We Be TV Free?

Not exactly, but forward trends are changing the way the world consumes video

Futurology isn’t just about the latest breakthroughs in medical science, self-driving vehicles, and impossibly fast computing. Sometimes, and in fact often, people come to embrace the ideas of technology moving forward when it starts to make things more convenient for them on a daily basis. One of the arenas where that’s been most evident has been in television and movie entertainment.

Fast forward to the current climate. We’ve already seen major shifts in the way that studios and content creators are reaching the masses. Netflix alone has netted more subscribers than its competitors in Hulu and Amazon Video, and has been a surprisingly vigorous competitor against large scale media conglomerates like Comcast and Time Warner. It’s become such a common product in the English language that jokes about “Netflix and chill” are now at the Facebook-level of saturation/coolness. That is to say, your parents probably get it.

So what does the future of video entertainment hold, and how will it change the way that our greater economy functions? The answers are probably not all that crazy, and may in fact be fairly optimistic for both our generation and the generations to come.

How TiVo Changed the Game

Before we talk about Netflix, we’ll need to discuss TiVo. While not the first method that households could use to record live broadcasts of shows, movies, and sports events, TiVO brought a brand new level of control to the homes of average consumers in ways that a VCR couldn’t dream of offering.

Automated recording, easy fast forward functionality, and the lack of a physical recording medium like a disc or a tape are essentially what set TiVo apart. More importantly, it put far more control over content in the hands of consumers that wanted to skip commercial breaks. If you aren’t already aware, entire contracts for television channels and their content carriers rise and fall on advertising revenue and the promise of what it could bring. Without ads, there’s no fuel for the machine. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe.

TiVo wasn’t the first method, but it was by far one of the most effective at introducing casual consumers to the very concept of being able to skip commercials, or watch television on their own schedules. Before DVR, or Digital Video Recorders, your average television viewer tended to schedule their pee breaks for the commercials. Now, there’s no such animal, and fewer people are watching live television than before because of it

One of the attractive parts of futurology is the idea of giving people more control over their daily lives. Whether it’s a more automated way to keep tabs on their health, freeing themselves from the slavery that is driving a vehicle, or just the general idea that we can be free of the need to work through a basic income, the concept of self-determination through technology is what puts so much optimism and enthusiasm in the hearts of those who follow these trends. Television is small, but if you consider the millions of people who tune into broadcasts, it affects more people than you might imagine to turn technology’s solutions in that direction.

The response from large media companies has been fairly clear: raise prices where possible, impose data caps on even desktop/home broadband consumers, and otherwise limit or attempt to cap connectivity and bandwidth to large scale content providers like Netflix. Some mobile providers, like T-Mobile, have even attempted to “white list” their own favored content providers, in an attempt to sneak their sources of ad revenue in while smothering competitors in their cribs.

A true home box office

If you thought it was just television that’s been touched by the hand of technology, you’re wrong. Movie theaters have seen flagging sales for years, which is largely responsible for the trend that you’re seeing with 3D movies and big budget IMAX presentations. It’s something that you can’t get anywhere else, and that’s exactly what the big studios are banking on.

When you consider that the studios already take a cut of the take from box office sales, which differs from country to country, it’s almost immediately evident that there’s a vested interest in keeping movies there for as long as possible. It’s where they’re going to make the largest gamble and get the largest reward for their efforts. For some theaters, we could be talking about anywhere from $4 to $15 per person that sees a movie, and it’s not an experience that’s repeatable for free as you would get with a DVR or a broadcast on a premium channel that’s paid for the rights to run a film. In other words.

You get mixed messages on exactly what the situation is. On the one hand, Millennials are going to the movies more than ever. One month later, and we hear that Millennials are going to kill everything that you love (if everything that you love is a movie.) What both of these articles have in common is that they are propaganda from out of touch studio heads and media moguls that are either willfully ignorant or actually ignorant about the forward trends in media consumption for the generation in question.

When it comes to original content delivery, Netflix has already proven that it can create successful shows when acting in alignment with a big studio like Disney, holder of the rights to Marvel Studios. In fact, Netflix has entered into an agreement to be the future delivery service for Disney and its related studios. I linked the Snopes article on this because there was some confusion about Netflix delivering ALL of Disney’s library, and that’s not the case. You’re welcome.

With big names like J.J. Abrams and Peter Jackson also backing a $50-per-rental system that homeowners can use to watch the latest releases in their underwear while those films are in theaters, we’ve never been closer to a reality when you won’t be locked to any set schedule for your television and movie programming, or location for that matter. Even more importantly, content creators won’t be bound to set rules and regulations that advertisers dictate for new movies and television shows. Even Japanese television shows are getting in on the game with an increasing list of net-exclusive animation. There will still be considerations, of course. We won’t see hyper violence in Sesame Street or pornography on American Idol, but damn it, we’re getting close to that too. [NSFW]

So if you’ve got a favorite television show, don’t worry. In the old days, when a show went off of the air, that was a done deal. These days, fans and creators actively petition online content providers like Netflix and Amazon to pick up an aborted series, as was the case most recently with the NBC show Hannibal. It’s important to point out that Netflix doesn’t release viewership numbers of its series, relying more on the media buzz and general public reaction to its programming.

Numbers, as it turns out, tend to be more important for advertisers than they do for creators. Moving forward, we may see far more genuine content, and far fewer carefully crafted marketing vehicles dressed up in tired sitcom premises and police procedurals aimed at the 50+ crowd—otherwise known as the main demographic that’s still watching their TV the old fashioned way.