It has been well documented that the authority once wielded by television channels has been declining for a number of years, following the rise of streaming services such as Netflix. While that has been a tagline for a while now, I think it’s been very difficult for us as viewers to point out the exact areas where this has affected the standard media we have grown up with. The announcement at the end of last year that RTE were outsourcing children’s television proved the first actual, real consequence that I took notice of – I was left feeling a weird sense of guilt that the next generation of young people won’t get to experience the strange, quirky shows we watched as children. I am of the opinion that Irish people are deeply cynical and critical of RTE-led productions, inspecting every detail to make sure it’s satisfactory and screaming the house down if it’s not (e.g. see the public witch-hunt on a large amount of Friday nights on social media that relate to the Late Late; you’d think Tubridy committed treason the way the majority of people talk about him) – but a subsection of RTE that much of us remember with fondness was the likes of The Den, or (for our more mature readers) Bosco – the Irish appreciation of growing up with Dustin the Turkey and Socky are now about to slowly drain away to nothing. As much as I wish I could write an article on how to make television soar back to prominence, I can only analyse its downfall to the point where it reaches a level of subsistence.
This is an international issue, with the internet being the orchestrator of television’s decline. To apply some of what I study in college to this scenario, it’s a process of creative destruction, where old technology is replaced by new technology. How does this apply to television though? If I have a scenario where I can watch anything at any time I want, versus a situation where if I want to watch a certain show I have to turn on my television at an exact time, with the added bonus of ad breaks – economics have been telling us for a year and a half now that if you are a normal person you’re going to choose the easier option, and thus explains the switch from television to streaming services. Can you reverse this process? No. Firstly, the easier option exists now, so there is no logic in reversing the process. Secondly, advertising revenue drives the entertainment industry, and streaming services use ‘no advertising’ as a massive ploy to draw in customers. Maybe in the future this will change, but it’s unlikely. Alongside the likes of video-sharing websites like Youtube, the ease to access an infinitely large catalogue – the market has completely changed, with the likes of my generation being quite disconnected from sitting down in front of a television. We are witnessing a societal change, which begs the question: what tidal wave are we riding towards in the future? It is likely one that is going to destroy television as we know it.
If we observe the gears that are keeping television going, there’s a large dependency on live events, which I imagine won’t change just down to how difficult it would be to unearth contracts, especially for sporting-related events – but it’s the television series that keep a large proportion of its audience from going elsewhere. Yet again, the internet proves to be a deterrent to the maximum financial success that could be achieved. Game of Thrones is undoubtedly the most popular television show running currently. If we look at the piracy that was made so accessible with the internet, we see that there was a couple million illegal downloads within the first 12 hours of an episode airing. Online piracy is simple, accessible, and very much lacks consequences for users if they’re careful enough – again, this rampant use of piracy is changing the incentives for TV studios. Why should they put aside large budgets if it results in a massive loss in revenue due to pirates? If, in the future, the battle of government versus piracy doesn’t become a massive issue, I’ll be quite surprised.
Being a bit of a devil’s advocate to myself, you could ask is it my nostalgia or resistance to change that cause me to attach a negative tone to the whole process of the television media morphing? The issue that presents itself here is that studios and, let’s say, Netflix have an interdependent relationship, where Netflix pays a studio in order to gain distribution rights, and then the studio receives revenue firstly as well as more interest in the show – so a win-win situation. But what began to happen was that these “Netflix originals” started being produced, beginning with House of Cards, and now has undeniably reached a point of saturation at this stage where there’s a new original every week, which seems to suggest that Netflix is trying to squash the business of television. And why wouldn’t they? That’s the way businesses work, so these aggressive tactics will undoubtedly continue as it’s clearly a success for Netflix, but what if this reaches a point where they become the market leader? I’m sure we’ll still have critically acclaimed content, but again it comes back to losing the standard form of media – and while I will admit I’m a bit nostalgic, I fully believe that the losers in this situation are the smaller TV stations like RTE. If you’ve watched a show produced by RTE, the personality oozes off it to such an extent that you would know it’s Irish, regardless of quality. The same goes for your typical BBC show: it has its own sense of place that can’t be replaced. So if I could point to anything that is being lost it is that niche personality that changes from place to place is lost as Netflix, and similar streaming services, appeal to a global market. The only counter to this is that they attempt to have localised shows, but they have no motivation to do this as it’ll be targeting a small market that likely won’t give them a significant increase in profit.
The internet has proved a serial killer for many industries, and it looks set to claim another in the form of the television, at least as we know it. While it looks bleak for a cable based future, I think the safest bet we can all place is that television will subsist through many events that we tune in annually to watch, but the same security cannot be said for the likes of our standard TV shows and where they will reside. Change is a sobering thought, and it leaves fears of loss and turmoil for the future – yet change doesn’t appear, it’s constant and by the time it’s occurred you haven’t even given it notice in its process.