Ask anyone: we watch less television than once we did.
Yes, we may watch more box sets but that’s not really television, not in the old fashioned sense. Once television ruled the roost. It took the place of radio in the family home. Sitting rooms were organized around the television set that sat central in any home arrangement. The viewing figures in countries like the United Kingdom were in the many millions for even some of the more mundane viewing.
This was on account of the fact that there were so few alternatives. In the 1970s the British enjoyed three television stations. Radio was still limited, so the “mass media” consisted of newspapers and television. Newspapers were still a dominant force in society, selling by the millions – with a business model based around advertising. But television had already begun to eat into newspaper advertising as well as the sense of setting the news agenda. For many, the thought was that it was only a matter of time before the visual would trump newspapers.
Few would have foretold or even envisaged what actually transpired.
The internet then was the stuff of Sci-Fi. But twenty years later, by the mid-1990s, the internet was starting out. Twenty years after that we are living through a new digital revolution dominated by it. But this domination has not ended the dominance of the moving image. In fact, it could be argued that those moving images have never been more pervasive – just think of YouTube.
As always it seems to be a matter not so much of the medium – moving images – but the means of distribution and exhibition. Just as television replaced radio and more importantly cinema as the chief means of cultural consumption while using aspects of both – the former’s domestic reach and the latter’s appeal as a visual medium – so all of this was soon found at home online.
Recently I read how television sets have been continually falling in price over the last decade. In 2011 the New York Times noted that the price of TV sets was in decline due largely to oversupply from low-cost manufacturers and the growth of online retail. The decline is estimated to have been 80% over the past decade. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2018 and 2019, the average price of TV sets fell almost 20%. Today a fifty-inch television will cost you around $300.
But people still watch television – just not on television sets. Does this make it television or have we moved towards something else?
The computer has never been more accessible or popular. Neither has the portable cell phone. The combination of the two has changed not just the world of entertainment but also the world around us.
When the history of the 21st century is written then one date will stand out.
On June 29, 2007, the iPhone was born.
From the start, the iPhone user interface was built around the device’s multi-touch screen, including a virtual keyboard. It had Wi-Fi and could connect to cellular networks. It could take photos, play music, send and receive email, browse the web, send and receive text messages, record notes, perform mathematical calculations, and receive visual voicemail. Shooting video became a standard feature with the iPhone 3GS. In time the downloading of mobile apps added many other possibilities. As of January 2017, Apple’s App Store contained more than 2.2 million applications available for the iPhone.
To date, Apple has released twelve generations of iPhone models. Doubtless, there will be many more. As of November 1, 2018, a total of more than 2.2 billion iPhones had been sold.
It is a new technology, and an all-pervasive one. In comparison then is it any wonder that television set sales are declining? Yes, the new televisions of today can access the internet and other streaming services but all this would appear to have come too late to alone save television. The older users of television want to watch television. The younger audience want to stream. The former constituency fails to understand why their former straightforward television sets have become so complicated. While the younger generations don’t understand why they need a piece of technology that is from the last century.
The decline in television sales also tells us something about manufacturing. For a start, there have never been so many cheaper television sets for sale. This flooding of the market is only ever going to drive prices down – and it has. But the fact is that you no longer need a television set to watch television. You can watch it anywhere on an iPhone or other mobile computing device. Which begs the question: why continue to manufacture something that is fast becoming past its sell-by date?
But before you write television and television sets off just take a look at this.
TV manufacturers have discovered new revenue streams by making the audience purchasing directly available to advertisers. If you buy a new TV today, it’s what known as a “Smart” TV. This has software from either the manufacturer itself or a third-party company with pre-installed video channels. This delivering of an audience to these channels is where the money is to be found by both the TV manufacturers and the information – the data – they can provide to advertisers. The manufacturers can afford to sell to you so cheap because they are selling you to the advertisers in a much more direct way than historically commercial television companies ever did.
And this market is not small. In 2020 it is estimated that video-streaming ad market will be worth approximately $4.4 billion. Add to that the figure that the number of American homes with a Smart television is only 37% and you begin to see how much money is potentially to be made from this still under-exploited advertising revenue stream.
Cheap TVs are just another example of the Silicon Valley revolution of the last ten years. The Smart television and its cheap TVs another facet of the digital ad business that moved Google and Facebook to their current economic and cultural dominance. Basically the television manufacturers have stopped selling to you and, instead, just started selling you and the new advertising gold: your personal data.