Television's Future - A Prediction From 1981
"The decade that just ended, may mark the finale of television as we have known it, an industry dominated by three corporate mastodons, geared to the mass market. Crowding the horizon are new creatures - videocassettes, videodiscs, pay television, satellites, a growing public-television system, ad hoc networks, superstations."
"The television of today will probably be transformed into the home video center of tomorrow which will harness the new technologies into one all-purpose unit. Even Ma Bell is steadily creeping forward to grab a piece of the telecommunication action."
"For the first time since television entered our homes, the territory monopolized by the three networks is in danger of shrinking. The question now is whether the interlopers, if successful, will transform the wasteland into a forest of genuinely diverse vegetation or litter it with more of today's trash."
- From the introduction to "Up The Tube", Sally Bedell's 1981 book on the 70s TV landscape under TV network executive Fred Silverman.
Except for the references to videocassettes and video discs, this could almost be an assessment of TV today. Sure there are some shining spots, but network tv is slowly fading to black. I just started reading this book telling the story of Fred Silverman's amazing career which winds its way through network TVs most powerful days. As with so many historical accounts, I find myself scratching my head at how many similarities there are to today.
It's also interesting to see Bedell's prescient view
of TV's future, though some parts of her prediction took until recent
years to take root. The very idea that a telecommunications company would be involved with broadcast content must have seemed outlandish in 1981. The past few years have seen a number of old media/new media conglomerations like AOL-Time-Warner, and MSNBC. Apple's content deals pave their long-rumored path to the living room... and even stodgy old Intel has their sights set on television. Not content to merely power other people's products, Intel wants to provide content just like a broadcast network. Rumors are that they are engineering a product that operates less like a computer or DVR and more like... you guessed it... television.
The national and international views made possible by television back in the 50s is still one of the best tricks ever in retro gadget-dom. It's just unfortunate that executive bravado, lowest common denominator programming, and just plain ignorance of what the audience wants is pushing network TV further and further on the back burner, displaced by technology companies. It seems like when broadcast TV strikes paydirt, it's in spite of what network execs do, not because of what they do.
Broadcast TV's stubborn evolution/diminishing relevance is edging closer and closer to Bedell's prediction from 30 years ago. So for about half of TV's existence, this prediction has been on the table, and now that it's here, TV executives are caught as if by surprise? What I'd like to know is just how much longer the old guard can hold out...