- The Television Will Be Revolutionized
The Writers Guild of America strike that began in November 2007 has brought widespread attention to the opportunities and challenges posed by digital distribution of media and the roles that new media technologies play in shifting the decades-old business models of media conglomerates. One of the major issues at stake for the striking writers is the right to receive compensation for content that is distributed online. The major studios claim that they are still trying to find ways to profit from the multiple new modes of viewing that have emerged within the past few years, but, as Amanda Lotz argues in The Television Will Be Revolutionized, new technologies have already significantly altered the form and function of television as a medium. In her thorough and engaging analysis Lotz outlines the industrial shifts that indicate the emergence of a “postnetwork” era in which viewers increasingly have the ability to choose their preferred content and watch it according to their own schedules via a number of content delivery systems.
Lotz argues that the television industry is moving from the “multi-channel transition” era, which began in the 1980s with the rise of cable and the advent of the VCR as a time-shifting device. This era offered expanded choice for viewers and the possibility of a greater amount of control over the viewing experience, but ultimately networks retained a large amount of authority over how viewers consumed television. New media technologies have shifted this balance by offering greater flexibility and control to the viewer, and the television industry as a whole is struggling to adjust to and address these changes. Lotz bases her analysis of the industrial transition into a postnetwork era on the premise that television serves at least four major functions: it works as an “electronic public sphere,” as a “subcultural forum,” as a “window into other worlds,” and as a “self-determined gated community” (42–44). Thus, her study of television as a medium in transition opens up areas of inquiry not only about the industry but about how individuals use television and how industrial changes might allow us to use it differently.
The major chapters in the book examine how interrelated sectors of the television industry have been affected by new technological capabilities and how the industry has responded to these changes. Chapter 2 outlines the innovations in technology that have allowed viewers to assert greater control over the viewing experience. Lotz discusses how “convenience” technologies, including the digital video recorder (DVR), on-demand services, and mobile applications for downloading content, have created the possibility of individualized viewing patterns. These technologies have changed how and where television is consumed; individuals can use a DVR to time-shift (with greater ease than with VCR technology), but they can also use mobile devices (iPods, cell phones) to view downloaded content at any place and time. Lotz argues that these new possibilities have altered how the industry conceives of audiences, and they open up multiple new areas for research into how viewers use television.
Chapter 3 examines shifts in the production environment from an economic model suited for network-era, placebased television viewing to new variations in financing strategies designed to offer year-round programming to more [End Page 82] specific audience groups. Networks increasingly recognize the need to develop and schedule lower-cost programming in order to compete in an environment characterized by multiple viewing options, including original content on cable channels. Lotz discusses compensatory issues relevant to the 2007–08 writers’ strike (98–99), arguing that the changing economics of the media industries have resulted in cost-saving measures at the expense of laborers. The postnetwork changes examined in this chapter are only beginning; Lotz makes clear that television studios and networks will be addressing a shifting competitive environment and changes in audience patterns for some time to come.
New distribution windows are examined in chapter 4; Lotz argues that while DVD and broadcast- and cablerepurposing strategies were common during the multichannel transition, the rise of on-demand services and...