TV is Changing

By Deane Barker on June 3, 2007

My wife and I came to a realization the other day: a television without a DVR is fairly useless to us.

The DVR is one of those things that changed everything in our house. We stopped watching live TV altogether. Annie and each like a half-dozen shows, and they’re set to record. I barely know on what network any of these shows run or at what times, and I don’t care.

Last year, I really enjoyed a now-cancelled show called Pepper Dennis. I watched every episode. To this day I have no idea when during the week it actually aired.

Seems like we’re not the only ones whose television habits have changed.

In TV’s worst spring in recent memory, a startling number of Americans drifted away from television the past two months: More than 2.5 million fewer people were watching ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox than at the same time last year, statistics show.

Everyone has a theory to explain the plummeting ratings: early Daylight Savings Time, more reruns, bad shows, more shows being recorded or downloaded or streamed.

We just remodeled our bedroom, and we went and looked at TVs to hang on the wall. We decided to wait until a multi-TV DVR was possible, because just a “regular” TV is pointless. When would we watch it? What would we watch?

While it may should elitist, this has actually been healthy for us. I think our actual television consumption has dropped by half. We’re much more deliberate about what we watch now — we don’t channel surf.

Additionally, we’ve stopped watching commercials, and this points to another huge trend in television. Since commercials are now so easy to skip, advertisers are getting desperate. Here’s how desperate —

I was working the other day, and a TV show called American Heiress was on the the background (a “telenovela,” actually — like a miniseries, but with 60 some-odd episodes).

Two of the main characters are sitting around talking about some dramatic crisis, when this dialogue takes place (all dialogue from memory):

First Lady: And so I told her that I wouldn’t…hey, where’d you get those shoes?

Second Lady: What, these? Haven’t you seen them in all the magazines?

First Lady: No. They look expensive. How much am I paying you anyway?

Second Lady (caresses the shoe lovingly): They just look expensive, but they’re from the Payless Designer Collection.

First Lady: Wow. I have to have them. Let’s go to Payless right now.

[Scene changes to the two women sitting among a dozen Payless bags.]

First Lady: [sigh] I love Payless.

Once I got over my shock, I was actually pretty impressed. Although it seems a little silly, here you have a Big Media company actually trying to adapt without resorting to coercion or DRM or some other Draconian scheme to get us to watch commercials.

Ten years ago, they probably would have tried to eliminate the DVR “threat.” Now they’re actually thinking and evolving — they’ve admitted the DVR is here to stay and they need to find a new way to survive in a DVRed television environment. Hats off to them.

TV is going through a massive shift right now. It’s going to be really interesting to see where it ends up.

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