Gary Carter's Speech, Part 2

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By: Ilya Vedrashko

This is part 2 of 3 of the keynote address on the future of television delivered by Gary Carter of FreemantleMedia at the National Association of Television Program Executives in Las Vegas in January 2007. (See part 1 and background.) All emphasis mine.

"But let’s look at the question of the survival of television as content, as opposed to the distribution medium, or platform. By this I mean to make a distinction between the technology of television — the distribution medium — and the content — the form of content made exclusively for television. I am asking whether content specifically made for television — like gameshows, for example — will survive.

In an unscientific way, I analysed a week of primetime in the UK, during the period 19:00 to 23:00 (23:30 in the case of ITV), across all terrestrial broadcasters. If we consider programmes created just for television, and exclude: news and sport, as being retransmission of existing material or common to other media, and dramas made for cinema or based on books, then of the 196 shows in this time period, 64% were ‘television’ and 36% was not, and of the 136 hours, 70% were television and 30% were not.

You could say, by this analysis, that some of the stuff in primetime was not television, although it was distributed by television, and that in fact it represented older historical or past media content forms surviving in a new medium. This means that the content which is intrinsically television, like the gameshow, for example, is likely to survive on emerging technologies. Certainly this is true for my own company, where our catalogue of gameshow formats has been reborn on the web, and on mobile phones, in the gaming environment.

So if it is true that television as medium and form will survive, what other lessons can we learn from the history of mass communication technology which might help us understand where we’re going?

Well, for a start, no mass communication technology has ever been exploited in the way in which the inventors predicted it would. In other words, the really good news it is not just you and I who don’t know what’s going on — nobody does, not even — in fact, especially not, the engineers.

When radio was introduced, it was marketed in kit form, sold to men, as a kind of quasi-engineering hobby. It was only when families complained that men were spending too much time ‘playing’ in isolation that the set migrated into the living room, and kits were replaced with readymade radiograms.

When the telephone was commercially introduced in the United States, it was originally believed that it would find its primary market amongst businessmen. In fact, so convinced were the operators that they tried to prevent any other use. When women in rural America discovered that they could use the telephone to communicate with their neighbours, the operating companies tried to stop them through prohibitive legislation. Until they realised that this represented a market.

SMS has a similar history. Introduced originally as a channel for communication between engineers, the first commercial short message was sent in 1992, from PC to mobile. Its triumph was the triumph of the consumer, since it was barely promoted until it was already widely used. It was originally presumed it would remain an industry communication medium — not the symbol of a youth movement, a set of manners and a culture, a way of extracting revenue from television audiences, the source of a new language, a flirting medium, a sexual technology. The users — the audience — has made it all these things, not us.

So far, I hope I have also explained why I won’t try to answer the questions with which I began: Will anyone want to watch a television programme on a mobile phone, and who will want to pay.

Given that I think that an examination of history has answered the question of whether we are living through the death of television, and given the impossibility of trying to understand where technology is going, let us try to understand some of the forces underneath current trends in media. In other words, now I am not going to answer the question, What’s the next big thing?

It is possible to describe what’s happening in the contemporary media by looking at the way communication devices have historically become personalised. Communication devices tend to follow the same pattern of domestication. They move from the public domain, to the domestic, then to the private sphere, and then become intensely personalised. For example, the telephone was originally public: in offices, in public spaces in phone booths. When the phone reached the home, its first position was at the threshold, typically in the hallway, as a kind of uneasy marker of the division between the public and the private sphere. By freeing itself from the party line — one phone line serving many customers — it became domesticated: extensions allowed it to move into the bedroom, to other rooms — and then freed by wireless technology it became possible for the telephone to roam with the ‘owner’ of that extension. The phone became personalised with the invention of the true mobile: now, for example, I don’t know the number of my best friend’s domestic landline, I only know his mobile number. This pattern of movement is followed time after time by communication technology, and you can map the same pattern of movement in the development of so called ‘new media’.

Now you can explain this pattern of personalisation by ascribing it to capitalism, the triumph of the market, the segmentation of customer bases. But I think there is something more profoundly human going on.

The story I am going to tell you is like all stories, dependent on your position for its truth."

… to be continued.

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