Miércoles 10 de Mayo de 2006, Ip nº 152

TV or not TV: It's a fickle, gadget-savvy viewing world
Por Robert P. Laurence

What, you're still watching television on your television set?

How quaint.

Next thing, you'll admit you still listen to “Suspense” on the Marconi.

All right, we exaggerate a little.

But it's true, producers and broadcasters are feverishly searching for more and more places to sell their wares, from computer screens to cell phones to iPods and a plethora of miniature multimedia players. And more people are watching more TV shows when they want to, where they want to, not when or where the networks say they should.

Sometimes, to take a break during a long workday, some people just click to a Web site offering, among other things, a video where “a couple of chicks fight on the beach.”

One result may be that Americans are growing closer to their gadgets, and apart from each other. Another may be that local television stations will lose some part of their audiences.

Last week's announcement by the Walt Disney Co., corporate owner of ABC, that next month it will post some of the network's prime-time shows – “Alias,” “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Commander in Chief” – on the ABC.com Web site for free viewing was but the latest pop in the burgeoning video fireworks display.

Episodes of ABC shows are already available for $1.99 each on Apple's iTunes.com without commercials. To see the free ones, after they've aired on KGTV/Channel 10, San Diego's ABC affiliate, you'll have to sit through commercials.

Already, iTunes and video.google.com are running episodes of a long list of old and new ABC, CBS and NBC shows at prices ranging from 99 cents to $3.99, while AOL offers episodes of old sitcoms and dramas – all produced by Warner Bros., part of the AOL Time Warner conglomerate – for free (but not available if you're using a Mac).
So many original programs have already been created for the Web, phones and other gadgets that a new category has been created in the upcoming daytime Emmy competition: “Original Programming Created for Non-Traditional Delivery Platforms.” The six nominees include “24: Conspiracy,” a cell phone spinoff of the Fox series, and “Sophie Chase,” a Web show about a female private eye.

Put all that together with TiVos and other digital video recorders making time-shifting easier than ever, and it's obvious there's a revolution going on.

Mark Glaser spends most of his time chronicling the sea change as editor of Mediashift, a PBS-sponsored Web site (PBS.org/mediashift). Even he is “pretty amazed at the number of the places you can watch TV now,” he said from San Francisco. “It's all the different smart connected devices that have video capabilities.”

For viewers, he said, “It's about being able to control your experience,” watching a favorite show “while I'm at work, while I'm on the road, on my little device when I'm stuck in line somewhere.”

But is the public demanding all that hand-held video, or are media companies offering it because they can? Are they simply in a race to get ahead in every new technology, lest someone else gets there first?

Disney chief Robert Iger has already said he decided to put ABC shows on the Web to avoid the problems that hit the music industry when music-sharing sites caught it flat-footed: “They were not in tune with what their customers wanted and what the world was demanding of them, and I think it hurt them significantly.”

Said Glaser: “Obviously, Disney is experimenting – 'Let's try a lot of things. Let's throw it all up there and see what sticks.'

“The cell phone thing is a really good example. What I've found is that people in general are saying, 'I don't necessarily want video on my phone; I just want to make a phone call.' ”

Derek Dalton, vice president and general manager of KGTV, said he's in “a wait-and-see situation. ABC is working with our affiliate boards to make sure the partnership is good for both sides.”

Like other local TV stations, Channel 10 is beaming news bulletins to San Diegans' cell phones.

“Wherever they are comfortable viewing, that's what we have to reach out to,” said Dalton. “The consumers are ruling where and when they watch the shows.”

Fox, meanwhile, Friday, announced an agreement to share revenues with its affiliates when the network sends out it programs on iTunes, the Web and other avenues.

Two popular video Web sites are Israel-based Metacafe.com and Youtube.com, each offering a polyglot collection of homemade videos, news clips, cute babies, cute cats, clumsy motorcyclists, people falling down, and, yes, one where “two chicks fight on the beach,” most of them sent in by viewers.

Few last more than a minute or two, in keeping with the belief of CEO Arik Czerniak that people turn to their computers for “media snacks,” not the full “dinners” of half-hour or hour-long programs.

“It's not a phenomenon anymore,” Czerniak said from his office in Tel Aviv. “It's the first beginning of a large cultural shift, in my view.

“Television will remain a very important entertainment venue. But short videos will emerge as a very important new entertainment market. People won't spend a half-hour straight in front of their computer or mobile device, but they may come to Web sites to watch short videos up to a dozen times a day.”

Renee Hobbs, director of Media Education Lab at Temple University in Philadelphia, sees recent events as part of “a long, slow slide toward the personalization of the television viewing experience.”

When there was a single TV set in the average home, families watched together, decided together what they'd watch, talked about what they'd watched.

“Now the average family has 3½ sets; children grow up with TV in their bedrooms,” Hobbs pointed out. “More and more of our TV viewing experience is at an individual level, and not part of a shared experience. So the migration of television to the smaller screens is an extension of that overall trend that's been going on.”

Disney's latest move, Hobbs added, is one more “sign that we'll have less opportunity for shared conversations about our viewing experience.”

Hobbs also doesn't look too kindly at the increasing habit of watching videos and other distractions during the workday: “Too much multitasking degrades the quality of everything you do.”

  25/04/2006. San Diego.com.