A colleague of mine forwarded an article by Mike Bloxham from the MEDIA Post blog, entitled “At a TV Screen Near you: Facebook and Twitter”. In this article, Bloxham refers to social media as having a “benignly parasitical relationship with TV” and that this relationship was somehow benefiting social networking sites.
This irks me a little bit.
There is no doubt that more and more people on television are talking about social media. TV and radio broadcasters, as well as the rapidly decaying newspaper industry are all experimenting with Twitter, social networks, blogs and other forms of technology, and reporters are talking about the growth of online media and social networks. But they are not doing this because social media is the parasite (benign, aggressive or otherwise). That would not make much sense.
Is TV responsible for social media’s growth?
The truth of the matter is that social media has grown in popularity, because the number of people who use the Internet is on the rise. Broadband expansion into households all across the country and the world (see eMarketer) has made online interactivity, including photo and video sharing, easier. The more people online, communicating and sharing information, the faster social media gains in popularity.
I mean, let’s face it, you do not see commercials for Twitter sandwiched in between advertisements for diet soda and cars on your television screen, do you? Social media knows what it is about, and mass media is not its shtick.
Now, that is not to say that some people watching CNN, and seeing Wolf Blitzer read comments posted on Twitter to his cable tv audience, would not get curious about microblogging, fire up their computer and check it out. Could a bunch of people in the 40 and older crowd be responding to this trend through their television? I suppose anything is possible. However, when you think about the typical television viewer in higher age brackets, you realize that these people are the exception – they are not the norm.
TV = The real parasite
It is my belief that TV, not social media, is the parasite here. Wolf may be mentioning Twitter during the broadcast, but he is doing that to try and get people who use Twitter to watch his program. Wolf and CNN are trying to stay relevant by doing what television broadcasters always try to do – appeal to the masses. Only, they are doing it in a way that is uncharacteristic of television – engagement.
How we are changing is what drives changes to media
Plain and simple, TV is a passive medium, whereas the Net is active. When you think about engagement – television is not what springs to mind. There is a reason why we invented terms around tv viewing such as “couch-potatoes” and the “boob-tube”. But television is changing, in large part, because its audience is changing. This is where people who analyze the future of the television industry need to look if they want a clear picture.
Look at how society exists today and where it is going. In doing so, I am speaking in terms of how our generations are impacted by technology. What we’re seeing is a transitional period for television, for sure. But to pose the questions that Bloxham offers, “How will Facebook and Twitter manifest themselves on TV” and “Will CNN still use Facebook or will it develop its own means of going it alone” really misses the point of what the post-digital age is going to be like.
Think about it this way… On the one hand you have a generation that grew up in an industrial age – mass production, large institutions, standardization, etc (see Toffler). Now you have a new generation that does not respond to that structure. It’s built on demassification, individualism and customization. Television, at its core, is designed to push content to the masses, and it is not designed for telling stories and disseminating information… at least, not like the Net…
TV is more geared towards one-size-fits-all model that is perfect for mass advertising. TV is a classic product of industrial age technology.
The Net, meanwhile, is faster, easier to develop programming for and more customizable. The Internet is what has brought about the digital age, including the values, culture and mindset of the people living in its wake.
And as the Gen Xers get older and the Net Generation gets older, fewer and fewer people will turn to TV.
More channels = more niche programming = the demise of television
The systematic expansion of niche programming in television is part of the transition we are seeing, but it is in the early stages. CNN might exist in 20 years, but I would not count on it. Would you watch the kind of programming that appears on CNN now, if instead you could access reports on your own from citizen journalists you trust and have relationships with?
Social media connects people and builds relationships in a truly global sense. Within the next 10 years, people will start tapping into their global connections to access news from all over the world and use their computer systems to tailor news feeds, special interest stories, sports and entertainment. Your mobile device will be a key driver in all of this and your home entertainment system will be computer driven.
My bold prediction
So, what does this mean for the future? Well, for starters, we are not going to be watching TV in 20 years. What purpose will television have if my friend, Meena, who lives in India and used to work for the BBC sends me a message about a car bombing? She is live and on the scene and ready to file her report. And since I know Meena, I am not worried that she is conveying some network or hidden bias. I know her bias, because I know her and… most importantly… I have a relationship with her and trust her. TV no longer has that.
The bottom line is this… to think that TV will play an important role in maximizing Web 2.0 brands is just ridiculous. When you look at how technology is shaping the emerging generations, it is pretty clear… Web 3.0 and 4.0 will eat TV up and drive it to extinction.