October 02, 2015

A room filled with static.

A room full of static. Credit: Jon Fife / Flickr Creative Commons

Television is dying. There are statistics, think pieces, and articles that all say pretty much the same thing: television is going the way of taxicabs, bookstores, and the music industry.

But at least one expert dismisses this notion as more far-fetched than the final episode of Lost. Michael Wolff, author of Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age and a columnist for USA Today, The Hollywood Reporter, believes that television is healthy, and has a robust future. Here are four reasons why:

Television is a huge cultural force

People are watching more TV than ever before. They’re not only watching more TV, they’re watching it in many more places; 70 percent of broadband usage is for video. Television is what we do, television is the thing that holds our attention. Television is the thing that evermore fuels and creates the culture. It’s the main topic on social media.”

Wolff argues that this cultural dominance makes television production a good business to be in. And if you’re worried about Amazon and Netflix taking a bite out of the market, well...

Internet television IS television

“What Amazon and Netflix and everyone else are buying is television. And they’re buying it from the television community. [In 2016] Netflix will pay the television industry $3 billion for television,” argues Wolff.

He says the fact that people watch Netflix and Amazon doesn’t mean that they’re watching less TV -- they’re just watching it in a different place. And these new Internet distributors just bring in more money to the television industry:

“I think that we can see a world in which all of the major digital platforms will become television outlets. For high-priced dramas, high-priced comedies, for sports. They will compete with traditional television outlets. But remember the nature of competition in this market tends to be that all boats rise. If Google, Facebook, Yahoo become television distributors, they will end up buying from the television industry. None of those companies are in a position to make television themselves, nor would they want to.”

Television doesn’t rely solely on advertising, but digital media does

“Advertising is literally the only bread of digital media, that’s all that digital media makes its money on. Advertising, advertising, advertising. 100 percent of its revenues are advertising-driven revenues. Television, on the other hand, has over the past 20 years now, slowly converted from 100 percent advertising to now only 50 percent advertising. The rest is now made up in subscriptions, on demand payments, etc. So the television industry has taken a giant step away from dependence on advertising.”

These other revenue streams make Wolff confident about the future of television. With the rise of ad-blockers, it’s even more important that:

People will actually pay for television

“[Television], like digital media, will also reach and is reaching the inevitable point where most of advertising goes away. I think television now is handily prepared to deal with that. People pay for television, people are used to paying for television, people want to pay for television. Digital media, nobody wants to pay, nobody’s willing to pay for it, and they have no other [business model].

Modern television might be far removed from the three channel, I Love Lucy days, but as long as people aren’t content with just watching 30-second clips of cute cats, Wolff believes that television has a place in our digital lives. Though, to be fair, those 30 second cat clips are adorable.

Michael Wolff, television, Culture, Netflix, Amazon

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