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Editorial: No-TV Experiment One Step on a Long Road

An ongoing experiment in TelevisionWeek has inspired dark mutterings among some of the TV industry’s cognoscenti and generated flaming comments on TVWeek.com.

To wit, TVWeek writer/blogger/video maven Daisy Whitney decided to cut herself off from her cable and over-the-air TV sources to see how well broadband could fill her informational and entertainment needs. That means no rabbit ears, no HD feed from cable, no satellite, no digital video recorder, no video-on-demand.

Some industry readers questioned the publication’s loyalty to the industry, asking how “Television”Week could so blithely encourage the demise of TV.

That critique couldn’t be more off-base.

Before we get too deep into explaining, it’s entertaining to share some of the flames: “OMG…so smug,” one reader said. “You’ll come running back to TV like everybody else,” said another. “If you pull that plug, you’ll be cut off from a lot of the context that surrounds the programs,” said one. “In short, a bad idea.”

We can dispense with the charge of disloyalty to the medium we love (and which pays our bills) with several observations: First, the results of the experiment aren’t in. Second, Ms. Whitney has documented the shortcomings of the Internet-only lifestyle as the test has proceeded. Third, she’s not proselytizing, she’s reporting.

Among the primary problems with relying on the Web for TV that Ms. Whitney has documented are the lack of high-definition content, a dearth of kids programming, an inadequate amount of quality programming, very little sports programming and the cost disadvantage of not bundling her TV service with Internet and phone.

The more interesting question raised by the experiment is how to define TV, and what that tells us about which directions the business might take as the Web becomes a more prominent pipeline for that programming.

The answer seems to be that television shouldn’t be thought of as a box on a stand or a flat-screen on a wall. It shouldn’t be defined by rabbit ears, or satellite dishes, or coaxial cable. Rather, the only concept that adequately captures the essence of TV is programming.

It’s the shows that define our industry. Not the kind of screen they’re watched on, and not the method in which they’re delivered. Of course those considerations have huge implications for how the business of TV operates, which explains why some are defensive when an emerging technology threatens to reshuffle the deck.

What Ms. Whitney’s experiment shows is that the Web is just another conduit by which TV professionals can deliver the programming that audiences love to watch.

While the industry faces a huge challenge in developing a business model around Web distribution of shows, criticizing those who experiment with consuming content on the Web is about as productive as complaining about the weather.

Comments (1)

Greg:

When I first heard of Daisy's experiment, something kept bothering me that I couldn't put into words until Obama gave his election night speech. I Twitter'ed this to Daisy (if that's a word):

@DaisyWhitney That's why you have television...the magic of the shared group experience. 8:12 PM Nov 4th from web in reply to DaisyWhitney

Better folks than I could wax on this a lot better than me, but I think this is the single saving grace of television. After radio, you could think of TV as being one of the original social networks.

Whereas we've come to find that you can really enjoy episodic program viewing in a variety of new formats both off an online. I don't think there's a true replacement to seeing something live with other folks at the same time.

I agree, though that criticizing Daisy for trying is does not contribute anything to the discussion. But I feel at the end of the day, a web only diet of TV programming still has me hungry for something more. Then again, I am from the midwest ;)

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