Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
If all media had a popularity contest, which would win?
Michael Wolff, in his new book Television is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age, posits that, hands-down, TV is the prom queen.
- Despite the prophecies of television’s death by Internet, TV is healthier than ever. Many actually use the Internet to access television programs and thus spend more time watching TV. Therefore, the digital age has helped television to thrive.
- If one looks at the financial health of media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., aren’t doing well. Sure, their developers made a ton of money, but the social media itself is financially based in venture capital and the stock market, not on money actually flowing into those entities. Ads are incredibly cheap compared to television’s, especially for events such as the Super Bowl. And digital ads aren’t especially effective–despite many of them being “personalized” by targeting what the viewer is interested in. Wolff sees digital entities as poor business models.
- While prognosticators proclaimed the digital medium the “new television,” the medium experiencing a true renaissance is television. According to Wolff, whom I heard interviewed on the “PBS News Hour,” “We spend more time watching TV than we do in front of our computers.” (Apparently that’s what the statistics he studied regarding Americans’ use of their time indicates. I have to say that most certainly isn’t true for me.)
- The book’s description on Amazon reads, “We all know that Google and Facebook are thriving by selling online ads—but they’re aggregators, not content creators. As major brands conclude that banner ads next to text basically don’t work, the value of digital traffic to content-driven sites has plummeted, while the value of a television audience continues to rise.” To that point, Wolff observes that BuzzFeed doesn’t count the number of “viewers” of its news and human interest stories; instead, it counts “traffic.” We are seen as a flow of traffic–a mass–by the aggregators. But those creating the content talk about consumers as “viewers” or “readers.”
- Television is popular for one main reason: story. According to Wolff, the stories produced for television are better than ever, the acting is strong, and the productions are well done. It’s the “new” medium we love.
I have to agree that I turn to television for my story fix almost as often as I turn to books. I’ve become an avid viewer, which has never been true for me before. I don’t endorse the level of morality or ethical behavior that’s depicted. Nor am I suggesting that the depiction of our society is one that aligns with my view. Those are issues about the message inherent in the story. I’m talking about captivating stories, gripping acting, and high production values.
What does all this have to do with books? We who care about books should be heartened because not only has television not died as a result of the rise of the computer but also books have experienced boosts. Many avid book readers read more because of their digital devices. Shopping for books is easier than ever, with instant delivery digitally or with Amazon flinging books at us within two days (or less) of our decision to acquire them. I can find any book in print online, unlike in the past when I relied solely on my local bookstore or library to showcase what was available.
Perhaps most importantly, television’s rise endorses our belief that story carries the day. If we can engage a person in a good story, whether in our fiction or nonfiction, that person is likely to come back again and again, looking to be enraptured.
We have a world of possibilities before us in connecting with readers.
In what ways has your consumption of television programs changed since the rise of digital availability? What about your consumption of books? Do you think those changes or good, bad, or neutral?
Is TV the superior medium? Click to tweet.
What does the success of new television mean for writers? Click to tweet.