The Sitcom may be a Dying Breed, so What Does the Future Hold for TV?

October 19 2008 / by christinep
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

With web and interface technology advancing rapidly, the television medium is quickly approaching a new age in which sitting on the couch facing a screen will no longer be the most popular way to consume broadcast content.

Long gone are the days when everyone would crowd around the television at 9:00pm every Thursday night to catch the latest Seinfeld episode.

According to the Nielsen ratings, it appears the annual new season blitz that once drew in more than 20 million viewers is on the decline. Among the top ten shows of the first week of premieres were Dancing with the Stars and Grey’s Anatomy. Each received respective numbers of about 20 million and 18 million viewers as compared to over 25 million just 5 years ago.

So what’s the reason for this sharp drop? Some have speculated that last year’s writers’ strike had pushed people to the cable networks. Other contributing factors include the increasing abundance of cable channels and time-shifted viewing.

Due to advancements in digital viewing and storage technology people simply don’t have to stay at home to watch their favorite premieres. They can now go out and watch it later, or just download the entire season all at once a few months down the road.

What does this mean for the big networks and the near-future of television?

Jason Kilar, the CEO of, points out that “historically, the winners are the ones who embrace change.” So in fashion, the major studios such as Fox, NBC Universal, and Warner Bros have quickly established websites to get in on the online video viewing trend.

Geoffrey Longs, a web media researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, goes further, arguing that “multiple video delivery devices will fracture the traditional shared entertainment experience fostered by TV.”

After all, television is becoming mobile. The rise of portable devices such as the iPod and Creative Zen lines are becoming suitable alternatives. Also, live streaming applications like Slingbox make it possible for real on-the-go television. Just think, a person can watch The Office from a handheld in the supermarket parking lot in case he/she couldn’t make it home in time to watch it air in their living room.

Conclusion: For the past 20 years, prime-time network television has been in a steady downward trend. Though traditional broadcasting appears to be on the way out, the future of transmitted video looks as bright as ever. With the upcoming digital conversion and new advancements arriving day by day, the medium is quickly expanding beyond the confines of the living room.

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. Hello Christine,

    Welcome to the zoo. :)

    One under-realised potentiality I think the variety of transmission medium provides is for the serialization of an episodic program.

    Using your hypothetical Seinfeld example, Jerry could transmit short (3 to 5 minute) essentially stand-alone “bits” from the next episode of his show via a variety of the alternatives available (youtube, his network or even a bigbux commercial sponsor’s websight, etc) prior to the episode’s broadcast. This would permit considerably more (and possibly different) content than does the existing “sound bite” advertising model we all endure now. The “buzz” generated by each week’s “find the Seinfeld Bits on the web” could only add to the visibility of the program among potential viewers.

    The increase in advertising revenue all of this creates, as well as audience interest in how it all comes together (with a for-fee download available at the time of initial broadcast as an added possibility), would work to the financial advantage of the existing entertainment medium(s). The increase in profit among the range of alternatives available creates a cooperative alliance among all media to increase audience in total, rather than the current effort to shed audience between them.

    There also exists the possibility for a relatively less expensive format to test and develop new program ideas for sponsorship and audience. The technology already exists to include audience direct involvement in character and storyline development (pay-to-play + pay-to-view) as a mechanism to reduce the capital outlay presently required by the current development model.

    I call dibs on “WannabeaMogul?” as a P2P/V title. :)

    Posted by: Will   October 19, 2008
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  2. Interesting point. It’ll be weird to see how future television producers will find out exactly how many people saw an episode. If there are hundreds of websites displaying the TV episodes (not to mention all those illegal ones on Torrents) how are we supposed to rank TV shows?

    As far as what will happen to TV, as long as laugh tracks get ousted (unless it’s a live TV audience) I’ll be happy with anything.

    Posted by: John Heylin   October 20, 2008
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  3. @ Will The concept of the stand alone concepts remind me of the after-show bits that play online. I know ABC does a few, but I’m not sure about the other big networks. Oh, and I really like your title. I’d have to think it over on what title I’d want for a P2P/V.

    Posted by: christinep   October 20, 2008
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  4. One word. TiVO. It changed everything.

    Posted by: JohnNg   October 20, 2008
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