Yesterday, I highlighted a long story by Ned Soseman of Broadcast Engineering in which he discussed the reasons why broadcast TV was bound to change. But into what? Soseman didn’t really say. So let me fill in the rest of that story – some wild speculation about what broadcast TV might look like 20 years from now.
What will happen to broadcast TV when a new generation of viewers becomes too used to always getting content on demand? For an answer, let’s look at the last time a major media source was forced to overhaul itself. Let’s look back at the late 1950s, when TV ended episodic programming on radio.
I wasn’t there, but every indication is that radio was really hot stuff when it was first commercially available. Newspapers, which were also still around, ran radio program listings the way the internet lists TV network listings now. Dramas, comedies, musical variety shows, even kids’ programming followed half- and quarter-hour schedules that look like most network TV schedules today.
Then came TV, and families discovered that it was more fun to watch Jack Benny and company than it was to listen to them. Episodic, block-formatted radio withered. Todd Storz, Gordon McLendon and others invented the Top 40 radio format, sometimes called contemporary hit radio. Listeners could tune in at any time and stay as long or as briefly as they wanted without feeling as though they missed something. Other stations picked up other genres, and by the end of the 1960s, radio had turned itself into the music and talk service it is today.
Maybe that’s the eventual destination for broadcast TV – as an as-needed, available-anytime service. A few digital sub-channels already indicate some possibilities such as music videos, weather forecasts, and 24-hour news. Viewers can check in for a few minutes without worrying about the program schedule. As a side-benefit, these formats are DVR resistant; few would want to watch a recorded block of something when the same stuff is on now, only fresher. The public stations might continue to serve up educational fare much as National Public Radio stations broadcast today. And there would be other formats that aren’t used yet, like a 24-hour sports talk channel with highlights and the occasional live event.
There you have it, my conclusion to Soseman’s fine article. Will broadcast TV really turn into something like 1970s radio? We’ll know more in about 20 years.