Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The end of ‘television’

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on June 13, 2011

Image credit: espensorvik on Flickr (cc)


Ask someone who works in television what they do, they’ll tell you they do just that.

“I work in television” they’ll say. Same with folks in radio too. And newspapers and magazines.

But skip down the road five years, and what happens when we’re all watching IPTV, internet streamed through a television set? It’s a pertinent question because when Hybrid-IPTV (as we can call it, to avoid a comments row about semantics) does arrive on the mass market, we will effectively have iTunes on our remote controls.

Never mind another dose of bland reality fodder from BBC One, or NBC – what about a niche documentary shot and uploaded by someone in Mexico? Or the latest interview by online video wunderkind Jamal Edwards on SBTV? They’re both yours for $2.99, or perhaps less, all streamed straight to your living room.

Or perhaps even a sci-fi action movie, complete with top of the range special effects, made entirely independently from the Hollywood systems, for just a few thousand dollars? Gareth Edwards has already proven, with great finesse, that it can be done.

When we can get the internet and all its varied signal and noise through our TV sets, what will “working in television” mean? People talk about it as if it is a craft and a career – but actually a television is no different to Youtube, Twitter or Flickr: it is a platform.


Thing is, from an advertiser’s point of view, it is becoming a disproportionately expensive one. Why pay £10,000 for a 30-second slot after Coronation Street, when you could sponsor an independent drama series, or a magazine show on iTunes – aimed at your target customer – for far less?

BBC TV Centre | Image credit: strollerdos on Flickr (cc)

And from a viewer’s point of view, why watch something at a time decreed by a scheduler, when you can watch it at your leisure? (A friend of mine who works at the BBC commented on Facebook today how people complained last night because Antiques Roadshow was cancelled to accomodate the late-running F1 grand prix.)

I’m not dismissing TV’s past or present, nor the people or work that goes into it. Television as we know it has a future, and it is a future making some extraordinary, live changing shows.

But like newspapers before it, it will fight a difficult battle with its own legacy costs. Television is still eye-wateringly expensive to produce. Studio television is some of the most expensive, and that’s declined so much, the BBC are now selling off their studio complex in West London.


We’ll have to redefine what we call things a little bit. Jamal Edwards wouldn’t say he “works in Youtube” just because that’s his platform. He probably says he’s a film-maker – or even just a content creator. This (or something like it) might be the job-title of the future. And of course there’ll be issues of quality, copyright, and too much noise – all things we’ve already proven we can solve together.

So if I was young and wanted to “work in television” I wouldn’t bother competing with thousands of others for work experience at the BBC, or spend three years doing the Pret runs at an Indie, just so I could have my shot at pitching segments for Gordon Ramsey’s Strictly Come Cash In The Attic SOS: the celebrity special.

No sir, I would pick up a camera and start making something instead.

Out there, on the internet already, “content creators”: ordinary people, small businesses and independent film makers, are proving that remarkable, popular video can be made with little or no money. Its limitation is that viewers have to peer at our work in a small box on their laptops…but one day soon, hybrid-IPTV will project our films onto 45-inch plasma TVs.

And when that happens, “working in television” won’t mean anything at all. 


9 Responses

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  1. rosieniven said, on June 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    One of the drawbacks of conventional TV, even with the iPlayer, is the lack of social sharing capabilities and the kind of functions you get in Last FM like recommendations. It probably exists now but it is not something I get from my TV provider.

    The schedule is now much more flexible with Catch Up TV and other innovations. But what I would like to see when I go into catch up TV is recommendations based on my viewing habits, keyword searches and the ability to recommend programmes I like to my friends – all from the remote control, or whatever we will be using in five years time.

    I am sure it will be possible when the type of services you describe take off, but it shocks me how slowly this is happening.

  2. Dan Chung said, on June 14, 2011 at 10:09 am

    On a point of information – Gareth Edward’s film Monsters was not shot for a few thousand dollars. That misreporting was bad journalism – somebody confused the $15,000 equipment budget with the film budget. It came in at under $500,000 – still cheap by Hollywood standards but not beer money.

    As Sci-fi flicks go it was OK but no Star Wars.


    • Adam Westbrook said, on June 14, 2011 at 7:06 pm

      Good point Dan, thanks for mentioning that.

      Although, nothing will ever be as good as Star Wars 😉

  3. Simon Morice said, on June 15, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Cheap equipment supports only a part of the media democratisation process. The surge of Desk Top Publishing software in the 1990s encouraged thousands of secretaries to ‘design’ dreadful brochures, leaflets and posters. So I disagree that very much valuable stuff is being made in the bedrooms and on the desktops of enterprise. To produce anything worth watching, reading or hearing is clearly far more than the sum of the production tools. You have to be good at stories first and foremost. Relying on production value is what makes TV expensive.

    I don’t understand why getting YouTube et al on a TV is such a problem. Just connect a computer and play things full screen. Take your lean forward equipment into the lean back environment, use playlists to stay leaning back. As the Millenials begin to settle and reproduce this will become mainstream.

  4. […] by poppy season, the clearing out of a farm attic and Adam Westbrook’s June 13th blogpost The End of Television, this short clip emerged from the depths of an edit […]

  5. Digital Ways of Seeing said, on June 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Here’s a film to go with the theme of this post:

  6. […] The end of television and what that means for you – why I think television’s days are numbered (and why that’s great) […]

  7. […] The end of ‘television’ | Adam Westbrook […]

  8. The future of TV? | Digital Ways of Seeing said, on December 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    […] by poppy season, the clearing out of a farm attic and Adam Westbrook’s June 13th blog post The End of Television, this short clip emerged from the depths of an edit […]

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