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?
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.