How TV is Winning the War for Our Attention

tv winning

I don’t know if you guys have heard, but we’re currently in a Golden Age of Television. The power dynamic in the entertainment industry is shifting, and TV is no longer seen as a place fading stars go when they have to support their terrible, terrible children. This is happening during a time of many plagues for the film industry: lack of streaming options for new products, skyrocketing production costs, the ire of millennials for their lack of diversity… There’s a pretty strong case for the eventual rise of television as the most profitable, popular form of entertainment in America. What’s confounding about this to me is that a nation of people enraged by a 15-second Youtube advertisement somehow has found the patience to watch dense prestige television in 8-12 hour chunks.

To be fair, watching TV used to suck. Quality programming was technically present in TV’s first decades, but for every M*A*S*H or ST. ELSEWHERE there were 10 trite variety shows and episodes of Adam West’s BATMAN. The larger problem was that as a relatively new form of entertainment and art, TV didn’t have the same level of presentation experience as traditional mediums. Between the inconvenience of program schedules, its heavy reliance on advertisements and governing bodies, and its reputation as an “idiot box” that literally made you stupider, TV had little hope of ever becoming more than a way for dysfunctional families to ignore each other while still being “together.”

tv family

Nothing brings a family together like staring silently in the same direction!

But once the internet came and made so much content so cheap (or free, if you’re broke/hate supporting artists), the quality of the programs found there shot up almost immediately. The internet solves pretty much every major problem that television has: Shows are streamed on demand, ad free, and on a machine that we all need to buy anyway for work or school. Somewhat better than sitting in front of a single-function box at a certain time on a certain day for a show that’s 25-33% ads. What’s more, the government can’t control when the internet can display something. So instead of waiting until 10 PM to see genitals and hear swears, we can now do that when and wherever we want.

Streaming services have also convinced audiences that 5-15 hours of content is totally doable in one sitting. This is the key to the uprising of television; more people are realizing that the satisfaction of following a really good show is not only comparable to other mediums, but is also time and cost efficient. Time efficient because it can be viewed on demand, and cost efficient because an internet connection and a Netflix subscription are way less expensive than a physical TV and a cable package.

tv airbnb

When using your product is synonymous with boning, you have truly won capitalism

The latter of those two is by far the more important. Television is moving towards affordability while film is moving towards luxury. As ticket prices creep up, theatres are now installing amenities like recliner chairs, IMAX screens, and Coke Freestyle machines in an attempt to be worthy of the higher costs. I agree that these amenities are nice, but only nice enough to justify the $6.25 I’ll occasionally spend on a matinee show. It’s just not worth $15-$20 for two hours of hopefully good film with comforts I didn’t really know I wanted until theaters started providing them. And if the film isn’t good, I’ll likely suffer through it due to the sunken cost fallacy, whereas I can seamlessly jump to a better TV show if I get bored. Simply put, TV now gives you more bang for your buck than movies, and I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

The tide of the American public is turning. As those network-watching baby boomers start to die and millennials start to gain purchasing power, top-tier shows will eventually claim the pop culture throne. The American audience has already begun migrating; FX’s FARGO saw the largest increase in audience size in 2015, followed by TRUE DETECTIVE, BETTER CALL SAUL, BATES MOTEL, and GAME OF THRONES. In terms of social media buzz, arguably a more accurate metric for popularity, THE WALKING DEAD and GAME OF THRONES reign supreme. SCANDAL and PARKS AND RECREATION also hold spots on the list. Essentially, the ratings systems that measure growth are indicating that America is getting more and more patrician.

tv taste

  How Americans feel about their taste in TV, and also most other things

This may all just be the wishful thinking of an art school student that wants to make a living by thinking about TV, but if and when Netflix and HBO Now run all of America’s entertainment, we’ll at least know why.

Dan Blomquist

Dan Blomquist is a guest contributor for Crossfader and writes about important things sometimes, but mostly about television. He believes that memes are the future and that free will is an illusion.

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