I have bad news for network television. I’ve suspected for a while now that network television is over. In the last few weeks, for me, it’s been confirmed. There are two things that have convinced me.
First I watched House of Cards and loved it. House of Cards is serial television drama, but it has no network; it will never be broadcast. It is as high quality as any network show ever made with an outstanding performance from Kevin Spacey. It is a Netflix original series, completely bypassing the whole legacy television world. I can watch it whenever I want to. I can watch it in my living room, at a coffee shop, or sitting outside under a tree. The future of entertainment is episodic television, but it will not come from networks into a fixed panel in our living room. I’m not even going to mention YouTube, but look up The Lizzie Bennet Diaries for an idea of how the next generation entertainment will be both created and delivered.
The second thing started last Thursday. We’ve been keeping a Nielsen diary and it doesn’t look good for wired television. Yep, the one-television Kachadurian family is a Nielsen household. I don’t know how many household we’re statistically representing, but our input will be part of the ratings sometime in the near future. The diary we are filling out started on Thursday morning and will go for a week. We’ve been taking this seriously, and recording whatever happens on our TV set. You learn some things when you start writing them down.
Our Television set is on more often than I’d like, but now that we’re keeping track it turns out there’s not a lot of TV watching going on. My 14 year-old son uses it to play Forza and Mindcraft on Xbox, a lot. But that’s not television viewing. He was home from school on Thursday with a serious ear infection, so passive viewing was about all he could do without getting dizzy. He spent most of the day on the couch watching Psych. But he watched it on Netflix, which is not a Nielsen event. We were home on Friday evening, but nothing on packaged television got us to tune in. The set was on Saturday evening but my 18 year-old daughter brought home Scott Pilgrim vs the World on DVD to watch with my son and me. The television wasn’t on Sunday. We’ve passed pages and pages of the Nielsen log with the words “No Television Watching,” with a line to indicate the entire day part.
Don’t be fooled, we’re not out running marathons. Sure I spent Saturday cleaning windows and screens to get ready for summer. But once I was done with my chores I was a full blown sofa spud. I watched an episode of House of Cards and spent some time on-line, all on my iPad. My wife watched a movie on her aging MacBook. The closest anyone came to watching traditional TV was when my daughter watched a network TV show from earlier in the week on Hulu, on her MacBook Pro. I don’t know how he bears it, but my son likes watching YouTube on his tiny iPod.
We’ll watch The Voice tonight, and I alone will watch Survivor on Wednesday, but that will probably be it for the week. Out of 168 hours of diary keeping for the Nielsen organization, less than 10 of it will have anything to do with network–broadcast or cable–Television.
We are a family that loves visual entertainment. My daughter is a film studies major. My wife needs an occasion film with Bruce Willis and things blowing up. Perhaps it’s from too much Dickens in graduate school, but I love installment stories. I even chipped in on Kickstarter to get the Veronica Mars movie made just to see how it ends. (Note: we never watched Veronica Mars as a broadcast TV show. My daughter found it on Netflix years after it was cancelled.)
The notion of someone else deciding when we can watch a program is over for the Kachadurian family. We didn’t make an active decision to stop watching network TV. It just happened and the Nielsen log shined a light on it. We don’t tune-in the vacant comedy that relies more on sexual innuendo than good writing. Even as background noise, we pass on the politically correct dramas that are more about agenda promotion than entertainment. We have better options now. We can watch exactly what we want. We can watch it when we want. In the case of YouTube we can email directly to the creators and have real dialog. It’s good news for content creators, especially the independents who no longer need cloistered executives. The cable companies have bandwidth to sell so it’s a business model shift for them. It might be a warning for TBS, Sci-Fi and HBO. It’s very bad news for ABC, CBS, and NBC.