Evaluating the Future of TV with the Peabody Awards Crew
It was the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse.
Noel Holston, a former TV critic for Newsday, called with the news: How would you like to spend a day and a half talking about the future of the TV industry with a group of leading academics and fellow critics -- with the goal of producing a document which might help focus the industry on the new challenges ahead?
Oh, and it will be administered by the same people who give away the George Foster Peabody awards for excellence in broadcasting. (My answer: who do I have to run over to get there?)
As I write this, I've completed the first full day of the brainstorming, which included critics for the New York Daily News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, along with academics from Northwestern University, Ole Miss University and the University of Georgia, where we have all gathered.
What we know: the TV industry is facing a tremendous amount of change, mostly sparked by digital media. And no one knows where any of it is really heading. Which means anyone can try anything.
We discussed a lot:
* The Truthiness of TV News -- Why do news satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert often seem more authneitc and trustworthy than actual journalists? Why is it so hard for journalists to challenge the talking points of officials, and is that one reason why audiences trust them less each year? And, if audiences increasingly demand newscast which align with their political ideology, can ethical journalists deliver?
*Viralization of TV -- What happens to the concept of an audience when there are two tiers of consumers -- those who see a TV event when it is broadcast, and those who see it on YouTube or streaming video or some other time-shifted technology? Does the audience's relationship to content change when they also become producers of media? How do TV executives cope with losing control of their material and a portion of their industry?
*A New Concept of TV Communities -- Once upon a time, we all saw the same TV at relatively the same time. Now that audiences are so fragmented -- kids watch Disney, mom watches Lifetime, Dad watches ESPN -- what happens to the concept of a watercooler TV event? Or shows which bond viewers in a shared experience? Are we creating new communities, via chat rooms and bulletin boards online? And are we finding that some show still offer communal bonding (American Idol, Super Bowl), while others only attract niche audiences?
*On Demand Attitude -- When audiences will no longer sit through one show to get to another, demanding exactly what they want to see on TV exactly when they want to see it, how does that affect the industry? Does it all emerge as a giant ecosystem, where TV show providers, Tv technology and the TV audience push each other to evolve? And if you can't afford cable TV or a TiVo, what kind of TV experience will you have?
As you can see, we have way more questions than answers -- and we shared a lot of them with a group of students and fellow professors at a public forum last night. I'm not sure where all these ideas and deliberation are headed, but I love the questions we're asking, and the wonderful implications if the answers fall the right way.
Feel free to provide some of your own answers in this space.