‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the magic of television…’
With those words Leslie Mitchell introduced the first high-definition public television program in London. In black and white, the date was 26th August 1936.
Television was not invented by a single person, the technical developments that made the first public tv-show possible just about 80 years ago, started around 1840. Over the next decades several inventors from Germany, Russia, France, Poland, Hungary, Japan, UK, Mexico and the US, helped to create television – the great seducer for people around the world in the 20th Century.
After experimenting for years, in 1954 the first national tv-show in color was broadcasted (a New Year’s celebration in Pasadena, California). But It took years before color-tv became standard. In the EU, most countries started in the late 60’s/early 70’s to broadcast in color, in Romania the color-age began in 1983.
A next step forward was cable-tv starting in 1980, early systems carried only a maximum of seven channels, in Romania cable-tv was introduced in 1991.
Then, transformation from analog to digital television started. The development was tied to the availability of inexpensive, high performance computers. Digital TV could support more than one program in the same channel bandwidth and was widely viewed as the first significant evolution in television technology since color television. In the US, between 1995 and 2005 the number of channels rose three times faster than inflation.
Despite all innovations and the availability of hundreds of channels, television to this day is still a passive medium. You sit and watch the menu. The timetable is made by networks and you have to consult a program- magazine to know when to switch channels for a movie or wait in front of your tv until 7pm to watch the stiri.
In other words, you have to schedule your daily routine according to the networks-programming not to miss the next episode of your favourite series or the daily news. And you have to accept tons of ads sometimes completely missing the targets – women were bombarded with silly beer-spots while men were bored with the same old detergent-ads again and again.
A certain generation of tv-watchers might be satisfied with the current situation, but the ‘digital natives’, people grown up with internet and youtube, are demanding much more.
Goodbye cable – hello stream
How the future of television will play out is hard to predict, but recent developments are an indication.
The bigger picture here is that the basic business model of cable-tv, where consumers buy a giant bundle of channels, most of which they will never watch, seems on the verge of extinction.
HBO, for instance, said it would launch a new online streaming service that doesn’t require a cable-subscription. Also the sports-channel ESPN became available without a cable subscription. So it’s probably only a question of time, when fans will be able to watch Champions League games without a cable-tv subscription in Europe too. And in Canada, cable-subscribers are set to pick and pay only for TV services they really want. It’s been called ‘Canada’s Great Cable Unbundling’.
Besides this negative cable-tv-trend, the rise of new options from Netflix, Amazon or Apple forced cable-tv companies to acknowledge a new reality. If Apple-TV users can use Siri to search for “that James Bond movie” and have it delivered to their TV sets without even having to know what provider it is coming from, then those content distributors become largely interchangeable content containers or pipelines.
The huge success of Netflix (for ‘internet’ and ‘flix’ as a slang for films, already available in Romania) is another example. In addition to its domestic disc-rental service, Netflix separately offers an Internet video-streaming service which gives Internet-connected devices access to Netflix’s library of online content (I would highly recommend the series ‘Narcos’ out of this library). In October 2015, Netflix reported 70 million subscribers worldwide.
The Netflix stock at the New York Stock Exchange more than doubled in 2015, while cable-tv shares lost in value amid the ‘prospects’ of more and more consumers cutting the cord on cable television and moving online.
With the introduction of Fire-TV, also Amazon has entered the streaming set-top box battle that may ultimately determine the future of how we get content into our TVs. Fire-TV is a simple black box, can be hidden behind other devices and doesn’t have a fan, which makes it silent. The smaller Fire-TV Stick connects the TV’s HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). So It’s possible to take the Fire-TV Stick away from home and watch even in hotels.