Television has come a long way since the early days of flickering black and white images transmitted for a few hours a day. These days, it has become highly commercialised and our watching habits ingrained into the fabric of society.
However, the advent of the internet, faster data connections and improvements in streaming high-quality content mean that terrestrial television is facing a serious challenge to its current market position.
There are many reasons why people are switching off their traditional television. While cable and subscription-based television has been around for years, many of us are reluctant to pay for channels we don't want and for what is still heavily commercialised content.
Analogue television is being wound down and will soon cease transmission altogether, meaning many people who no longer want to watch that blend of television will simply chuck out their old set and forgo upgrading their hardware to access the new digital services.
Others won't have a choice; if they live in a place where they can't receive the digital signal, they'll have to fork out for an alternative satellite or cable-based system, an expensive exercise just to receive the same television the rest of us view for "nothing".
If it isn't the fact we have to pay for television, people are also turning off in droves because of the increasingly pervasive and intrusive advertising. Modern television has become so commercialised that many programmes now work their plots and storylines around timed ad breaks.
The way the ads are presented has also evolved, with annoying jumps in sound levels and ever-increasing frequency towards the end of a show disrupting things further. Some messages even mask the closing credits – which some of us actually want to refer to.
It is no wonder, then, that people are turning their televisions off and their computers on and heading to the ever-expanding and improving internet for their televisual fix.
Most of the main networks have websites that provide on-demand viewing of certain programmes for a fixed period of time after broadcasting. While many will argue that the picture quality is lower and the viewing experience is diminished by watching shows this way, the rest of us don't really care about that, as long as we feel we are in control and avoid interruptions.
Many of us are also forgoing watching shows on television at all. Instead we wait for the inevitable DVD release (which is often timed to hit the shelves the day after the final series episode airs), preferring the discs, which often include extras like cast interviews, the ever-popular blooper reels or other fan-favourite non-broadcast content.
Another alternative is one far less acceptable, but nevertheless growing in popularity – the downloading of television shows from torrent and file-sharing sites.
The reasons for this are many and varied, as are the legal arguments and ramifications.
Top Gear, for example, is one of the most downloaded programmes in history, and is usually available on the web a few hours after transmission in Britain. Some may argue that Top Gear will never be shown in some countries, or that fans of the show might have to wait months or even years for episodes to be broadcast in their region. The show as broadcast is not typically available on DVD, though some of the "challenges" have been compiled into Christmas and Father's Day-release DVDs.
For someone who is a fan of the show, the situation can seem unreasonable and unacceptable, so downloading a high-definition copy of the very latest episode is a huge temptation. This argument is also used for video games and music CDs. Even with mutterings of global price-fixing and dodgy marketing practices, it has no legal basis, yet people still do it on a massive scale.
Alternatives may be in the offing. Several internet-based television channels are operating, allowing people to watch streaming content free of charge using software like ChrisTV. I have not been able to determine the legality of the likes of Justin.tv or similar services, but this type of broadcasting is very likely the way of the future.
Either way, broadcasters and production companies will have to move with the times or be left behind.
- © Fairfax NZ News