What Does The Term 'Television' Mean These Days?

Let's put one thing behind us right away -- the integration of Internet features with the conventional television set and set-top boxes (often referred to as Connected TV and Smart TV) speaks to the technological marriage between computers and these devices. Real "convergence," however, speaks to the seamless combination of multiple services, such as interactive media, Internet TV, over-the-top-content and on-demand streaming media, which enable viewers to conveniently access both broadcast and web-based multimedia content on a television set using a single remote control and a single on-screen interface. Convergence is well under way and accelerating at fiber optic transmission speed. Nothing can stop it. 

Real convergence is more than Jetsonian in its capabilities. To my recollection, the only service "The Jetsons'" wall-mounted flat panel displays provided was an early beta version of FaceTime, Apple's awesome and simple video calling feature.  Today, George Jetson can not only speak face-to-face with Mr. Spacely via his SkyPad, he can send real time email and text messages, and transfer images, still and moving, to every Jane who buys Spacely Space Sprockets during demographically targeted commercial ad spots appearing 6, 12 and 19 minutes into "The Real Housewives of Orbit City."  And, believe it or not, the forthcoming, though hush-hush, 60" SkyPad3 will instantly transfer George's HD imagery to another SkyPad3 (or above) in real time as he chases Astro out to the AeroDeck. That's right, George; advanced image stitching technology will allow family, friends and business associates equipped with a SkyPad3 to watch YOU from afar as if they were there with you! 



The proliferation of converged devices/services, mobile and stationary, means we will be inevitably and forever surrounded by increasing numbers of video displays -- and I mean surrounded. This subtopic alone justifies its own story, but for now, let's agree this is a foregone conclusion and focus on what the term "television" actually means to the viewing public these days.

On a historic basis, the term "television" has been used to describe (a) the telecommunication medium for transmitting moving images and sound; (b) a viewing device that receives television signals; and (c) the programming/content delivered to these devices.  With all due respect to all the cool technology behind the black glass, the worldwide viewing audience could generally care less about the technology of delivery, whether by satellite, cable/Internet, digital radio transmission or WiFi.  They just want their favorite shows, movies, news broadcasts, etc., when and wherever they want it. On the device side of the equation, however, "television," in my book, has taken on new meaning.

While the television set has been the de facto display device since the late 1920s, I believe that most consumers around the world now consider all devices capable of receiving and displaying moving images and sound, to be television.  Is your iPad a mobile computer? Yes. Does your iPad receive and display video? Yes. Do these feature sets seamlessly combine multiple services using a single control device (your finger) and on-screen interface?  You bet they do; and that makes my iPad a mobile television set. And my iPhone, which offers the same features, and just so happens to have an integrated telephone to boot, is also a mobile television set.  Label these devices any way you choose, they're television sets to me -- they're just connected now, and smarter for it.

In industry parlance, the images and sound we receive on all these devices is referred to as "content."  But to the viewing audience watching their favorite show, a feature film, a documentary, a news program, interacting with advertisers, and socially sharing their interests and actions with friends, fans and followers -- whether they're chilling in their family room, sitting on a plane, or sunning at the beach -- the programming they're watching, short and long-form, is quintessential Television, circa 2011, regardless of the transmission medium or display device. 

Television has been, and will forever be, the programming we watch, and now talk about in places, and with people, other than at the office water cooler. The display device has simply become smaller, smarter and infinitely sexier.

5 comments about "What Does The Term 'Television' Mean These Days? ".
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  1. Jimm Fox from One Market Media, September 8, 2011 at 12:07 p.m.

    'Television' is telling people where and when they can watch a 'show'... programming our lives around a broadcaster's schedule. Broadcasters provide the necessary monitization through advertising. Tivo, Apple, Hulu, etc. are (slowly) changing that.

    Live events like sports will always be 'programmed' but the vast majority of what we now refer to as 'shows' are beginning to untether from the broadcasters schedule - one way or the other. As shows break free from the broadcaster's control the challenge will be to find ways to ensure someone is 'paying' to watch their favorite show - wherever and whenever that happens to be.

  2. Ruth Barrett from, September 8, 2011 at 12:15 p.m.

    It may be around for sometime as a term, but maybe not THAT long: disk drives, plotters, floppies, line printers come to mind. The TV is a peripheral, a dumb one with no computational abilities, dependent on a host and now owned, more or less by cable operators who control the content (data, information). Slowly the talk is turning to watching video, not TV, as we are no longer dependent on one kind of peripheral and prefer those that are "smart."

    Hopefully producer and consumer, now more than ever often one in the same person shifting easily from one to the other, and as CITIZENS will moderate the control and pricing of the infrastructure providers - one possible outcome of user generated, online video.

  3. Rob Tait from Silent Joe, September 9, 2011 at 2:52 p.m.

    I think the term television has cart full of baggage. And a lot of that baggage is linked to interruptive business model used to pay for the programming. When I think television, I think ads. That is not so of my iPad or my iPhone. The expectations are different when viewers watch video on those devices and as a result, I don't think we'll ever think of them as television. Thanks for tabling the topic.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, September 9, 2011 at 11:28 p.m.

    So Rob, may I ask what video content you watch on your iPhone or iPad? What proportion would be 'TV' content - content that originated on broadcats or cable TV? Each network has to fill 8,760 hours of broadcast time every year. The 'disruptive' model has serviced the production of content for the past half-century or so. I am yet to see any evidence of the '$1.99 pull' model providing the funds to keep up the stream of content creation - especially when the 'conduit' takes 30% of the cut.

    So my question is, can you think of any models where the 'up-front' capital to create, write and produce this content will work, as I'd be very interested in how we break this paradigm. I can't see how the 'pay later' plan will amass the funds to create more content.

    Full disclosure: my wife is an independent kids TV producer here in Australia so of course I have a vested interest.

  5. Dave Brody from Purch, September 12, 2011 at 1:54 p.m.

    And great call, David, on calling out "content" as industry buzzwordium. Everyone who actually consumes "content" – or actually makes it for that matter – calls it something else: film, show, picture, photo, article, story, painting, poem, song...

    So, we producer-bitches better start thinking in terms of "offerings" not "programming" Jimm Fox's excellent point notwithstanding.

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