jul 21, 2012
ou might think I'm not the best person to predict the future of TV. My only TV is a 15-inch CRT made in 1996. I'm old enough to remember when portable TVs were as high as my chest and were too heavy to lift. (In my defense, I was only two feet tall in those days.) But the fact that I only watch Star Trek reruns and science documentaries actually makes it easier: you can be more objective about something when you don't give a sh*t what happens to it.
So how does one predict future trends anyway? Taking a cue from Star Trek, we do it logically. First, societies are powered by money. If something brings in more money, it is logical to conclude that society will do it, regardless of the consequences. Second, people crave power. The lure of controlling the vertical, the horizontal, and everything you see and hear is too strong for any society to resist.
Some people think TV is dying, because the percentage of time devoted to commercials is increasing to compensate for revenue that's lost when people stop watching because of all the commercials. That creates a positive feedback loop, and it's what happened to AM radio. But the market forces for TV are different. TV must adapt. Without TV, for example, what would hotel cleaning ladies do when they're cleaning your room?
Even if TV gets technological advances, like 3D and smell-o-vision (a smelly TV! Be still, my beating heart!), as some predict, the basic model—pushed advertising containing small amounts of embedded programming—will still be the same. This means that social trends will drive the technology, rather than the other way around.
Therefore, it is Only Logical™ that the following changes will happen:
1. Fewer commercials
We predict that the percentage of airtime devoted to commercials will eventually decline. As screen resolution continues to increase, TV screens will become more like web pages, with commercials mostly replaced by continuous scrolling, blinking, and jittering ads on both sides of the picture.
A few people will complain when the animated ads randomly jump across the picture or interrupt the sound. But those people will be ignored, because based on current trends, in the future anyone who complains about anything will automatically be classified as a racist or a Perfect World Denier and hauled away to a re-education camp.
Even though the programming will be 99% propaganda, it will be subtly undermined by the ads. A typical cop show in the future will probably sound like this: “All we know for sure is that the poor innocent minority child was being sexually harassed by an evil white DRINK DIET PEPSI!!!!!”
Or, taking a cue from that new context-dependent Internet advertising, an advertisement like this might pop up and start inching across the screen: "LOOKING FOR SEXUALLY HARASSED? WE HAVE THOUSANDS ON SALE NOW! CLICK HERE!!"
Oh, who am I kidding? Of course there will be commercials—on top of the picture, on both sides, and interrupting the programming. But no one will care, because the programs will be so bad.
2. No more terrestrial broadcasting
Digital TV has already signed the death warrant for terrestrial broadcasting. Picking up a digital signal today in non-urban areas is hard enough. The bandwidth requirements for sending a 8000×4500×24 bits/pixel picture thirty times a second will just be too big, no matter how much compression they use. And the federal government already sees the electromagnetic spectrum as a cash cow. As government gets greedier and more desperate for cash due to the ever-increasing deficit, they will force broadcasters to give up more and more spectrum so the government can sell it at a profit. Few will question how the government ever came to acquire ownership of the electromagnetic spectrum in the first place.
3. No more actors
If you're a TV actor, now might be a good time to start developing a new skill. Within ten or fifteen years, we'll start seeing CGI begin to replace actors. The rationale will be: they're cheaper, sexier, smarter, they jump higher and run faster, they never go on strike, and it's much easier to stop them from saying something stupid.
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Even though the programming will be almost entirely computer-generated, product placement by CGI (for instance, electronically placing cans of Campbell's soup at strategic locations in the picture) is unlikely to happen. The payoff/effort ratio is just too low. However, you might well see animated cans of soup or underarm deodorant dancing across the screen at the precise moment when the good guy shoots the bad guy, or when the hero sweeps the girl off her feet (or knowing the entertainment industry, the other way around).
Also, thanks to CGI, no one will believe anything that is shown on the news. So, in many ways the future will be just like the present.
4. No more remote controls
Kids have already decided for us that touch screens are cooler. So we all will be stuck with them (except that no actual touching will be needed). There will be no off switch—or if there is one, it either won't work, or it will be against the law to use it. Just as with today's DVDs, when a commercial pops up, you will be prevented from turning off the TV, blanking the sound, or changing the channel.
Skipping commercials, or putting yellow Post-Its over the advertisements, will be considered stealing. Your TV will automatically report crimes like this to the authorities, and you can expect an army of black-helmeted guys carrying M16s to cut a hole in your ceiling, rappel themselves in, and shoot your dog.
5. Automatic pay per view
Within a few years, there will be huge ‘scandals’ involving credit cards and bank accounts. These scandals will be fake. The purpose will be to create a willingness to allow the implantation of brain implants known as encrypted biochips to pay for things securely. Computers will be called 'interfaces' and they will all be equipped with biochip readers. Every time you click on a different channel, your biochip will automatically transmit a signal and a fee will automatically be deducted from your bank account.
It will just be a coincidence, of course, that every so often, due to some unfixable computer glitch, your virtual iRemote will spontaneously take you to the most expensive channels. At random times you will be switched from your Cat Picture Channel to one consisting entirely of 24-hour marathons of people having sex with each other, whereupon the Back button will suddenly stop working. So in this respect, too, TV will be very much like the Internet.
The government will also install surveillance cameras and Internet remote feeds everywhere, including the self-driving microcar you rent by the minute and the little apartment you are required to live in. So, for instance, if your car hits a pothole, the pothole will automatically report it to the police, so they can email you a citation for creating a road hazard by failing to avoid it. The fine will, of course, be automatically deducted from your bank account.
6. The upside
Just to show that there will still be some sunshine, lollipops, and/or rainbows (even if there will be a nominal fee for viewing them), we're happy to report that paying taxes will also be completely automated through your TV. In fact, your employer will probably send your paycheck directly to the government, which will take out whatever it wants and then send the remainder to your cable company.