Getting the Big Picture on Television on the Internet

Each week news stories appear which recount a new shift or maneuver by a telecommunications company, web developer or broadcaster. For example, NBC withdrew its shows from iTunes, Adblock which strips out sponsored advertising is growing in popularity and controversy, and ICANN begins testing the use of non-Roman languages for web addresses. These news items seem important and interrelated to the future of television, but also small, obvious, and disconnected steps by their respective parties. If they are interrelated, then what kinds of frameworks can be used to understand the landscape on a macro-scale?

In his working paper, Making Connections, Kevin Werbach introduces the use of network formation theory, as a tool for describing the forces that propel the evolution of the Internet. He explains how, by design, the Internet is a dynamic system that has forces on the network, which are simultaneously decentralizing and centrifugal. Google’s search successfully acts as a centrifugal force, as it “pulls” together the Internet, by providing an access point to billions of web pages. However, it is able to do this, because of the decentralizing standards including HTTP and HTML which allow Google to find, cache, filter, and link to web pages. While the decentralizing aspects of the Internet are more widely discussed, he notes that the centrifugal forces are equally important. These kinds of models are important because they provide a big-picture perspective in explaining single events.

The striking thing that comes out of Werbach’s analysis is that the decentralizing and centrifugal forces work on all scales. He systematically describes how they occur in all four of the basic conceptual layers of the Internet: physical (e.g. servers, routers and wires,) logical (e.g. addressing “schemes”), application (e.g. browsers), content (e.g. streamed episodes of Heroes).

Fractal Art

Fractal Art

Although Werbach does not explicitly describe it this way, the Internet is fractal. Wolfram MathWorld defines a fractal as “an object or quantity that displays self-similarity, in a somewhat technical sense, on all scales. The object need not exhibit exactly the same structure at all scales, but the same “type” of structures must appear on all scales.” In this regard, the fractal interpretation of the Internet is not solely linked to viewing from Werbach’s lens, but as something inherent to the Internet itself.

Identifying fractal behaviors of the Internet can lead to understanding the overarching principles on the Internet and the media landscape within it evolve, because they provide contextual insight that was mentioned at the beginning of this column. We have levers which can guide this expansion of the Internet, through regulation and other market incentives. Because the effects that Werbach describe operate within and across layers of the Internet, how to best use them is not always clear. However, the actual effects and the intended effects can be easily different. Limited intellect property regulation intended to “free” media on the content layer may have the ripple effect of encouraging the creation of private servers on the physical layer or DRM built into media players on the application layers to lock that content down.

Analyses therefore must also include consideration of the Internet on a more macro level in order to incorporate “crossover” layer effects, especially with the continual vertical integration of the telecommunications and media. When a single company such as AT&T and Time Warner owns pipes, applications and content, they can have incentives to break off from the Internet at large.

Fractal Cow

Fractal Cow

Often, we decry the walled gardens of Internet content as essentially bad, as a thrown back to the early days of the commercial Internet. Werbach cites the classic example when AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy corralled their users into proprietary networks. This expansion and contraction from walled gardens to the more open World Wide Web can also be viewed as a natural process of a dynamic network. That is, the network can be viewed as a complex system, which over time grows together and breaks apart. When NBC withdrew this programming from Apple’s iTunes store, many people compared it to a child taking his ball home, after a dispute on the playground. Home, in the case, is their own new video site, Hulu.com. However, it can also be described as a natural process at work, even if that process leads to a fracture of the network.

Mandated interoperability and sharing is another important lever. The FCC gave preferential treatment of the incumbent network television broadcasters by forcing new cable companies to carry over the air signals on the cable wires. It could likewise, force the various backbones do not separate from each other. This is making the children play together, in the playground analogy. Although to date, they have allowed the backbone owners to make their peering agreement on their own.

As television continues its transfer over to the digital and networked existence, clearly, the Internet will be playing an essential part of that process. However, the end points are still uncertain. Ensuring fair and equitable access will require understanding the nature of the Internet. Werbach introduces an important and new way of looking at it, but others surely exist. Taking into account the fractal aspects of the Internet is important because it will highlight inconsistencies in policy decisions on the various layers of the Internet, rather than dealing with issues on an isolated case by case basis. From these models, regulators can have a more informed approach to the use of the regulatory levers of telecommunication and the media industry.

Image Credits:

1. Fractal Art

2. Fractal Cow

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Getting to know you: reasons why when Kevin Martin speaks, people should listen

by: Raymond Cha / Independent Scholar

Last July, the Federal Communications Commission and the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction made front-page news, in the New York Times. Typically, stories covering telecommunications’ complex economic and regulatory issues are fifth-page Business or Technology section news items, if they get mentioned at all. In the current starlet rehab news culture, telecommunication spectrum policy gets little notice. However, when Google weighs in on an issue, the news media perks up, in full out EF Hutton style. In this case, the King of the Frenemy Hill announced their willingness to pay as much as US$4.6 billion on the band of spectrum that will be freed when television station stop broadcasting analog television signals, and go solely digital. Google released four requirements for openness to the eventual winners of the auction. With that, the media attention turned to Kevin Martin, the current Chairperson of the FCC.

Kevin Martin, FCC Chairperson

Kevin Martin, FCC Chairperson

As compared to the heads of the Cabinet offices or independent federal bodies, such as the Department of Defense and the Federal Reserve System, Martin exists in moderate obscurity despite the vital role telecommunication plays in our society. (How could either the government or the banking system do their jobs without a functioning telecommunication system?) Dubbed “Harry Potter” by telecom insiders for his glasses and youthful appearance, Martin receives the media spotlight semi-frequently. Usually, the coverage involves indecency, which with be explained further shortly in this column. In the end, in response to Google’s requests, the FCC agreed on two of their four points for the upcoming auction, which mandated the interoperability and openness of applications and devices, but not for services and networks.

Building up to his current position, Martin studied law at Harvard and public policy at Duke. Upon graduating from law school, he went to work for the FCC. It is certainly worth noting, that he served as Deputy General Counsel to the Bush/Cheney campaign in the infamous 2000 election. After being selected as one of five FCC Commissioners in 2001, Martin was confirmed as Chairperson in 2005 to replace Michael Powell.

Where as his predecessor aggressively pushed a libertarian, free market, anti-regulation agenda, Martin does not have as a single-minded philosophical approach to telecom. During his tenure as Commissioner and now Chairperson, he has notably has taken stances on state rights and indecency. In 2003, as Commissioner, he voted against Powell to allow state regulators to continue to have more control of over their regional telecommunication rates and services. On the other hand, he is not afraid of allowing big telecom mergers to take place, as seen in his approval of the merging of AT&T and SBC as well as Verizon and MCI, under his watch.

Martin is also far more concerned with what is broadcast and more specifically indecency, than his predecessor. As Commissioner, he proposed over US$4 million in fines to broadcasters with charges of indecency, more then the combined total of the four other commisioners. He also dissented against the decision to allow the network broadcast of Saving Private Ryan without editing.

Today, he is not alone in the FCC in the quest to “clean up” television. Last June, media insider Shelly Palmer heard FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate speak. He relays that Tate cited the biggest issue she is dealing with is “sex and violence” on television. When put into context of all the pressing of telecommunication policy issues the FCC considers, her statement that her focus is on monitoring content is striking.

The landscape of increased scrutiny leaves television broadcasters in a challenging position. On Friday, August 31st, the Washington Post reports that PBS will distribute two version of Ken Burn’s latest 14-hour documentary “The War” due to concerns of fines by the FCC for the use of four words spoken by soldiers.

Further, the time and resources spend on policing content results in the lack of attention that is paid to other concerns. The previously mentioned spectrum auction exists because the FCC forced television to begin broadcasting digital television, which made the analog portion of the spectrum (that is, the 700MHz band) free to be resold. On February 18, 2009, television broadcasters will terminate their analog signal, and analog televisions will go dark. These viewers will have to switch to new digital signal enabled sets. However a survey this year by the Assn. of Public Television Stations shows that 61% of those surveyed did not know about the upcoming switch to digital or what it meant.

FCC Logo

FCC Logo

While most people in the US, watch television via cable, satellite and now over the Internet, 20% of viewers still rely on an over-the-air signal to receive their television programming. Move over, the people most at risk of being caught unaware are the poor, the elderly, and non-English speakers. In response to the outcry of several Senators, Martin requested an additional $1.5 million from the US Congress to communicate the upcoming changes to those who will be effected, and a coupon program run by the Commerce Department to upgrade sets.

How Martin spends the remaining of his tenure as Chairperson will affect his legacy at the FCC. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is in need of an overhaul by Congress. This historic piece of legislation laid down the groundwork for allowing the local Baby Bells and long distance carriers like AT&T to enter into each other’s traditional markets. Its focus was clearly on telephony and does not account for the dramatic changes in the last decade with the rise of the Internet. New legislation is required to reflect telecommunications for the 21st century, where Verizon and Time Warner are competing for broadband users at the same time as Sprint and AT&T sell mobile video services. Martin has an opportunity to shepherd Congress through this new terrain that will redefine both the telecommunication regulation as well as the FCC, yet he has not yet taken a public role in this endeavor.

Kevin Martin and the FCC oversee telecommunications from end to end, from towers and wires to screens. The regulation of this industry has direct impact on our daily lives. As communication services and technology being engrained more deeply in our personal and work interactions, we are behooved to keep careful watch on their goings-on.

Image Credit:

1. Kevin Martin, FCC Chairperson

2. FCC Logo

Please feel free to comment.




Freeing the Thirty Minute Sit-Com

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar

Although video on demand has been predicted, discussed, lamented and attempted for years, services are finally being deployed and accessed on a large scale. Not surprisingly, we are beginning to see effects that were unanticipated. Much as been discussed about YouTube, from its sale for US$1.65 billion to copy right suits. While these are important events for obvious reasons, we are also seeing a radical change that YouTube has encouraged and less widely discussed. Other forms of VOD services, from the broadcast network and cable services, as well as, the rise in popularity of Netflix, television series DVDs and bit-torrent (which have some VOD-like features) are also influencing how we watch television. However because YouTube has the low barrier for watching, its sheer volume of video delivered allows us to see the changes in production and viewing behavior first. In that, YouTube and these other means of watching television is freeing of the constraints of traditional programming and distribution. These changes allow for new means of control and access.

Video on demand is liberating the form of television from traditional program structures. A television program can now be created to match the idea, whether it is a 60 second idea, a 120 minute idea or a five season idea. Being freed from the constraints of typical half hours segments and twenty-two episode seasons offer benefits for those behind the screen as well as in front of the screen. To be fair, HBO has also experimented with the number of episodes per season and the timing of new episodes, because they are free from the usual advertising selling and buying cycle. Previous shows such as the Sopranos and Sex and the City, had limited episodes a season, which were released off the typical autumn schedule.

As more of my personal television watching follows a trend of switching from traditional sets to the computer, an entire approach to viewing is changing. Watching television tends to occur in batches of episodes, through services such as abc.com. The sweet spot is about 90 minutes to two hours, which translates into about three half hour episodes or two hour long episodes. Now, instead of trying (and failing) to watch a single weekly episode, I watch a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to catch up on a series, which I have not watched in a few years. Interestingly, having access to multiple shows encourages shows with shifting casts and complicated story lines. Where before I might not have bothered watching a show because there are too many new characters and plot lines, I and other viewers have the opportunity to get up to speed, which is much harder in single weekly episodes.

Similarly, I constantly hear people say that they discovered “24” years into the series. They report watching an entire season on DVD over one weekend. Likewise, Tivo and competing DVR services allow for the extended viewing sessions as well.

Of course, content is still the key to everything. To that point, the just launched Minisodes offers an interesting case. For the uninitiated, Minisodes is a joint venture between Sony and MySpace, and provides episodes of classic and failed sitcoms, such as “Facts of Life” and “What’s Happening” which have been edited down to three to five minute clips and can be viewed via the Internet. If people are critical of the dumbing down of content on YouTube, they are most certainly going to cringe at Minisodes. However, is the site initial buzz solely based on the fact that episodes are shortened? How many people would watch the entire episode because, they enjoy (free) lost television from their youth or so bad it’s good failed shows? In other words, it isn’t clear yet that people are more interested in control and access than on short clips.

Array

From Myspace’s Minisode Website

With an audience used to short video clips, sustained viewing will demand higher quality. Today, people absorb a constant stream of media in ways that would be unimaginable to be people at the mass spreading of televisions in the 1950s. The popularity of sharing short clips on YouTube at the office obviously limits how long the videos will be. With new distribution services, television producers and viewers will both benefit from increases in control and access. Creators will be able to fit the form and length to their idea. Some shows may be only worth one season, in which case, straight to DVD or streamed delivery may make more sense than being shown on major networks who look for multi-season hits. Future episodic television may have varying episode lengths and occasional production schedules, dictated by creative rather than institutional decisions.

The Caveman Sitcom

The Caveman Sitcom

Although, these traditions are by nature difficult to change. The upcoming series, Caveman is a good example. The original Geico commercials with cavemen interacting in the modern world to sell insurance were mildly amusing. I will be shocked if this concept will successfully expand to an entire television series, but one never knows. Regardless of its success or failure, it reveals how that the television industry still thinking in terms of 30 second advertising clips and 30 minute programming segments. Granted that there are complicated systems in places that rely on these structures, such as advertising which was previously mentioned. It is a promising sign to see that, even if traditional broadcasters are still tied to older programming formats, they are finally experimenting with new delivery methods, such as VOD. The hope, then, is that new content format will follow.

Image Credits:

1. From Myspace’s Minisode Website

2. The Caveman Sitcom

Please feel free to comment.




Network Television’s Ongoing Struggle with Web-based Television

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar

Television

Television

As television continues to evolve, we see changes occurring, in terms of its content, delivery and reception, and distribution. In the area of web delivered television, traditional broadcasters have been slowly figuring out ways to deliver television onto the Internet. As more people are viewing and posting video onto the web, they are finally admitting that watching television on the web is a matter of when and how, rather than if.

When discussing web delivery of television, it is easy to focus on YouTube, especially with its well publicized purchase by Google and constant demands of content providers to remove illegally posted material (most recently seen by the Oscars.) Of course, YouTube was able to show the great potential of video that does not clog email inboxes, require web authoring skills, or get lost due to unstable links. However, its success now drives the fragmentation of web-based television with competing services, which make the landscape all the more complicated.

Joost recently signed a major distribution deal with Viacom to host content from its various outlets including Comedy Central, VH1 and MTV. Ironically, the owners of Joost were also behind the often sued second generation P2P network, Kazaa. This deal shows how these once fringe services are now moving towards the center. YouTube added a BBC channel to go along with NBC, PBS, the NBA, and others. US television networks, NBC and ABC (and their cable partners) host full episodes or clips on their sites and sells them on iTunes.

Television networks continue to struggle with finding ways to deliver content without losing their tight control over their content. NBC and their relationship with Saturday Night Live clips is telling. Because they have been lagging behind the other three major US networks, they were often leaders with experimenting with several different vehicles including YouTube, iTunes and their own site with varying effectiveness and understanding.

YouTube logo

YouTube logo

In one case, Fishbowl NY, a New York focused media blog, posted about a Saturday Night Live segment parody of Hillary Clinton. By the time I tried to watch the clip, it has been removed by request from NBC, which of course, is their right. The clip has not been posted to the official NBC YouTube channel, or on the SNL video page on the NBC site. While NBC may have a strategy behind which clips they post, it does seem that they are missing the advantages of the long tail, which capitalizes on niche tastes. While many more people download their rap parodies than watch the show on tv sets, they still feel the need to be gatekeepers. They lose relevance by locking up their content. Therefore, insight from fan YouTube postings and the discussion on the blogosphere is left untapped. Appreciating remix culture is even more distant and beyond the scope of this column.

Based on the experiences of NBC as well as other television networks, three areas that they will need to grasp soon are the longtail, search, and access. Traditional television programming is the polar opposite of long tail principles, which explains their reluctance to adapt. The success of Netflix and Amazon show the benefits of making entire archives available for sharing content and gaining insight on their viewers. The long tail allows them to maintain relevancy in an era of shrinking audiences and one in which viewers are increasingly selective and expect their well- defined preferences to be satisfied.

Along with the principles of the longtail, search will become crucial for people to find their desired media. Useful video search requires conventions in tagging, which is notoriously difficult for time-based media. Quality control for large-scale crowd sourcing tagging efforts, as seen in YouTube, is especially challenging. Formats such as Quicktime, have time-based tagging functionality in place, however the conventions are still unformed. Formal systems to dictate the tagging overall themes versus specific objects on screen is one simple examplethat needs to be addressed.

On a recent trip to Asia, I was surprised to find that ABC and NBC blocked their streaming content outside the US. Further, the BBCs Creative Archive pilot program uploaded 500 clips for people in the UK to download. Granted, UK citizens pay the BBC. (The 36 clips that BBC provides on its YouTube helps, but is not a replacement.) In both cases, the lack of access highlights the complicated issue of access to knowledge and culture (both high and low) that will only becoming more important in the future.

We are now in the adolescence, and no longer the infancy, of web delivered television. There are a number of services and models, some of which are bound to fail, before we settle upon standard outlets. In the transitional period of a disruptive technology, it is important to have experimental models and methods.

As the landscape continues to evolve, we are at the point of slowing speculation. Television networks need to shed many of their older conventions in order to maintain their relevance.

Notes

Jeremy W. Peters, “Kazaa’s Creators Do Latest Venture by the
Book,” New York Times, February 27, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/

Joshua Chaffin and Francesco Guerrera, “NBC’s Zucker lashes
out at YouTube,” Financial Times, February 6 2007. www.ft.com

Image Credits:
1. Television
2. YouTube logo

Please feel free to comment.




Television Sets Grow Up

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar

In my previous article for Flow, I began to look at the changes in television by going back to a traditional definition of the word. The motivation was that dictionary definitions do not change frequently. Therefore, we can use them as a baseline, in this case, to see how television is changing.

In this article, I’ll continue that process by examining the second definition of the three given which states, “2a. An electronic apparatus that receives electromagnetic waves and displays the reconverted images on a screen. b. The integrated audible and visible content of the electromagnetic waves received and converted by such an apparatus.”(1)

This definition is focused on the apparatus of television, or in other words, the television set. It reveals the assumption that television is transmitted, received and then watched.

However, today, many people watch television programming via the Internet (e.g. nbc.com, youtube.com, bittorrent) or buy entire seasons on DVD, as Rachel Ryan noted in a comment to the previous article. These media can be viewed with an ever-growing array of technologies (for example, computers, portable DVD players, Tivo, the Sony PSP and video iPods.) The ability to digitally store and playback television programming has completely changed the way we relate to the medium. Many devices, especially the handhelds, are also MP3 players, photography displays, gaming systems, and even dictionaries, which further change our relationship to television sets.

DVD Recorder

DVD Recorder

A telling analogy exists between television and software, that sheds light on what it means when television is no longer situated in a fixed time or place. Software has been often described as experiencing a shift in focus from increasing efficiency to increasing control for their users.

Take for instance word processing. With the spread of the personal computer gaining momentum in the 1980s, word processors were touted as saving time and paper. Revisions could be made quickly, as you did not need to rewrite or retype entire pages to correct one word. That is, they made us more efficient. However, as the access to computation continued in relation to Moore's Law, we saw more sophisticated word processing applications with ever expanding functions. Soon, the focus moved towards control.

Writers now, can control spelling, layouts and fonts in ways that were not possible in early applications. Crucially, these features do not necessarily save time. How many hours have I spent (over-)tweaking the formatting or wording of articles, websites or presentations?

Once television sets were inexpensive enough to be in the vast majority of homes in the US and internationally, the television set was the most efficient way to broadcast information to people. An entire nation and world watched everything from the moon landing to the last episode of MASH.

Recording

Recording

Today, the idea of “appointment television” seems increasingly quaint. We no longer watch television in living rooms, whose furniture has been arranged to maximize viewing. With these new “sets” (or ways) to watch television programming, we are seeing a similar shift from efficiency to control.

VCRs showed a glimpse of the shift towards control. However, with the improved interface and storage capacity of Tivo and other DVR systems, the process of recording television and obtaining control became much easier and evolved our relationship to the medium. With the coinciding decreasing costs of digital video cameras and production tools, not only do we have a greater selection of sets, but an explosion of television content as well.

What will the future hold? Attempts to predict the future are generally foolish. However, as people become more reliant on mobile television viewing devices, an increasing amount of content will also be created with smaller screens and short viewing times in mind. As television programming becomes more niche, we will continue to see these effects of Chris Anderson's Longtail (2) on television production. This change is, less of a prediction, and more of an observation of current trends.

A decline of traditional “high production value, 22 episode seasons, network television shows” is already in decline. They are expensive to make and most fail. However, they won't go away in entirely. Good shows with compelling narratives and acting will survive, producers of these programs are simply facing more competition from the likes of cheap-to-make reality television shows and even cheaper DYI uploads to YouTube.

Formats and content designed specifically for (very) small screens and short viewing periods will continue to increase in popularity. However, an increasing amount of television will be designed to be watched on a variety of screens sizes.

Just as we saw with word processing software, more control attimes comes at the sacrifice of efficiency. With many more channels and content, some messages can get out faster, however many more will get lost in the voluminous quantities of television content produced. Search engines, tagging and other filtering techniques will help counter this outcome, however they have limitations.

In the end, the television set has as much influence on the meaning of television as the content does. Television programming and sets continue to evolve from a medium and technology of efficiency to control. This evolution reveals that television is no longer strictly tied to a specific “apparatus” which receives and displays electromagnetic signals. The apparatus is, of course, still crucial and so we must adapt our understanding and definitions to these changes.

Notes:
(1)The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
(2)“The Long Tail.”Wired, issue 12.10, October 2004.

Image Credits:
1. DVD Recorder
2. Recording

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Redefining Television

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar

Dictionary

Dictionary

Dictionaries are helpful at the start of any inquiry, because they provide a static point on which to hinge ideas. However, through the vetting process of a dictionary’s authorship, a discrepancy often appears when dealing with subject matters that evolve at a rapid pace, as is the case with media and technology. This gap provides insight on the distance traveled from one historic point to current understanding.

For example, cc is an acronym for carbon copy.[1] Today, using carbon paper to make a copy of documents is charmingly antiquated. However, cc has survived into the digital age, most often in the context of email, to mean “complementary copy” or “secondary copy.” Therefore, cc has evolved beyond its original literal reference to material.

Television is no different. In searching for a formal definition of television, similar discrepancies are evident, which inform the changes that television is undergoing both in a technological and cultural sense.

The American Heritage Dictionary has three definitions for the word television.[2] Each definition reveals a different viewpoint on television that is rooted in a particular time and place in the evolution of television. The first listing describes the transmission of electromagnetic waves to broadcast visual and audio content. The second definition describes a set or apparatus, which receives and converts these signals into images and sound. Finally, the third definition references the industry, field, and production of television content. Most other dictionaries present entries with these three meanings in a similar way.[3]

Over the next three columns for Flow, each definition will be used as a framework for examining fundamental changes in the technology and culture of television.

The first definition cites: “The transmission of visual images of moving and stationary objects, generally with accompanying sound, as electromagnetic waves and the re-conversion of received waves into visual images.”

Clearly, this definition requires updating. Two technological advances that this definition fails to address are worth noting. The distribution of television does not solely rely on the transmission of waves’ signals, but on recordable media (e.g. VHS and DVD) and through the digital network (e.g. iTunes, youtube, and bittorrent).

As a broadcast signal medium, television was originally an ephemeral medium. The ability for television programming to be recorded and distributed on demand in the home has fundamentally changed the nature of television viewing, as many writing in Flow have previously recounted. The coinage and popular adoption of the term “appointment television” interestingly arose only recently because at one point all television viewing had to be appointment television. It was only when other options became widely used for experiencing television did the need for a term for scheduled television viewing arise.

If television is not associated the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves, then what is television?

Television does not encompass all screen-based moving images. For instance, we watch “Star Wars” on television, but still consider it a movie. Watching “24” episodes on DVD on a computer is described as watching television. Ric Burns’s recent work “Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film”, first played a short and limited theatrical run and then was aired on public television a few weeks after it left theaters. Despite the title, is it a documentary film or television documentary? Is the criteria dependent on where it plays first? Not necessarily.

Nobody's Watching

Nobody’s Watching

The television pilot, “Nobody’s Watching” was never aired but leaked to You Tube and gained an audience and press coverage.[4] It certainly “feels” like television. Is the meaning of “television” therefore the intention for eventual broadcast? Intension is not a satisfactory criteria, because it approaches an “I know it when I see it” logic which lacks formal boundaries. Does the fact that NBC picked up the show and put it into production make it television? Again, the retroactive assignment of the label “television” is not useful because what is it before it airs?

These questions are left unresolved, as it is perhaps too early to re-define the concept of television. (I encourage Flow writers and readers to offer new ways to define television in the comments section.)

A few things could occur which might dictate the redefining of television. The word could be entirely replaced with another word. Or television could continue to evolve in the vein of cc, where the basic meaning remains the same, but the technical definition, in this example carbon copy, is not longer relevant. However, the shift from the literal (a copy made from carbon paper) to the metaphorical (a secondary copy of correspondence) is much clearer, because the current usage of cc is well defined. On the other hand, as previously suggested, what constitutes television today is not.

A lag exists from the formalized definitions included in dictionaries, which creates the confusion we experience. This lag is created because technologies and our use of technology change faster than our language can adapt. Thus, the language we use to describe these new forms may be technically inaccurate, although we still know what we mean. These out-dated conceptualizations become actualized when the culture recognizes that this new “thing” is fundamentally different and “renamed” to reflect that change. The process can be internal and unconscious. People do not need to know what cc literally means or even know what carbon paper is to use the term. We recognize the change only after the fact.

The lack of a current definition makes for an exciting time for television and its study. Flux is generally more interesting than stasis, and ambiguous boundaries provide the opportunity to explore the grey areas of the medium. This exploration will lead to a redefinition, which in turn will become out-dated shortly after it has been written, however that is part of the nature of language, technology and media.

In my following columns, I will discuss the other two definitions of television, the set for viewing and the production and distribution of television.

Notes
[1] “cc.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006. 02 Oct. 2006. Dictionary.com
[2] “television.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 27 Sep. 2006.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Carter, Bill. “Sitcom Given Up for Dead Hits the Web. It’s Alive!” New York Times 3 July 2006: E1.

Image Credits:
1. Dictionary
2. Nobody’s Watching

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