Guardian column: Reinvented TV

My Guardian column this week is an extension of this post last week about reinventing TV (nonregistration version here). Snippet:

All the old definitions of TV are in shambles. Television need not be broadcast. It needn’t be produced by studios and networks. It no longer depends on big numbers and blockbusters. It doesn’t have to fit 30- and 60-minute moulds. It isn’t scheduled. It isn’t mass. The limits of television – of distribution, of tools, of economics, of scarcity – are gone. So now, at last, we can ask not what TV is, but what it can be.

I envision TV that is interactive when it wants to be. I imagine TV that is live, with news from the scene thanks to a hundred video camera-phones. I look forward to the day when I can watch not what Hollywood recommends, but what my friends endorse. I am dying to see the advertising industry figure out that mass media were inefficient and ineffective ; when they start supporting the new TV with their money, huge things will happen. Television has already exploded. So now let’s build the new TV.

  • bittorent

    “Who needs the pros?”

    Which is a bit like saying ‘who needs cars?’ when you have a unicycle. Sure you can wobble half a mile down the road to the shops on it. But what happens when you want to travel 200 miles?

    I agree that some forms of ‘television’ can be produced at home and I’m as excited about what’s happening as everyone else. But let’s not denigrate the skills that are involved in making other TV and the people who have spent years learning how.

    I mean, Jeff, how would you feel about visiting a non professional ‘citizen dentist’? Not too keen huh? Though you probably wouldn’t mind a non-professional holding the sucker tube that removes the bits from your mouth…

    Also I am curious… If you are aware that you have a bad microphone or it is in the wrong position (and I think that is why your sound is poor rather than accoustics), why not get a slightly better mic or spend five minutes reading how to improve your sound? In the end, the poor sound prevents you from communicating as well as you might. Viewers wonder ‘why is the sound like that?’ rather than concentrating on what you are saying.

    You see, a professional sound man would have known exactly where to put the mic to avoid that echo ;-)


    Welcome to the Monkey House.

  • Bittorent—Jeff is learning by doing. Big budget TV production will not go away any time soon, there’s too much demand for it. At the same time, TV will become more interactive and varied as time goes by.

  • I have yet to find one independently produced podcast that I find remotely entertaining (though I am happy to be pointed in the right direction of some). What are the chances of someone actually producing decent TV off their own back? Not too good, I would venture. Maybe it would be funny or entertaining by virtue of its appalling amateurism? While I would like nothing more than to fill my laptop with excellent underground TV and audio, I doubt it will happen in the next year or two.

  • Having read the post and the comments above, I find I agree with elements of all of them.

    However I too like Jeff look forward to a true convergence of TV and internet. Aaron’s point that there is nothing entertaining out there to watch or listen to will be completely negated when there is no “TV” and “Internet” distinction – it will be one platform.

    I work in marketing in the UK and the most exciting prospect that accompanies the convergence of the two platforms is the possibility for addressable advertising, which is about as far away from current TV advertising as you can get.

    Based on your search habits, your online purchases, and your other online behaviours your TV viewing will be peppered with ads that for the first time are actually relevant to you and your life.


    Many thanks,


  • The Internet will offer a good chance to what we used to call TV, which is broadcasted entertainment.

    And being the Internet a decentralized network, with the intelligence at its ends it will also offer more chances to would be broadcasters.

    Not all what is home made is good, as well as not all what is professionally done.
    Is it better a decent content broadcasted in an unprofessional way or a s..t of content professionally done?

    And among millions of new broadcasters I bet we will find genious and entertaining people.
    Among millions of blogs sometimes I find real pearls, of course as well as real bulls..t.

    Welcome new Internet TV, because real democracy is also this: giving people chances…


  • Agreed Steve. Convergence is a bit further off than we’d like to think in my opinion but obviously its coming. Also, I’m not convinced by Jeff’s assertion that once the ad industry start supporting the ‘new tv’ then huge things will happen. Yes maybe, but won’t this just be mass media in another form? Some shows will be massive hits, most will just disappear into the ether. Or is that the point?!

  • Having read the post and its comments I see an echo of issues-discussion generally. The discussers are roughly split twixt theory junkies and practical operators. What else is new?

  • bittorent

    I could go to the cupboard and pull out a 30 year old film making magazine and find you an ad that tells you that buying xyz product will let you produce professional movies. People with some kind of vested interest have been peddling that line for decades: advertisers with a product to sell, pundits who make a living writing about it and idealists. They said it about standard 8 film, Super 8, sound on film, autofocus, VHS, camcorders, MiniDV… And now they say it about free video hosting online.

    Anyone who knows anything about what goes into making TV programmes knows that a large number of professional looking home produced productions are not coming anytime soon.

    Sure, anyone can sit in front of a camera, talk and record it. But every part of the resulting video that doesn’t match up to what the viewer sees on TV, detracts from the overall experience: poor sound, bad lighting, no editing, no visual variety, bad content… Jeff dismisses these things as if they are icing on the cake. They are not. They are fundamental to making interesting TV.

    But once you start adding extra visuals, editing and mixing sound, the time that is necessary increases 10x. Most people do not have the time to do it nor the inclination to learn the necessary skills. I wish they would.

    People have been dabbling, making their own productions on film or video for a hundred years. There was nothing to stop the public going down to the local film club to watch them (they didn’t for good reason). Some familes had these movies inflicted on them at Christmas. Most of them were terrible and will continue to be terrible online because it is not about having the tools. It is about having creativity and learning the language.

    Having a van, a saw and a hammer does not make you a qualified carpenter.

    It doesn’t matter how much people like Jeff wish it was so, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Just look around and see how few entertaining video blogs there are. We are talking about a few dozen in the whole world. The same old names pop up all the time, along with some self-publicising big mouths, and we all know who they are.

  • bittorent

    PS. I didn’t mean Jeff in that last paragraph LOL xxx

  • I mostly agree with you bittorent. I put myself on the “professional” side so I force myself to reflect periodically to make sure that I don’t get bit in the butt with my big head. Production is expensive and it just takes real talent and coordination to create content. However, there will be that 2% out there that will come out of nowhere with beauty – much like Sergei Eisenstein and the New Wave in France (like Godard’s Breathless) did, for example. That will be refreshing!

  • Nowadays you can use a digital camera and no film in it and it makes producing much cheaper and accessible to many.
    Of course one has to learn.
    But as there are unprofessionals who can be much better than a carpenter, so there will be intelligent people who will be able to make good TV.

    Of course you need knowledge and experience.
    What the new TV will give will be opportunities.
    How many have a chance today to be known?
    A few and a few lucky.
    Many good producers are and stay unknown all their life.
    Out of millions you always find intellegent ones and talented ones too.

    In principle all the old directors had little school but a lot of experience.
    And experience was something it was very difficult (because very expensive) to make.

    Yes, now there are very few really good, you cannot expect to find many.
    In principle Internet TV is not even there.
    We talk of future and what it could be.

    I believe in opportunities and I believe in man’s intelligence.
    I believe in the young generation and I believe in people who have ideals and goals.
    The Internet is a fashinating world where you can find the most exciting people.
    Whenever I spend some time surfing I get new ideas and inspirations.
    I live in a small town almost at the end of the world.
    But I know as much if not more than somebody who lives in the center of Manhattan.
    I am informed and I follow progress.
    Thanks to that wonderful thing that is the Internet, it is my window on the world.
    The only regret I have is that I was born too early.
    If only the Internet had been available when I was young!
    The Internet is the Revolution of our generation and there is still somebody who doesn’t see it!


  • The points raised about the dubious quality of content produced by some bloke with a digital camera and an idea is of course valid.

    But look at blogs – for example Seth Godin’s. The production time that goes into making that blog visually appealing has to be minimal. But the content shines through it at times visionary.

    We are a long way off from the death of professionally produced programmes and quite frankly I don’t think we will ever get there. But what has already changed and will continue to change is the method of delivery of those programmes – Video on Demand, iTV and IPTV are here already, and the platform (in this case the internet) will undoubtedly influence the content that is broadcast.

    As consumers become more demanding of all media based on their experiences online, i.e. wanting the same interactivity, freedom and diversity offered online, tv programmes will have to change.

    TV is moving online. This won’t mean that everyone will have their own show that the broadcast from their own mobile phone, and shiny well produced shows will die a death.

    It just means those shows have to embrace the new avenues online technology offers, because at some point the TV and the internet will be one platform and no one will make the distinction anymore.

    The internet is the next mass media, but without the mass.

  • bittorent

    I agree that equipment and distribution is now infinitely cheaper and more accessible, which is a great thing. I am slightly concerned that, despite that, video blogging seems to be mainly a middle class interest, just as amateur film used to be (due to cost back in those days). Just take a look at the photos of any video blogger get together…

    I really don’t think people appreciate the time that goes into making TV. It is completely different to a text blog. Once you begin editing you can pretty much reckon on spending a minimum of an hour for each minute of finished programme and there is not much you can do to reduce that. The decision-making and physical moving of stuff about is time consuming and can’t be speeded up. Though one person talking head shows can be made fairly quickly using some of the software that is around (I forget the name of it).

    I really want to see lots more people doing this, but I am farily bored with the voices that are most prominent so far.

  • As video moves onto the web it is going to drive out text, (or at least drive it off the front page) in a kind of Gresham’s Law – more dynamic media inevitably drive out less dynamic. It is the same way in which TV crushed the powerhouse that was radio. Inevitably, everything on the web will have to be in video in order to attract attention. this is not about Youtube. This is not about creating your own TV show. This is about selling your house online. The video ad will sell faster than the text one. This is about ebay – the video clip will move faster than the one without. this is about dating online. The person with the compelling video clip will get more dates than the one with text. This is about getting a promotion at work because your video report from the plant in Cleveland is more compelling and more entertaining than the powerpoint presentation or the written paper – and easier to absorb by an audience raised on video and tv.

    This is coming for sure, but in much more pervasive and mundane ways than you can imagine.

  • Anthony

    It seems like Mr. Jarvis simply isn’t a fan of dramas, sitcoms, or other non-news television. His vision only has room for the amateur reporter and the video blogger.

    God help us if that’s all there is to watch.

  • As a 30 year professional in the film and television industry I understand bittorrent’s comments regarding the difference in quality of production values between “home grown” and “professional” content – and yet those same big network executives and producers have been quite successful at cheapening the look of television programming through their pursuit of so-called “reality” TV.

    In addition, the greedy burst of niche channels in the marketplace served to fragment their mass audiences further – encouraging them to accept less “mainstream” content and training them up in how to seek out these content frgaments.

    The television industry has, in fact, prepared its own audience to accept lesser production values – despite having big ass wide screen HD home theatre systems – and consequently set themselves up for the ultimate comparison of *gasp* the actual content. No matter how rich and beautifully one dresses up and lights a scene, and no matter how talented or versatile the actors may be, if the content sucks (regardless of how professionally scribed) nobody will continue to watch those expensively produced pretty pictures.

    What is hapening now (both within the industry and the internet) is a fundamental shift not only in how people are accessing media but, most importantly, in what they are looking for from the media. And what are they seeking? The same thing the broadcast market place tried to deliver in their niche programming. The audience seeks itself. It’s not about finding ways for everybody to be a professional broadcaster – it’s about the conversation, the community, the sense of belonging – and you will never get that from highly polished, top-down, big network productions.

    That’s just not what this revolution is about – and those who don’t see it, will be left in the dust – along with the buggy whip makers, vaudeville, and the sheet music industry. Now, there are still people making buggy whips and performing vaudevile and publishing sheet music – but they no longer dominate their respective industries.

    The tools to create “professional” looking content will continue to become more accessable, further diminishing the self-perceived importance of the professional classes (and, yes, I include myself) in much the same way that the authorship of books was once limited to those few who coud read, write and publish. What was once a very exclusive language disseminated to the masses by an elite is now becoming common fare.

    It’s about the conversation.

  • Anthony. Don’t know if there are any good vlog sitcoms yet, but here’s an amazing soap opera/drama. T

  • And this was posted today on the Guardian’s website:,,1886433,00.html

    It specifically deals with the impact on journalism, but the fundamentals are the same.

    Requires Flash 8.