Guardian column: TV is dead; long live reinvented TV

Jeff Jarvis
Monday October 2, 2006
The Guardian

The video blog made Amanda Congdon a star on the internet. It earned her a guest slot on the TV series CSI. It got her considerable publicity in the major American media when she left the vlog. And it just plopped her into a hybrid car with her name emblazoned on the side for an internet-video tour of the US. That was what brought her to my den in New Jersey with three friends wielding cameras for an interview that is now online at

Amanda and I got into a tussle over television. I said she was creating the new TV. She dismissed the label “television” and insisted she was making something else, a video blog. But I argued that the definition of television is up for grabs. What is TV now? We don’t know yet, for every time I think I’ve spotted all the sticks of dynamite set to explode under old, linear television, I discover new fuses sizzling.

* Apple has just announced iTV, a box that will wirelessly transport internet video on to our televisions. Thus, the line between broadcast and online – like the line between terrestrial and cable or satellite – is erased.

* Rupert Murdoch is reportedly considering trading his ownership in his American satellite TV company for equity in News Corp held by a troublesome shareholder. If Murdoch is willing to leave the transmission business that he fought so hard to get into, then we can declare that distribution is not king.

* At a conference in Boston last month, I saw software that streams high-definition TV over the web and a company that promises to deliver live video to unlimited viewers. YouTube made a cultural phenomenon of LonelyGirl15, the cute but concocted star of a series of videos. But more importantly, her audience joined in and contributed videos that became an essential element of the drama.

* I just recorded a segment for CBS News and counted seven people involved in getting me on to videotape. Then I recorded a similar segment for and did it in my den, alone, on my Mac. Who needs the pros?

* My teen son and his friends are getting hooked on new series not via TV but through the web and iTunes. Me too – I discovered the show Weeds on my iPod. My son’s favourite internet show, Diggnation – in which two guys with beers gab about geek news – has turned profitable and just got $1m in venture investment to start a network’s worth of new shows. My new mobile phone streams live TV news.

* On, the BBC chairman, Michael Grade, fretted that British standards of broadcast news impartiality become difficult to enforce when the very definition of broadcast becomes meaningless.

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.