4.21.2005

The Boob Tube (hee hee)

Television frequently gets a bad rap as a purveyor of garbage and mindless waste of time, the junk food of entertainment. Books, however, are praised as the ultimate achievement in human history. We are trained from a very young age to dismiss TV as the lowest media while elevating, sometimes to a intimidating level, the almighty book (and I ain't talking Torah 2.0).

It's tough to argue otherwise. Any given person will say that most of what's on the idiot box is not worth their time. Any given person can likely also list a few books that they simply loved, oh and you should read it too! TV, WTF. Book, OMG.

Here's the problem. The number of new TV shows that appear each year is not that big a number. Maybe a couple hundred if you add them up across all the cable channels here in Canada. The number of new books that get printed each year is pretty large. Ok, here's my hypothesis (one I don't plan on supporting beyond its assertion). The ratio of books that you'd like to ones you'd hate is the same as the ratio of TV shows you'd like to TV shows you'd hate.

Now let's examine the two forms of media.

Television:
  • The viewer is at the mercy of the broadcaster to watch the shows they like.
  • Once a TV show you like ends its run, you are at the mercy of re-runs/syndication no matter how popular it was.

Book:
  • Buy the book in a store, enjoy when you like.
  • Once a book goes out of print, you can try to find old copies of it, or if it was popular, find a reprint.
Books that are in long-term demand, presumably because people enjoy them and thus posessing some quality one might term "good", subjective though that term might be, get reprinted into infinity. Shakespeare, still macking hard. Homer, gets the face-out treatment in stores today.

TV that you might be interested in, however, is buried in an avalanche of crap that you aren't interested in. Imagine you had an eBook whose pages dowenloaded Book A one hour and then Book B the next hour. You'd have to wait around for the book you wanted to read to come up. Or maybe find out which website would feed your eBook the book you wanted to read. Of course, your book would be filled with print ads every few pages and you could download the book for free once you bought the reader. Books are so liberating by comparison. Portable, ad-free, ready at your command, with a wealthy history where generations of readers have weeded out the obvious crap.

Which brings me to DVDs of TV shows. Finally, the book has arrived for the TV. It's not completely analogous, obviously. You do need a TV to watch it. But a history is being built. The good shows will outsell the obviously bad shows. The marginal shows make it to air as often as the marginal books make it to print but don't expect either to return for a second printing or a DVD if they dont appeal to someone. Every single show ever made is now going to the DVD. Thirty years from now, though, the selection of DVDs from this and previous eras will have been weeded through by consumers.

You can watch the shows when you want. There's no commercials. The power is now in the buyer's hands (provided your favourite show is allowed an opportunity to compete). The price is still not comparable. 50$ and up for a season is still steep versus 30$ for even the pricy hardcovers with used bookstores selling books for next to nothing (of course, compare just the number of people involved in making a TV show vs a book). Perhaps the day will come when audio/video storage with playback will be as cheaply made as books are and then we really will see an analogous situation. Who knows what re-runs of today will be the Dickens of tomorrow?