The future of Television

The accuracy of some of Raymond Williams claims about the future of television or really entertainment is amazing considering the time period he was writing from. Williams makes several predictions regarding the future of television that can be seen in our society today especially through the vast resources of the internet. Williams believes television has an effect on our society and in some ways affects our societal norms, such as an emphasis on violence in television. According to Williams Television affects society and can be considered a cause of some of our social problems. He also fears television will become dominated by a broadcasting monopoly and para national corporations will dominate the industry driven on profit. Some of his beliefs are strikingly similar to what entertainment and television have become today.

Williams believed television had a negative effect on society, especially when it came to the display of violence, sex, and political manipulation in television. Williams proposes that for violence to be acceptable in television an assumption is made that violent behavior is undesirable. (pg. 122) However the during the 1970s the U.S was involved in the Vietnam War which contradicts this assumption. During this time it was considered unacceptable to assault someone in public; however it was also unacceptable to not be willing to murder others in a foreign war. According to Williams this creates a precise set of distinctions rationalized as law. (pg. 123) This means that you can be punished for not fighting in a foreign war, such as the Vietnam War, but you can also be punished for domestic assault. He believes the violence displayed in television is reflective of this type of thinking. Williams also makes the argument that the powers within television display violence, or sex because it is profitable. Because an audience finds violence exciting it may be audiences who have caused the violent nature of television. This can even be seen today in Game of Thrones. The story of Game of Thrones relies heavily on violence due to a power struggle between multiple people and families. I however don’t believe the violence in the show is reflective on societal norms today. The show uses violence to display the raw and unorganized world that the show takes place in. However there is an emphasis on sexual scenes in the show that can become almost unnecessary. Whenever I discuss the common use of sexual scenes people refer to it as “that’s just HBO.” This is exactly what Williams believed violence and sex in television was all about. In my opinion Game of Thrones would still be a great show if most of the sex scenes were removed, however HBO displays these scenes because it is what most of the audience desires or prefers. Although the story may remain intact HBO may lose profit due to a loss of viewers who prefer the sex, and violence that is often displayed in the show. I believe the excess of sexual scenes and nudity produced by the series is reflective of the audience’s tendency to view these scenes as exciting, which leads producers and channel such as HBO to feature such shows. Also perhaps cable itself is to blame. As Williams imagined cable has produced hundreds of channels allowing for channels like HBO, which push the envelope in terms of their content, to surface and succeed.

Williams also predicted several technological advances that can be seen today. Williams argues that new forms of existing machines will be created. This can be seen today with the creation of DVR’s Tivo, Apple TV, Xbox one, and other on demand devices. (pg. 136) These devices are even able to support huge video libraries such as Netflix and Hulu plus where many users access on demand content. Williams also saw the need for on demand, except he believed it would come through the use of cassettes. (pg. 145) He believed users would be able to have a cassette library and access their programs whenever they wanted. This was true through the use of DVD’s from the late to early 2000s, but has recently been defeated by digital content powerhouses like Netflix and Hulu Plus. Williams also believed that one day a cable distribution system can be linked, with computers, with a wide range of services such as wired news information, shopping services, educational programs, informational services, demand television, medical consultancy services, and discussions. This can all be seen today through the internet. Services like Accuweather, Amazon, Khan Academy, Google, Netflix, Web M.D, and Skype were all foreseen by Williams. Former exclusively cable companies such as Comcast, and ATT have invested into the internet because of the trend for internet content. Williams also states that due to the costs of cable infrastructure there would be ample competition between cable companies. (pg. 141) This has also occurred today as Cable/Internet providers like Verizon, ATT, and Comcast compete to dominate internet services. A show like Game of Thrones is a network exclusive so it is exception from the switch to on demand services through the internet. However one could argue that game of thrones isn’t exempt because while the internet has enabled companies to provide subscription based content it has also allowed individuals to post free content or engage in piracy. What Williams could have never predicted is the amount of content that is accessible through the internet. In all reality an internet savvy individual can find almost any content ever released on the internet. This includes network exclusive shows like game of thrones.

Additionally Williams saw envisioned reactive and interactive devices.  He believed that one day an audience could choose to have a happy or sad ending. (pg. 139) Television has turned out to be more reactive than interactive. Television is reactive in the sense that as an audience we are able to discuss and interact after the show through blogs, and fan sites on the internet. Game of Thrones has its own Wiki, which is a mass of its entire plot and character information users can access. There are also websites and applications viewers can access to view a visual map of the show and document what events are occurring or have occurred while watching the show. There is no real connection between views and the outcome of the show however. Game of Thrones is known for following its script as has left users in disbelief through scenes like the Red Wedding. The audience really has no input in the story of the show so it is not interactive.

We have come a long way from the rise of Television in the 1970s which makes Williams predictions all the more surprising. From the rise of television, to cable, and now the internet most of Williams’s predictions have come true. The amount of content we now have access to is enormous. According to YouTube statistics 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute, so it’s physically impossible to watch every YouTube video. Williams believed that large corporations would one day control the content on television based on what profits or makes the most money. I however think that you cannot take the user out of the equation. Although corporations may control what goes on TV, I believe viewers control what stays on TV. This is why many shows like American Idol are rebranded into shows like the X-Factor, and The Voice, viewers enjoy watching this content. The viewers have a larger impact in T.V than Williams may have thought.

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