Boffo numbers for Olympics and Super Bowl prove TV is still a powerful force.
March 3, 2010
For all the talk about mass media’s demise, television is holding its own, especially regarding events. Frankly, that might be an understatement. So-called “event television” (such as the Academy Awards, Olympics, etc) cleans up. Evidence abounds. Adage reports almost every advertising slot for the Academy Awards sold out. A bajillion people watched the Winter Olympics, culminating in the epic hockey match between the United States and Canada. The Super Bowl captured the nation’s attention same as it always has. Likely March Madness will do the same. And so on…
If the giant no linger dominates our culture on a daily basis (it doesn’t), TV still leaves the biggest footprint. Even the most watched videos on You Tube pale in comparison to most watched television shows. “Pants on the Ground” or the Super Bowl? In five years which will be remembered? In five minutes?
New media is an amazingly potent drug, no question. Its ability to hook people supersedes that of television the way Crack does Cocaine. But the effects of Big TV last longer and cut deeper. Virals get shot around willy-nilly, recipients inhaling the fumes giddily before moving on to the next. Event TV is savored, talked about, and analyzed.
I grew up with TV but have learned to live without it. My computer screen satisfies at least 90% of my viewing desires. I even watch my favorite TV shows on line: The Office, 30 Rock and The Simpsons. Yet, I still make time for Big TV: The Super Bowl. The Academy Awards. The Olympics. Presidential Debates. These programs feel better served up in the living room versus my office. The oft-used communal campfire metaphor holds true. Event TV we want to share with family and friends.
Event TV and “water cooler programming” are old ideas. But it’s not just the Super Bowl. Numerous sporting events (playoffs, bowl games, tournaments) capture a mass audience. As do award shows. And game shows. Repugnant as American Idol and The Bachelor are to me, these programs own my family and probably yours too.
Open the flap further, and even more programming fits into the event tent. Tier two spectacles like Monday Night Football and 60 Minutes may seem like your father’s idea of popular culture but they still deliver respectable numbers.
My point? TV continues to be a potent, irreplaceable part of our popular culture. Indeed, of the world’s popular culture. While advertising effectiveness on television is perhaps another story, contrary to faddish obituaries the medium is alive and kicking.
Though predicted, television did not wipe out radio or, for that matter, the cinema. Those media evolved around it, found niches and expanded. Likewise, the Internet will not destroy TV; rather TV will evolve around it, finding sweet spots to flourish.
A casual observation: It’s all about the screen size. Smart phones and computers serve content to individuals. While the cinema caters to large groups of people. But the great in-between still favors television. Call it the medium-sized medium.