Luego de los nombramientos en TVN y el cuestionamiento que se le ha hecho al modelo de televisión pública en Chile, un artículo sobre el futuro de la televisión digital publicado en The Economist. POWER IN YOUR HAND Apr 11th 2006 The Economist
The digital era is supposed to revolutionise television. The way people use it will change, argues Sophie Pedder, but television will remain mainly a vehicle for mass entertainment
THE Californian sun is searing and the palm trees are tilting in the breeze, but the workers on the back lot are touching up icicles and snowdrifts. This is the set of "ER", a medical drama for television, and the far corner of the lot at Warner Brothers is doubling for Chicago. Just across the way, past the peanut-butter-coloured walls of the vast studio sound-stages, beckons the dazzling white entrance to the White House. Off the set, an improbably tanned actor, Rob Lowe, is shooting basketballs into a hoop. This set is Washington, DC, home to "The West Wing", a drama about an American president. Round the corner, they are dressing the interior set for "Friends", another hugely successful TV show, set in New York.
These are just three of America's most popular TV shows, set in three different corners of the country and exported around the globe. But they are all shot by one studio, on one lot, in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills. The bulk of the stuff that fills prime-time television screens in America is filmed between two valleys in Los Angeles, and is in the grip of a handful of production companies belonging to large media conglomerates. Over the past decade the country's television industry has enjoyed a bonanza that has brought millions of dollars, an ice-cool attitude and an air of entitlement to this West Coast city. The men in black T-shirts picking at salads in the smarter Beverly Hills restaurants--writers, producers, TV executives, actors and agents--have been the beneficiaries of the most sustained boom anyone in the business can recall. Movies may still have the edge for glamour, but as a business television dwarfs feature films, even in America: with a total turnover of $100 billion, it is around six times bigger.
UNDIMMED ALLURE Despite the formidable array of new gadgets--electronic games, computers, portable MP3-players, mobile telephony--that is now rivalling the television set for attention, the flickering image on the 75-year-old box still captivates people. The average American spends four hours a day watching television, and keeps the set turned on for longer than that; the average German, Briton and Frenchman spends over three hours. Watching TV was the single most popular way to spend an evening, Americans said in a recent Gallup poll: three times more so than seeing their friends. And according to research by MTV, a music-video channel owned by Viacom, an American media giant, even the widespread use of the Internet has not eaten significantly into TV time. "In most cases," says Betsy Frank, head of research and planning at MTV Networks, "what MTV viewers do less of, now that they are spending more time on the Internet, is sleeping, talking and personal hygiene."
Television continues to enjoy a robust hold on the popular imagination. There are few social phenomena, pernicious or benign, for which television is not being held responsible by someone or other: the stifling of children's imagination, the increase in obesity, the decline of the family meal, the erosion of morality, the vulgarisation of taste, the worship of celebrity, the promotion of violence, the undermining of authority, the maintenance of American cultural hegemony--and the spread of democracy.
At the height of the dotcom frenzy, which helped feed the television boom, a broader revolution was promised for the humble TV set itself. Just as the computer and mobile telephone were to be transformed into devices for receiving and consuming entertainment, the television was to become an all-purpose screen through which people would engage in a dizzying array of multimedia experiences. Viewers would treat the TV like the PC: indeed, the two devices would merge into one. From the ease of their living-room, they would shop for groceries, choose their holidays, browse a department store, educate their children, send e-mails, play games, place a bet, even pick their own ending to an episode of a favourite soap.
Thanks to the flush times, the cable and satellite-television companies and broadcasters have spent huge amounts of money on installing and upgrading their systems to deliver digital multi-channel television into people's homes. Governments have egged them on, because the switch to digital frees up part of the spectrum, which they can then auction for other purposes. Digital delivery, which provides far more bandwidth than old-fashioned analogue distribution, not only provides better picture quality, it also allows more stuff to be squeezed down the pipes--and for signals to be sent back from the living-room. For viewers, this "interactivity" means they can "talk" to their TV sets just as they can interact with their computers and the Internet.
All this promises a wholly new television experience, argue the enthusiasts, where people will call up what they want, when they want. Ultimately, this could mean that the mass experience of sitting down in front of the box to watch scheduled shows all at the same time is over. Audiences will fragment into tiny pieces, and TV channels will become narrow specialists to serve them. Stamp collectors will watch Philatelist TV; pot-holers the Cave Channel. Indeed, viewers will not need to bother with channels at all, but will simply download programmes from a vast menu.
"Erstwhile couch potatoes will no longer settle for a few score lowest-common-denominator programmes; they will range databases around the globe to pick out their first choice of materials," wrote George Gilder, a technology guru, back in 1994. "The entire TV culture will give way to a radically different teleputer culture. The result will resemble the current arrays of thousands of specialised books and magazines far more than a few TV shows oriented to the morbid fears and prurient interests of a mass audience."
Even now, technology companies and manufacturers are working on "home entertainment gateways", devices that will enable viewers to do away not only with their computers, but their CD-players, DVD-players and video-recorders too. Powerful voices in the media believe that a new era in television is on its way. "Everything on AOL is on demand," says Jerry Levin, head of AOL Time Warner, America's biggest media conglomerate. "Now we have the infrastructure to do the same with TV."
OPEN THE BOX In these harsher economic times, however, the television industry is having to reconsider some of these plans. On the production lots of Los Angeles, parsimony is now battling profligacy. Television executives are breathing down the necks of creative types to keep budgets down. Car chases and helicopter scenes are giving way to more dialogue; guest stars to unknown actors. But the re-evaluation that is taking place within the industry ranges far more broadly t han this. Technology may be promising endless possibilities for that frumpy old box, but how many of them do people really want to use? And how many of them will they pay for?
This survey will look at where television is going, and who stands to benefit. It will concentrate on America and Western Europe, because together they account for the vast majority of the world's television market, and others are likely to follow where they lead. The survey will argue that, despite all those costly efforts to transform it into an all-purpose multimedia device, the television set will remain primarily a screen to keep people entertained. Although the digital era will vastly widen the choice of entertainment on TV, it will leave its potency as a mass medium undiminished. It will, however, overturn the way television is consumed.