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Culture

The Glorious, Confusing Future of TV

The corporate term "TV Everywhere" sums up what's happening in 2015.

by Mike Pearl
16 January 2015, 5:00am

Photo by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete

When networks deign to grant you access to content you pay for on devices like your phone, computer, or anything other than your approved set-top box, they call it " TV Everywhere." TV Everywhere is strictly a corporate term, born in network boardrooms and PR meetings. It's not a term consumers use, because we don't demand that networks bless us with "TV Everywhere." Instead we just grumble endlessly when they won't let us watch a thing using any of a million modern conveniences instead of a stupid, anachronistic box.

Still, the term "TV Everywhere" is great for 2015, because it describes the state of things really beautifully. It's like the truck carrying all the TV got jackknifed on the highway and all the TV spilled out.

So, what's going to happen with TV in 2015? Cover your eyes, kids. There's TV everywhere.

Despite their piece of jargon not catching on, telecom companies should be feeling pretty good about 2015. Comcast and Time Warner are hoping to get their merger approved in the coming year, leaving America with one giant cable organization competing with the satellite companies. DirecTV, meanwhile, is merging with AT&T, leaving us with fewer and fewer companies providing us with precious content. It's enough to make you cut the cord and move over to streaming services, services like the new "Sling" (not to be mistaken for a Slingbox), from DirecTV's main competitor, Dish.

Speaking of streaming, Showtime and HBO are both jumping on the standalone streaming bandwagon in 2015. If you pay for those, plus Sling, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, you could be paying $70 a month for TV. "Cutting the cord" was a way to stick it to the man in 2013 and 2014, but now that cord cutting involves signing up for an ever-increasing number of differently priced streaming services, it might look more attractive to just move back to paying for the package deal cable provided—that's music to the ears of the telecoms.

In addition to more 8K and OLED TVs at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Samsung rolled out even more affordable 4K TVs. If you don't know what a 4K TV is, you're not alone. (Basically it makes the pretty pictures you look at sharper, clearer, and presumably prettier.) This is shaping up to be the year you find out, though, with Tim Moynihan of Wired writing, "This is not just hype. It is not 3-D. This is the future, and in the coming years, 4K will be as ubiquitous and essential as HD video is now." You might not be watching the Super Bowl on a 4K TV this year, but with millions of sets expected to be sold in 2015, you could be watching the kickoff of next season's first game in ultra crystal clarity.

"Great! Sign me up," you might be saying. Not so fast. There's a 4K format war afoot, and it's likely to make your 4K TV finicky about streaming services you'll want it to be friends with. "Make the wrong decision and you may not get the content you want," writes Moynihan. Meanwhile, Samsung is making deals designed to make sure that if you want to watch TV in these ultra-high resolutions, you have to go through them.

You know how today you've ignored 11 popups on your computer and phone asking you to update your operating system? Good news: That's going to start happening with your TV soon, thanks to one of the combatants in the format war called Tizen.

Samsung recently asked software developers to start working on smart TV applications for a TV it's just announced, using the Tizen open-source operating system. Smart TVs already have graphical user interfaces, but this is expected to be a serious move toward turning your TV into a customizable content-consumption device, like your phone.

Annoying, right? Most people just want to be able to sit there and watch TV, not use the thing to noodle around on the internet or play Angry Birds.

But unlike Samsung's insistence that a curved screen is something we all want, a move toward universal adoption of customizable, wifi-enabled smart TVs makes sense in a way. There might be a future on the way where your TV works right out of the box: You just connect it to Wi-Fi, and all your streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO Go are ready to go on your TV. No set-top box needed.

But what about the actual content beamed onto the giant, curved home entertainment rectangles on our walls?

For the discerning viewer in 2015, there's going to be more of recent Golden Globe winner Transparent on Amazon, more Game of Thrones on HBO, more Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards on Netflix, and a final season of Mad Men on AMC. Once it was the place where all of America's TV hopes and dreams lied, but in 2015 AMC's best prestige offering is just an expansion of the Breaking Bad–verse.

But we're not discerning viewers. We're content vacuums. We used to be snobby about how Nielsen ratings supposedly didn't measure the real viewing habits of America, but ever since they started crunching numbers from social media, they got a clearer picture of what we're really watching, and it's not good. Now they know we mainly just watch The Bachelor, Pretty Little Liars, American Horror Story: Freak Show, Teen Wolf, TheBachelorette, The Voice, andDancing with the Stars. We also enjoy Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Scandal, though, so a tiny bit of what we watch wins awards. Well done, everyone.

It looks like the theory floated recently by TV Guide's Michael Schneider is correct: America doesn't want TV to deal with social issues. Maybe that's why new shows for 2015 don't look very challenging—they include a remake of The Odd Couple from the producer of Mad About You. Galavant, a show about singing fairytale characters, looks inventive, but it's getting ratings that are just OK. Framework, a design competition show hosted by Common, looks like a great one to binge-watch while you're sick in bed, but it's only on Spike TV for now.

One bright spot: Empire is getting both good reviews and good ratings.

This is the stuff we want, and it's also what we deserve in the coming year. But there's programming we theoretically need, called "news," and that aspect of TV is looking pretty dreary.

After its series finale on December 14, the fictional newsroom of HBO's The Newsroom is gone. With it goes most of America's diet of pompous pronouncements about journalistic ethics—outside of Gamergate, naturally.

It doesn't seem like TV news could possibly become more of a swamp in 2015, but if I were you, I still wouldn't go there to find clarity. Millennials don't get local news from TV, so in all likelihood, the local news is going to continue to air mostly hysterical stories about local crime followed by segments about how to stretch your grocery-buying dollar, and how to spruce up your bathroom for autumn.

CNN's declining ratings over 2014 resulted in penny-wise-and-dollar-dumb decision-making. The network's endless coverage of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, and its panicky Ebola stories (although, looking back, too much blame for that may have landed on CNN's shoulders) made it look increasingly like a relic and not the reliable news source it once seemed to be. Sadly, given the poor ratings of their thought-provoking documentary shows, they probably won't make more of them.

Still, if you like good TV news it's out there. 60 Minutes and Al Jazeera America aren't going anywhere, and did I mention a show called VICE?

Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.