To nobody’s surprise except its own, ITV is in deep, deep trouble. Paul Graham has been musing about how broadcast TV lost the war. “About twenty years ago”, he writes, “people noticed computers and TV were on a collision course and started to speculate about what they’d produce when they converged. We now know the answer: computers. It’s clear now that even by using the word ‘convergence’ we were giving TV too much credit. This won’t be convergence so much as replacement. People may still watch things they call “TV shows”, but they’ll watch them mostly on computers.”
Graham identifies four factors which cooked broadcast’s goose.
1. The Internet as an open platform. “Anyone can build whatever they want on it, and the market picks the winners. So innovation happens at hacker speeds instead of big company speeds.”
2. Moore’s Law, “which has worked its usual magic on Internet bandwidth”.
3. Piracy. “Users prefer it not just because it’s free, but because it’s more convenient. Bittorrent and YouTube have already trained a new generation of viewers that the place to watch shows is on a computer screen.”
4. Social applications. “The average teenage kid has a pretty much infinite capacity for talking to their friends. But they can’t physically be with them all the time. When I was in high school the solution was the telephone. Now it’s social networks, multiplayer games, and various messaging applications. The way you reach them all is through a computer. Which means every teenage kid (a) wants a computer with an Internet connection, (b) has an incentive to figure out how to use it, and (c) spends countless hours in front of it.”
This last, Graham argues, “was the most powerful force of all. This was what made everyone want computers. Nerds got computers because they liked them. Then gamers got them to play games on. But it was connecting to other people that got everyone else: that’s what made even grandmas and 14 year old girls want computers.”
“After decades of running an IV drip right into their audience”, TV people thought they’d be able to dictate the way shows reached audiences. But they underestimated the force of their desire to connect with one another.
So, in a nutshell, “Facebook killed TV. That is wildly oversimplified, of course, but probably as close to the truth as you can get in three words.”