Evolution of Television

By Greeshma Magam

Raymond Williams, author of Television, wrote in the 1970’s on his beliefs of how television will reshape itself over time with its integration into American culture. He believes that there are four broad aspects of television that will change in the future: cable, satellite, cassettes and video, and reactive and interactive devices. I will discuss Williams’ predictions of the progression of television and use Gossip Girl  as an example to prove whether or not his predictions have come true.

Williams believed that cable would be something that would only be available for the wealthy population, and that local television networks might exist; however they may not be as influential as mainstream television. Although Williams’ prediction of local television has proven to be true, his prediction of cable has not. In today’s time, cable has been something that has been available to the majority of the population, at least in America. Gossip Girl, ran on the CW, a newly launched American broadcast television network that is a joint venture between CBS and Warner Brothers. Williams also believed that advertisements would be the main method of receiving money for cable television. This prediction is one that has proven to be the most accurate. In recent times, most television programs, as well as internet programs, now rely on advertisements to make their profits. Gossip Girl also incorporates subtle advertisements within the show, as well. It has become apparent that certain prime-time programs generate more revenue, as more people are subject to watch it.

Another main characteristic of television that Williams believed in is reactive and interactive television. Reactive television is one that Williams thought would produce reactions from the audience, like voting. Interactive television would be a form of television that permits the audience to interact directly with the scene before them. They would do this by selecting through options to decide how certain aspects of the plot would play out. In today’s time, we see the use of reactive television often on competition television programs, such as Dancing with the Stars, where the audience is asked to vote on their favorite pair. On the other hand, interactive television has not played out as well as Williams had predicted. Today, there is barely, if any, television programs that use this method. One reason behind this may be because most television that is watched is scripted, therefore the plot is chosen beforehand. Also, if the audience was requested to give their opinion to how the plot would result, then there would be no surprise in the program to keep the viewers entertained. In the case of Gossip Girl, there is no reactive or interactive television aspect to it, as it was a scripted television series. With the enhancement of the usage of the internet, however, there may be some aspects to reactive television, such as online polls and quizzes that the directors or audience of the show may see to influence the direction in which the show should progress in. Some of these aspects are included in this site.

Another one of Williams’ predictions for the future of television rested in the form of satellites. He believed that the use of satellite television would be especially helpful in areas where cable would not be available. Although this statement about satellite television became true, I believe that it has not been as prominent when compared to cable television. Some examples of modern day satellite television companies are Dish network and DirecTV and ironically, they carry many of the same channels that cable networks do. In my opinion, I believe that Williams’ prediction of satellite is the one that was proven to be the least true compared to the rest of his predictions.

The last prediction that Williams made about television was the use of cassettes and video cameras. Williams had a love-hate relationship with these forms of media in television. He enjoyed that people would have a collection of their own home videos, which can be viewed at any moment in time; however, he disliked. This is a great example of how most of my peers, including me, have been able to watch our designated television shows. I, for instance, have been using Netflix to watch Gossip Girl. This particular resource has a collection of television programs and allows subscribers to view them at their pleasure. This allows access for people who may have missed the initial broadcast to view the show. It also permits viewers to re-watch the shows at their discretion. It is interesting to see the use of advertisements still present for this form of viewing television, for certain forms at least. Netflix, for one, does not show advertisements to its viewers, because the viewer’s pay for their subscriptions. Other online sources, like Hulu, do have advertisements that their viewers are required to watch. This form allows the viewers to have reactive concept involved, as the audience can choose between the different advertisements to customize their viewing options. Other options of this viewing arrangement include Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime, which allow similar access to watching previously broadcasted television programs. Williams disliked cassettes and videos for a few reasons, one being that it would bypass some of the essential regulations for television. Although this statement is true, it has come to the point where videos are so prevalent in our lives that our society would be different without them.

All in all, I believe that Williams’ prediction about the future of television has essentially come true. His core beliefs, with the exception of interactive television, have been very accurate.  It is very interesting how his predictions can carry among the different genres of television, as there are so many differences between the many types. My main television genre of interest is teen drama. This genre is one that is very broad in the realm of television and can be used as an amazing example of the advances that Williams’ believed in. Lastly, I believe that Williams did an exceptional job predicting these technological advances in television such early on and I admire his ability to do so.

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