The New Video Order
The early promise of TV had been "free television in the home." Not only was it the promise, but quickly it also became the reality that made the medium popular, national, and indispensable. Yet, given the way video has evolved since its emergence, the question now emerging is whether free television in the home will survive into the next century. With modern technical capabilities, have Americans revised their expectations of TV, or are the pledges delivered since the RCA/NBC sales campaign at the New York World's Fair still sufficient to energize an industry and excite a mass population?
Perhaps Americans are tiring of the medium, network and cable TV alike. More precisely, the graying children of the baby boom may have become satiated after a lifetime with an industry unable or unwilling to keep abreast of their changing priorities. Young adults may be becoming bored with the same forms and formats that entertained their parents and grandparents. Contemporary youth, so mobile and independent and affluent, may be finding TV irrelevant to their interests. Moreover, the foundation of modern broadcasting has been the faith of advertisers that the enormous sums they spend on commercials are necessary to reach large audiences to sell products and services. If this belief is ever shattered, and there are serious reevaluations of advertising effectiveness, the result would put in jeopardy all commercial television.
Whatever the ultimate resolution, as it enters the last decade of the twentieth century U.S. television is in flux. The hard control of the industry exercised by monopolistic networks is crumbling, and there is a desperate scramble for leverage and power. It is not a battle for the scraps of a collapsing industry; instead, it is about restructuring the business, rearranging electronic communications for the next century, when profits will be enormous. While viewers spend their time choosing programs for the evening, zipping and zapping through their choices, the fate of television is being decided by powerful men and institutions.
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