The sweetest memory of most kids of 90s is coming back home from a game of cricket in the afternoon and sitting in front of the television for the latest episode of Pokemon, Macgyver or Alif Laila. They were afraid of missing an episode, and were worried that they might never get the chance to watch it again. Perhaps for some, it would be sitting and watching the evening news and a popular Bangla drama like ‘Kothao Keu Nei’ with family. Television has, since its inception, created many stories and memories for the people of all spheres of life resulting in laughter and togetherness. An argument-cum-fight over a football or cricket match was more common at that time. But with the advancement of modern technology, has television maintained its presence and influence on the lives of the mass people? Or is it losing its relevance in modern life?
The journey of television began in our country with the then Pakistan Television Corporation in 1964, which later became Bangladesh Television (BTV) after the Independence in 1971. From then onwards, television has grown its roots deep within urban, suburban and even rural life. Scenes of a group of people sitting in front of a TV set in a village or a roadside urban tea stall were very common. According to a research, conducted on television viewing patterns and programme choices of rural and urban audiences by Mohammad Morshedul Islam, associate professor of the University of Chittagong, the daily average TV viewing time of a rural viewer is 24 minutes more than an urban viewer. The study was conducted in different areas of Chattogram. This, to some extent, proves that television still holds its relevance in rural life. However, it is the urban regions that have been slowly seeing a shift in public perception.
Television had been, for a long time, the single source of news and entertainment for people. But today, in the age of the internet, the scenario has changed. Previously, if someone missed news at the 7:00pm or 8:00pm, he or she had no option to watch the bulletin unless the TV station broadcast it again. However, today people don’t have to worry about missing a showtime. It's almost certain that the show will be available elsewhere on the internet. There is no need to patiently wait for the news at 7:00pm; anyone can just look up what they want to know from the internet. In this case, the younger generation is facing the biggest impact. Because of the presence of on-demand streaming platforms like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and others, the younger generation is not solely dependent on the television for entertainment. After a comparison of Nielson's Q1 2020 and Q1 2019 reports, it was seen that America’s youths have decreased watching television by 18 minutes per day. Besides this, the amount of time spent by 18 to 34-year-old people as a whole spent on watching TV in 2020 decreased by about 15.3 per cent from the previous year.
Does this mean that the days of television are nearing the end? Many experts, however, do not quite see the end of television, but a change from its traditional form. Regarding the future of television, Dr Abu Jafar Md Shafiul Alam Bhuiyan, professor of the Department of Television, Film and Photography, University of Dhaka, said, "It would be premature to herald the end of television. Television still holds on to its popularity. However, it has been undergoing a transformation because of the influence of digital media. We are experiencing a convergence between television and digital media."
Perhaps this is where the future of television lies – the intersection of traditional and digital media. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, seems to have already predicted such a future many years ago. In an interview in the year 2000, he said, “When you walk into your living room six years from now, you’ll be able to just say what you’re interested in, and have the screen help you pick out a video that you care about. It’s not going to be like, “Let’s look at channels 4, 5, and 7.” It’s going to be something that has pretty incredible graphics and it’s got an internet connection to it.” It has been more than six years and that prediction is already coming into fruition.
The interplay of traditional and digital media will indeed give a very different face to the conventional television that we are used to seeing. Already many channels are adopting styles similar to that of online platforms.
A senior journalist of Jamuna TV Sajjad Alam Khan Topu, said, "Television is undoubtedly evolving by the influence of the internet. To a certain extent, it is now being brought to the screen of our cell phones. Many TV channels are already adopting styles similar to online news portals." He further said, "I think the biggest impact will probably be on the advertisement industry. Already TV channels are losing advertisements to platforms like facebook, YouTube, etc. More research has to be done to get a better understanding of the scenario. Television outlets must also show responsibility and creativity in engaging with the public."
As per a report from research firm Magna Global, global TV ad sales fell by 4.0 per cent in 2019. This was the biggest fall since the Great Recession. TV now competes for a multifaceted field with streaming platforms, social media, video games, etc. Many of these platforms have structured their business models based on ads. Hence, as time goes, television must also innovate. The generation of millennials and post-millennials have grown up in the midst of different online platforms. Hence, their watching habit is far different from that of Boomers, who still form the biggest portion of the television audience. So, innovation must be done to draw the youth back in front of the TV set.
The future may hold a very different face. Current on-demand streaming and social media platforms have been successful because they bring personalised content in front of the viewers. Maybe that is where television needs to go as well; to bring in content that specifically a viewer wants; or perhaps a different model where it broadcasts generalised content and also manages to hold on to the audience. Only time will give the answer to what awaits television – death or transformation.
The writer is a second-year student at the Department of Geography & Environment, University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]