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Since Netflix began streaming TV shows and movies in 2008, it has completely altered the landscape for how we consume video.

Even more than DVD box sets, the streaming service brought the concept of “bingewatching” to a mass audience. Netflix has not just hosted, but created some of the most acclaimed shows of recent years - all of which have been designed to be watched in bulk.

But it’s not just the content of TV that is changing. Thanks to iTunes (and some more nefarious, illegal sources), we can now download shows and movies to watch on our phones. Video has finally been given a chance to escape into the wild, just like how the Walkman freed music in the late seventies. In this era of “peak TV,” is 2016 the moment where the way we watch television starts to change altogether?

Watercooler moments and event TV - a thing of the past?

Once upon a time, “watercooler moments” were the plot twists or unexpected gaffes in TV shows that everyone talked about at work the next day. Now, with chat shows (particularly in America) designing segments for instant YouTube shareability, the traditional “watercooler” moment seems lost forever. Colleagues will WhatsApp or tweet their shock, rather than save it up for the next day; even adverts are becoming increasingly concerned with instant viral stardom rather than how many units get sold.

Likewise, on demand services are gradually replacing live broadcast shows; a recent KPMG survey had 42% of people watching their weekly TV shows on catch-up, compared with 24% watching shows live. Nowadays, it takes something monumental - a sporting event, or the Great British Bake-Off final - to actually get anyone watching in real time.

Gather the family around the...tablet?

The shows that we do watch now tend to be through Netflix or other streaming services; smart TVs and Google’s Chromecast device have helped bring streaming into a more communal setting. Now the whole family can sit on the sofa and watch five consecutive episodes of Breaking Bad in peace.

But people’s desire to watch shows on the go has led them to take it to the streets; more and more commuters are using their journeys to catch up on their favourite programmes. According to an OFCOM survey from last year, 45% of 16-24 year olds are watching most of their TV on mobile devices.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Commuter

And that digital isolation is set to get even more profound with some of the inventions showcased at the recent CES conference in Las Vegas. While it may look like a virtual reality headset, Avegant’s Glyph is an advanced optical device which allows you to watch HD video or play video games on the go. Headphones are built in, and when the thing runs out of juice, you can flip them over your head and listen to your music instead.

The downside of this is the imagined future of carriages of tube-riders, eyes obscured by (admittedly nifty) technology which resembles the VISOR belonging to La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. As we’re already so wired up to our headphones, cutting out our ability to see other people, even if we’re all sitting down, seems like a weirdly dystopian turn of events.

The Year Reality Turned Virtual

Then again, even at home, virtual reality looks poised to take over our lives - at least if CES is to be believed. While we may not all be on our sofas with headsets on just yet, it is entering our lives in subtle ways. The recent trend in 360° music videos, made possible by virtual reality agencies like Rewind, have hit YouTube and on iTunes - and are used by everyone from Björk, in her recent “Stonemilker” video/app to Taylor Swift. These videos allow - encourage! - interactivity, but once again, it’s on a personal basis.

Luminaries like Werner Herzog - himself an early adopter of 3D filmmaking - feels uncertain about its role in the future of existing entertainment; “I am convinced that this is not going to be an extension of cinema...or video games [because] I do not see a real, big form of expressing the state of our existence,” Herzog told the New York Times. However, with Google launching its own VR division, and the Microsoft-backed Oculus Rift due to ship in March, there’s every chance that this is a part of the future we may not be able to see coming.


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Is 2016 the Year TV Changes Forever?
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