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Legacy logic and traditional media

I’m not sure how apocryphal it is, but animals with a fairly autonomous system can remain moving for a while after their head is cut off. All the bits of the body still function and do so, even though the creature is dead. It just takes a while for it to realise it.

I see the same thing happening with some of the older forms of media. The reasons why they were there in the first place are no longer valid, they no longer fulfil a function, and yet because they have existed for so long, they keep enduring, long after the moment that – if they were to be invented from scratch – the concept would be laughable. They’re dead, but they don’t realise they are.

Imagine this as a dragons’ den proposal:

“What I want to do is take a news website. Arrange the webpages as print pages. Print it out thousands of times. Deliver those printouts to shops around the country. And then they get posted to people’s houses.”

“So they get the news they’ve already read?”

“Yes. On paper.”

“A day after it was actually news?”


“Which they can’t pass on to other people who might be interested?”

“Well you could cut out bits and post them on, but normally, no, it just litters your home for a week then goes into the recycling.”

You see the problem?

In practice, newspapers died over 20 years ago, they just haven’t stopped moving yet. A legacy logic still may be able to justify their existence, but it’s getting very tired.

I consume a lot of media, TV, films, music, books, comics, games, audio. I tend to consume all of them in quite similar ways. I’ll watch a TV show for an entire season, or run, before moving onto the next. I’ll buy a complete set of a comic run or a book series before starting it, then read them all. I’ll listen to three or four albums by the same artist in a row (in chronological order, of course). The idea of “dipping in” just doesn’t suit me. For this reason I gave up on broadcast TV about 20 years ago. I’d just get the DVDs for the shows I liked. There was a brief period (just after Dr Who was revived) when I bought a TV licence and watched TV, but I soon got bored with it, and when the digital switchover happened, I just switched off instead of over.

For some reason though, a legacy logic, I have had to sign a form every year since, stating that I’m not watching broadcast TV. I don’t have to sign one saying I don’t read newspapers. No-one else has to sign one to say they don’t play computer games. For a reason that would be laughed out of the room if we were to present it as a new idea, broadcast TV is given a privileged position, that it doesn’t deserve.

The legacy logic is obvious. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium from about 1957 (the last time a radio show had higher ratings than any TV show) until maybe 2007 (when Netflix started streaming – that’s a pretty arbitrary end-date, mainly picked because it makes a nice round number). But now broadcast TV is pretty peripheral to many many people. And it’s pointless. There is no reason to put a TV show out at a particular time, so that everyone has to tune in simultaneously, unless it’s sports, news or shopping. It’s just habit that anyone does that.

And of course now that the BBC iPlayer needs a licence, legacy logic says that this means that the company that supplies it is entitled to check on people’s internet access to make sure they’re not watching it without paying for it. The assumption being that people can’t live without the BBC, I suppose. Whereas it would make much more sense to make people enter a code to access the content if they had paid. You know like Amazon, and Netflix and Sky and every other TV supplier does.

Maybe someone should tell the BBC they don’t really matter that much any more. We get our TV from Netflix (an entire season at once, rather than being dripfed one episode a week), we get our news from the Internet, we get our radio from podcasts (OK that one is a bit weak, but  .. I will just have to wait for the radio programmes to come out on CD). I would miss QI but it’s available through Netflix, No Such Thing as the News isn’t on, there’s WILTY, but that’s about it, really.

It’s a mark of how little traditional media get what’s happening that they commission little op-ed pieces like this http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2016-03-20/dont-let-on-demand-distract-you-from-this-mini-golden-age-of-bbc-drama in a Cnut-like attempt to hold back the tide. What makes that article so childish is that it wilfully misses the point. Yes there is good stuff on broadcast TV, no-one is arguing about that, it just doesn’t have to be broadcast. There is no virtue in stuff being time-dependent, quite the opposite. It’s no more a The Night Manager would have been a good show, but only if it had been all at once, so that people could see all the episodes rather than seeing four then missing the last two because iPlayer only keeps them for 30 days and I was in Kathmandu. Errm. If you see what I mean.

Where the legacy logic particularly stands out is “His sails deflate and his attention wanders, because that stuff is, well, a bit obvious. It’s available to everyone. There’s no rarity value, no street cred.” People do not watch Netflix or Amazon because of their rarity. They watch them because of their accessibility. And the quality of their output. X-Files, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Preacher, Archer, Bojack Horseman. All brilliant. And the most recent things I’ve watched (no BBC there note). It’s the broadcast stuff that’s not obvious, it’s the broadcast stuff that is difficult to access. If you judge these things objectively/currently and not from the perspective of the period 1957-2007.

Ultimately being a good TV programme maker does not justify being a broadcaster. We don’t really need those any more. Scheduled TV makes as much sense as picking up your copy of Rest of the Robots between 10 pm and 11 pm on a Sunday night and only reading it then. Broadcast TV is dead. We should stop trying to prop it up with more and more ridiculous legislation.




One thought on “Legacy logic and traditional media

  1. Pingback: You don’t know how it feels | musings on technology and education

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