The everchanging technological landscape has greatly altered the way Americans consume television, with the most significant contribution being the emergence of digital streaming platforms. Judy Wajcman's ‘High Speed Society' in Pressed for Time – The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism and Katherine Hayles' ‘Tech-TOC: Complex Temporalities and Contemporary Technogenesis' in How We Think -Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis both highlight the role that technology plays in our everyday life and how it has shaped the human experience. The development of the digital streaming platforms has impacted the culture of watching television, the key players that drive the industry, and the content that is being produced. Hayles writes how media consumption has changed over time, and particularly the shift to digital as a “general increase in information intensity, with more and more information available with less and less effort” (Hayles, 124). The gap between accessibility of content and the viewer is increasingly minimized. With this, Wajcman writes, the viewer is enabled to have “not only more time but time of their choice” (Wajcman, 38). With these new entertainment consumption habits comes new challenges and opportunities. Not only are there new windows of exhibition, but there are changes in business models and therefore a new competitive landscape, both domestically and globally. As technological advancements push the television industry forward, our interaction with content also changes.
In the past, traditional broadcast networks provided limited access to news, sports, and entertainment; however, as the demand for more television content increased, new technology emerged. One could purchase an abundance of channels, each portraying their own series through cable networks. Satellite television services provided similar channels at a less expensive price. Videocassette recorders and digital video recorders also entered the scene and marked the first step toward giving the viewer the power to controlling their experience. By removing the limitation of only having access to live broadcast, commercialized companies like TiVo let viewers record and replay television shows of their choice from any network. DVD box sets also became available and provided the ability for viewers to watch their content when they wanted, whenever they wanted. While advertisements did exist on these sets, it was easy to fast-forward through them. On demand video services, however, entirely removed advertisements that usually came before or in the middle of an episode. Evidently, as Judy Wajcman states, “The faster that money can be turned into the production of goods and services, the greater the power of capital to expand or valorize itself” (Course Reader, 33). She identifies the acceleration of new developments and recognizes that “with capitalism, time is literally money, and ‘when time is money, then faster means better' and speed becomes an unquestioned and unquestionable good” (Course Reader, 33). Wajcman's work reflects the idea that the television industry was speeding up so quickly, trying to keep up with the changing times and demand of capitalism. As the key players in the industry gained consciousness of the ability to turn the money into the production of goods and services, online platforms took control.
The dominant figures of the television industry shifted to highlight Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Naturally, the three companies compete with one another to prove themselves to be the leading online streaming platform. Netflix provides its own distinct strength, as it began as an online video rental service that then transformed into a streaming platform. Because it is the oldest platform of the three, it has a solid and loyal user-base. It has also now begun to create original programs, which have proven to be a huge success thus far. Hulu, on the other hand, was created as a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, NBC Universal, and Time Warner. Hulu provides a unique opportunity to access episodes just hours after they have been aired live on television. This enables viewers to catch up on television shows quickly and in time to go back to watching on network TV if they so choose. Once they noticed the success of Netflix's original programming, they began to make investments in creating their own content as well. Amazon Prime Video is the youngest of the three platforms; however, it includes the services of Amazon Prime, allowing Amazon to grow their lifestyle brand. These three players in the online streaming platforms each have their own qualities that make them stand out among the others and have worked to keep up with the changing technological developments of the television industry. Judy Wajcman realizes this trend and states, “The fact that our social interactions in both work and leisure time are increasingly mediated by technology – that we live in a state of constant connectivity – is a recurring theme” (Course Reader, 33). We are now able to access television whenever and wherever we want, with the help of these platforms. This constant state of connectivity has forever changed the way that we view and consume media. Katherine Hayes recognizes, “These environment changes have catalyzed changes in the mechanisms of selective attention from deep to hyper attention. Elsewhere I have argued that we are in the midst of a generational shift in cognitive modes. If we look for the cause of this shift, media seems to play a role” (Course Reader, 124). Streaming can now be consumed on a phone, tablet, or computer, in addition to the traditional television. With more choice than ever, “media consumption by young people in the home has shifted from the living room to their bedrooms, a move that facilitates consuming multiple forms of media at once. Going along with the shift is a general increase in information intensity, with more and more information available with less and less effort” (Course Reader, 124).
In lecture, we have discussed the relationship between the visual and the power and how the visual is what dominates the media, controlling what we consume in our everyday life. I would like to challenge that notion and propose that the viewer is gaining more and more control with the popularity of digital online streaming. Now, as Judy Wajcman states, “Users are no longer thought of as passive consumers of technology…while the technical characters of devices matter a great deal, the life of machines ultimately depends on the locally contingent meanings that people attribute to them, in practice (Course Reader, 41). Technology is only a product of what society demands, and it always acts in relation to how we engage with it. We learned that our social and cultural habits are shaped by our use and relations with technologies in our life, and that it is this relationship that influences our experience. Streaming platforms have been able to adapt to the nature of society and have pushed traditional boundaries to encourage a more individualized viewing experience.
Because the industry is constantly changing and developing, it is important that the streaming platforms are easily adaptable to the needs of the consumer and the market. Judy Wajcman sums it up perfectly, saying that “technologies bear the imprint of the people and the social context in which they develop” (Course Reader, 39). She takes it one step further to include, “It makes sense, then, to think about the relationship between technology and time as one of ongoing mutual shaping” (Course Reader, 40). In terms of the television industry, these streaming platforms had a huge industrial impact on competition and advertising. Not only were they able to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to portray on a television screen, but they also don't have as much pressure from advertisers and industrial regulation. When the networks dominated the television industry, advertisers held most of the control because they had to rely on advertising income to generate a profit. For cable and satellite networks, they were able to generate revenues from subscriptions fees in addition. Streaming platforms, however, generate revenues directly from their subscription fees. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video all charge their viewers to access their premium content. As a result, Netflix has no advertisements and Hulu's ads are thinly dispersed, though it is an option to pay for the experience to be commercial-free. As the industry stands today, traditional advertisers of the past have far less power than they used to. In a Macquarie analyst note, lead analyst Tim Nollen wrote that “changing behaviors are altering the value equation around reach in TV advertising” and that “media companies in 2018 that continue to rely on an ad-based model will struggle, while those with ad-free subscription models will win out” (Williams). Because of this, advertising has had to shift to focus more on direct marketing to television with product placement. Katherine Hayles addresses this idea of adaptation when discussing Mark B. N. Hansen's argument in Bodies in Code in saying, “The ‘new technical environments afford nothing less than the opportunity to suspend habitual casual patterns and, subsequently, to forge new patterns through the medium of embodiment – that is, by tapping into the flexibility (or potentiality) that characterizes humans as fundamentally embodied creatures'” (Course Reader, 124). More and more, viewers are unconsciously being exposed to brand imagery and coercion that is embedded directly into the episode. This has altered the experience for both advertisers and viewers.
Now that the streaming platforms have almost completely gotten rid of the idea of a commercial break, the way episodes are structured has changed as well. While content usually had to include cliffhangers to keep viewers watching through the breaks and into the next week, television shows created on Netflix and Hulu have been specifically created to support the ‘binge watching culture' of American teens today. This “dramatic increase in the use and pacing of media, including the web, television, and films” has completely altered the television experience (Course Reader, 124). Although some may criticize the changes that are being made to television culture, Katherine Hayles calls attention to the fact that “hyper attention can be seen as a positive adaptation that makes young people better suited to live in the information-intensive environments that are become even more pervasive” (Course Reader, 124). Binge watching has become the latest phenomenon because of the increased desire for instant gratification. Netflix was the one to change the interaction with television, giving the viewer complete power to watch an entire series without a single interruption. Since this culture was born, it has become much harder for network television shows to succeed. Viewers are becoming more and more irritated at the idea of waiting an entire week to find out what happens to their favorite TV characters. Katherine Hayles touches upon this idea when saying, “What we know is that our experiences with the diverse temporalities of the computer are pushing us toward faster response times, and, as a side effect, increased impatience with longer wait times” (Course Reader, 127). Fortunately for these viewers, the online streaming platforms are the new key players of the industry and are able to support this new fast-paced nature.
The emergence of online streaming has created a space for television to be more accessible to both new and old users. Each individual has the ability to choose and create their own experience. Having access to the content from wherever and whenever they want enables them to engage with their favorite shows at their leisure. No longer is there a constraint to a family space and a necessity to purchase an expensive television set. With a single cheap subscription fee and no need for a physical TV, streaming has forever changed the game. One could look at this convergence as a disadvantage, for the culture of the communal act of watching television has changed as well; however, Judy Wajcman inspires her readers to look at it in a different way. “Rather than rejecting modern speed, trying to turn the clock back,” she says, “we should embrace the positive possibilities that speed contains for thought, judgment, human connection, and cosmopolitanism. And, to do this, we need to direct our analytical gaze beyond the dialectics of speed to encompass the politics of the technology itself” (Course Reader, 38).
Because of how drastically the television industry has changed, it is interesting to note how and why the changes were made. Judy Wajcman notes, “We tend to overrate the impact of new technologies in part because older technologies have become absorbed into the furniture of our lives, so as to be almost invisible” (Course Reader, 39). Whether or not this is a positive or negative change is subjective; however, an objective statement is that streaming technology has completely revised the industry as a whole. “Watch as Streaming TV Services are Increasingly Winning the Top Emmys,” an article posted on Recode, marked on the success of Hulu's ‘The Haidmaid's Tale in saying that when the show won an Emmy for outstanding television drama, “it wasn't just a when for Hulu, which distributes the show, but a win for streaming TV more broadly” (Molla).
When looking at the works of Judy Wajcman and Katherine Hayles, it becomes clear that this high-speed society we live in correlates directly to the everchanging technological advancements of our world. Looking at the evolution of the television industry supports the idea that the increase in demand for a faster, more efficient way of consuming media was created as a result of the desire of the people. Judy Wajcman writes, “Digital technologies not only speed up information and communication but also open up wholly new domains of exchange, service, and entertainment. The range of options seems to increase in inverse proportion to our capacity to realize them” (Course Reader, 42). Through the eyes of Wajcman, we come to understand that the rise of online streaming platforms is only the beginning of what is to come. Katherine Hayes identifies the changes being made and states, “The variety, pervasiveness, and intensity of information streams have brought about major changes in built environments in the United States and comparably developed societies in the last half century,” and, as a result, “we would expect, then, that conscious mechanisms of attention and those undergirding the adaptive unconscious have changed as well” (Course Reader, 124). The way viewers interact with television today is a result of the growth of technology as a whole. It is because of the technological developments being made that the television industry and the digital streaming platforms have attempted to adapt to the fast paced and hyperconnected nature of the world.
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