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Predictions about TV's Future: I Guessed Right -- Now It's Your Turn
June 15, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Almost 20 years ago, in my first book, I predicted what TV might look like in the future - and now that the future's here, it happens I was right. So I'm wondering: What will television look like two decades from NOW? And this time, just for fun, why don't YOU guess?...

[And hey, maybe it doesn't have to be just for fun. If TV WORTH WATCHING is still up and running in June 2031, let's all reunite and see whose guess came closest. The winner will receive a vintage piece of TV memorabilia from the good old days of 2011, which I'll put aside now, just in case.]


In 1991, I wrote Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously, a book-length defense of the medium that was published by Continuum in 1992, and later reprinted by Simon & Schuster and Syracuse University Press. You can still buy the book, if so inclined, by clicking HERE.)

In one chapter, "The Medium is Not the Message," I imaged what TV might look like decades into the future. I wrote this in an era before DVDs, before home-satellite transmission, before Video on Demand -- back when the biggest home entertainment options were the TV set and VHS videos rented from Blockbuster.

"I suspect, 'real time' television will not vanish entirely," I wrote then. The instant availability of all types of music -- on record albums, singles, cassettes, and CDs -- hasn't killed radio. People continue to gravitate towards 'star' personalities, and there's a lot to be said for the shared communal experience of a simultaneous national broadcast. Radio used to provide it; now television does.

"Even if tomorrow's version comes via satellite, or fiber-optics transmission, or a massive home-entertainment database, there will always be room for 'real time' transmission and enjoyment of entertainment -- not just news, sports, and weather.

"The likelihood is that viewers at home eventually will be able to call up any program they like -- at any time -- from a massive national network of databases, and store it on disc or tape (at a set fee, naturally) for retrieval and reviewing at their own leisure.


"If anything's at risk under this new delivery system, it's the video rental chains -- except that it's equally easy to imagine a 'Blockbuster Video Database' establishing a major foothold there, too. Most probably, any asynchronous delivery system -- in which viewers decide what and when they will be watching -- will complement, rather than replace, what we now know as simultaneous 'network' delivery of program offerings.

"Television without a set of 'live' options would be like a restaurant without a menu. You don't have to visit that restaurant -- but when you choose to go there, it's nice to have a basic selection. Otherwise, a choice that's truly unlimited can be somewhat overwhelming...

"And as thrilled as I am about the prospects for high-definition television, and the multimedia work stations combining state-of-the-art audio, video, CD, and database facilities, I'm afraid when they get here, they'll arrive at such a speed that it'll be tough for TV critics to jump on board.

"In the 1967 movie The Graduate [see photo at top of today's column], the secret word was plastics. A quarter-century later, the secret word is fiber-optics."


That's how I saw things, peering into the future, at the start of the 1990s. How do YOU see things to come from your vantage point now, at the start of the 2010s? Twenty years from now, what will your TV set look like? How will you use it? And what, pray tell, will be on it?

And let your imagination run freely, because this is one question where your answer can't be judged wrong. Not for 20 years, that is...

[Oh, and for the record:

[If I am, indeed, still editing TV WORTH WATCHING in 2031, someone, please, find me and shoot me. Tell them I sent you from the past, as in a bad sci-fi TV series, with orders to put me out of my own misery.

[And, unless I give you a really compelling argument why I shouldn't be retired, pull the trigger...]



Eileen said:

Your comments at the end are just laugh-out-loud amusing.

And, by the way, Teleliteracy was my Mother's Day gift in 2010. Enjoyed it immensely.

I can't even fathom what 20 years down the road will look like. With companies like Apple changing the face of electronics every other week, it would be impossible to even give it a guess.

My son has an Apple computer with an "xtra large" screen for film editing. I am still awestruck when I can type in my Netflix account # and pin # and stream just about any movie ever made onto his computer. It's like watching in your own little movie theater! With Playstation 3 you can stream from Netflix to Playstation directly to the tv. So where we'll be in 20 years? It's just beyond my comprehension. Hopefully, if I'm still here, I'll have figured out how to program the clock on my microwave...

[I'm laughing at your ending comments, too -- but I'm also staggered by the fact that Teleliteracy was your Mother's Day gift LAST YEAR. Boy, your offspring must hate you... -- DB]

Comment posted on June 15, 2011 5:05 PM

jklm said:

Ultra High Definition is already being worked on in Japan. Sooner or later, they will get this 3D thing figured out so you don't need glasses to view it. Probably all the networks will be in trouble when everyone starts streaming what they want instead of watching programs on the TV network or on DVR. The programming might even be user generated, as they are on Youtube, but the quality will be significantly better. Everyone will be a TV critic, and everyone can be a TV writer, producer, director, and cinematographer in the future.

[EVERYONE will be a TV critic? Let me warn you, as a canary in that coal mine -- it's not always what it's cracked up to be... specifically, with the ratio of bad TV to good. -- DB]

Comment posted on June 16, 2011 6:56 PM

Marlark said:

It's the year 2031. I just came back from the grocery store with produce grown locally in hydroponic and old fashioned farms. I plugged in my electric car (with power generated by a blended network of solar, wind and, why not, nuclear fusion-generated energy). I put away my groceries and step into my media room.

It's a circular room with a large curved monitor taking up the font half/top. I sit in the cushy central seating area (AKA "Apple assPod").

"Hello, Hal," I say to my not-so-cleverly named house AI. "Hello, Marlark, how was your day?" a disembodied voice emanates from the 360 surround speakers, embedded throughout the room. "As if you really care," I mutter.

"Hey, Hal, show me what's going on with Ross, Joey, Chandler, Rachel and all those guys." The room automatically darkens to the light levels I prefer. The wall-covering screen, which had been showing a 3D presentation of still shots and video clips of my kids and grandchildren on vacation last week (my son posted it from Paris, while visiting the gravesite marker of a well-known American TV critic who died that heroic death back in 2011 saving France's First Lady's cat from falling off the Eiffel Tower before plunging to his own), flickers for a nanosecond and then plays the theme song to Friends 2030. The sound fills the room and I can smell the gritty streets of New York as the I'm standing from the POV of a sidewalk as our gang walks past me down Columbus Avenue in the Upper West Side. I'm truly enveloped in the experience and when Ross enters the next scene's apartment, it's like watching a stage production, except I'm on the stage with the actors.

"Wait, I've seen this one, Hal. How are the Phillies doing?"
"They played an afternoon game, Marlark. Would you like to view the highlights?"

Suddenly, I smell crackerjack, beer and cheesesteaks grilling and am watching from the 1st base line as Ryan Howard Junior step to the plate.

"View from Home Plate," I say.

Suddenly, the scene shifts and I feel like I'm sitting right there behind the umpire. The ball speeds toward me at 96 mph before young Ryan crushes it over the centerfield wall as the crowd roars around me.


Entertainment in 2031 will be instant, immersive and boundless. Whoever can produce, post and break through the clutter will garner eyeballs and gain a greater share of revenue from the distributor of the content. 3D Sound and smell engineers will become it's own subindustry, and the companies that can offer ways to wade through the content and deliver them in compelling ways will succeed. Where we consume will be the frontier. Not just handhelds, but TV glasses or visors. Personal monitors embedded ubiquitously. Every wall, every door, along with roll up monitors to take to the beach.

In fact, with so much to entertain ourselves through so many venues, why even travel to Paris in 2031? I'll just experience the 3D travelogue from my well-appointed assPod.

[Wow -- great job. I LOVED the idea of watching a futuristic Phillies telecast in Smell-O-Vision. (Not sure I would carry the idea to the men's room, though.] Not so happy about my own death, but I like the idea of having a gravesite in Paris. Speaking of gravesites -- my dad always said he wanted his to read, "I TOLD you I was sick." Still miss you, dad... -- DB]

Comment posted on June 17, 2011 2:51 PM
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