Darth Vader and The Evolving Ecology of TV

I was shown the above – somewhat delightful – clip at a conference last week.  a subsequent forwarding on to a colleague reignited a question I gave pause for thought to a year ago when I asked what is TV?  the answer I came to then is the same answer that I stand by now…  that TV is the act of consuming aggregated audiovisual content.

I pointed out at the time that this definition implied that, should you run with it, YouTube is television.  and I believe it is.  in Dec  06 I wrote:

"the aggregation of TV requires content and distribution.  technology
has allowed citizens to produce the former, and the internet has
allowed them to do the latter.  we are all – should we wish to be –
content aggregators.  we are all budding broadcasters.  and a
generation is learning to watch TV aggregated by commercial entities as
well as fellow citizens."
mediation post Weds 6th December 06

an obvious question then in all of this is – who is to do the aggregation?  …commercial broadcasters or – via PVR on TV / subscriptions on YouTube / wall posts on Facebook – viewers themselves?  in negotiating the future of media and communications – the aim of this blog – we have to accept the inevitable conclusion that it is of course both.

in the evolving ecology of TV (in both the broad and narrowcasting sense) the question in not who aggregates, but who – at a given moment in time – we want to aggregate for us.  its a question of context…  Saturday evening on the sofa is very different to 30mins web surfing on a Friday lunchtime.  as a viewer, my individual needs vary massively over the course of a day or week.

commercial broadcasters and internet unilateralists continue to be at war over the issue of who aggregates.  the battle is pointless.  in the year since I wrote my original ‘what is TV’ post, commercial TV has been under what seems to be continuous fire, not from futurologists predicting their demise, but from a media who have witnessed compromise after compromise of viewer trust.

if broadcast TV thinks it needs to win a perceived war against the internet by cutting corners and taking shortcuts in order to be as popular as possible, then it is fundamentally flawed on two fronts.  one; there is no war – both commercial and viewer-aggregated TV are here to stay, and two; the role of commercial broadcasters in this new ecology is not compete with YouTube by being as popular as possible, but to inspire it by being as original as possible…

the role of broadcast TV is to be the source of original, intriguing, inventive, surprising and high-quality content.  content that demands to sit alongside it’s online counterparts.  as Stephen Poliakoff comments in today’s MediaGuardian, "if you commission it, the viewers do turn up."

…just as millions turned up to see Darth Vader in cinemas in Empire Strikes back in 1980 (and on TV and DVD ever since)  …and just as millions have turned up to see the clip at the top of this post.  together they’re a great example of this new relationship: content originally produced commercially by Fox and Lucasarts as high-quality content, remixed by DoomBlake for fun, as parody, as art.

both are entertaining, and both have their place in the new TV ecology.  it’s notable that DoomBlake’s recreative remix is  entertaining because of the original context as defined by Lucas’s commercial creative vision.  these content siblings need each other – one as source material, and the other as a way to stay contemporary in a changing world.

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