Steve Peters

Narrative Experience Design

Helping studios, networks, theme parks and agencies develop engaging, immersive experiences.

The Slow Demise of the Television “Season”

I amaze my daughter sometimes with incredible stories of life before cell phones. Back in the days when we didn't have 24-hour cartoon channels, when we had to wait until Saturday morning to get our marathon cartoon sessions in. Back before fax machines, personal computers, Tivo, Starbucks, email, Xbox, MySpace. I also amaze her with predictions that often come true. A year ago for her birthday, we got her an iPod Shuffle, and she enjoyed it and the fact that she was more trendily cool than anyone else at school. Until everyone got Nanos. Anyway, she reminded me recently how I'd predicted that within 5-years you'd be able to download a new movie or your favorite TV show onto your iPod and watch it whenever was most convenient.

It's great when your kids think you're cool. I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts.

In case you hadn't noticed, broadcast television is going through a bit of a revolution, lately. I think this is a really good thing, but as the old passes on to the new, there are a couple passings I'd like to take note of.

First, for those of you old enough, remember when television actually had a season? New shows began in the fall and continued weekly, nonstop (taking a break for the Holidays) until the spring, when the dreaded Summer Of Reruns would commence. People are creatures of habit, and were good at setting aside certain nights of the week to watch their favorite show or shows. Good times.

But somehow, the television season has been slowly, quietly dismantled, for whatever reason. An untinterrupted season of television has become the exception, for sure. Beyond that, new shows are introduced whenever, including returns of recurring popular shows. Now we just accept it when Lost goes for 5 weeks without a new episode.

So much so, that having an untinterrupted season now seems like it's a unique selling point when it happens. I noticed the ads for the new season of 24, which began last night, making a point of promoting the fact that there will be an "All New Episode Every Week" for the next 24 weeks. Rejoice!

The main thing that broadcast TV has going for it is one word: Scheduling. People are creatures of habit. When you set up a schedule and stick to it, everyone benefits. Why is that so hard to understand?

So, technology comes to the rescue. My prediction about downloading TV shows also includes this: The TV schedule will become a thing of the past. It may take a while, but it'll happen. More and more content will be made available for download on-demand, until finally, that's just the way everything's done. Why should I have to get out of bed at the crack of dawn to watch Regis and Kelly? Why should I interrupt my best creative time of the day to wath Letterman? Can you imagine if you had to wait until a specific window of time every week for you to download the latest piece of software?

Cross-media. It's all going to become one.

Now, when it gets to the point that I can download all my favorite shows for a month (of which that aren't all that many, believe me) more cheaply than just paying for monthly cable, and I can watch the content on my HDTV, I'll be SO THERE. Even if it's comparable or maybe a little more, I think it'd be worth it for the convenience and the fact that there will be no commercials.

See, the model of commercial television developed as that was the only thing the technology could support. It was really the only workable revenue model. Well, that's no longer the case. The networks that have started offering shows on iTunes seem to be pretty happy with the results. In fact, one show's broadcast ratings are up because of it.

Tivo and iTunes are giving us a glimpse of the future here. Time to kiss Must-See-TV-On-Their-Schedule goodbye.

And good riddance.