Decentering and recentering: the TV/PC and the network

Lorcan 2 min read

A couple of interesting articles on how the network is changing patterns of media consumption appear back-to-back in the current issue of The Atlantic. They prompt an observation about networking and the home.
Here is James Parker on the phenomenon that is Guitar Hero and Rock Band:

Both franchises, however, rely on pretty much the same business model: after buying the game, its “peripherals” (guitar, drums, etc.), and a bundle of songs, the consumer then purchases extra songs at about two bucks a pop in the game’s online store. … Weezer’s “My Name Is Jonas,” first released in 1994, reportedly increased its sales tenfold after being featured in Guitar Hero III. Rock Band currently has a library of about 500 songs; since its launch, there have been more than 28 million downloads. [School of Rock – The Atlantic (March 2009)]

And here is Michael Hirschorn writing about the changing profile of network television …

Speaking at a screenwriter expo in Los Angeles, Tim Kring struggled to defend his sci-fi-tinged show, which has endured two seasons of faltering ratings. Heroes is presented in a serialized format, meaning that stories “arc” over the course of an entire season rather than conclude at the end of each episode, as in a sitcom, or a police procedural such as CSI or Law & Order. The serialized format is “a very flawed way of telling stories on network television right now,” a blogger quoted Kring as saying, “because of the advent of the DVR and online streaming. The engine that drove [serialized TV] was, you had to be in front of the TV [when it aired]. Now you can watch it when you want, where you want, how you want to watch it, and almost all of those ways are superior to watching it on-air.” [The Future Is Cheese – The Atlantic (March 2009)]

In each case, the network is a central part of the described behaviours. In our own household we reckon we reached a tipping point some time last year, which was then intensified by Christmas gifts 😉
The significant shift was that the fixed congregation points (TV and Computer) have been decentred. The network is now central, and this connects various services, experiences and devices internally and to services in the cloud.
So, like others, we have various devices which routinely depend on the network: PC/netbook, playstation, iTouch, xBox, DVR, … And a growing number of applications which depend on the network: Skype, xBox Live, streaming video from Netflix, as well as the range of web-based communication and services.
This means that any disruption to the network causes havoc: our lives become pale reflections of their full networked reality. It also creates irritating challenges as we want to be able to mobilize ‘content’ and ‘experiences’ across different home environments. There is nothing special about our situation; in fact, we are variably maladroit at getting stuff to work at all, let alone well, … 😉
We increasingly expect everything to be connected ….
Note: we tried playing FIFA09 some time ago using Rock Band instruments as controllers. It was interesting for a few moments only, but was a nice lesson in ‘affordances’.
Note: I fear that I cannot shake my anachronistic habit of talking about ‘taping’ TV programs on the DVR …

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