Sam Johnstone

Ouroboros No. 2 | Cable Television

In Laws of Media, Marshall McLuhan established a collection of effects that apply to any new media. The fourth of these asks the question “When pushed to the limits of its potential, the new form will tend to reverse what had been its original characteristics. What is the reversal potential of the new form?” I’m interested in looking at new technologies & forms and seeing in which ways they eat their own tail.

Before the internet came to be what the internet now is, watching video was best done exclusively on the TV. Then, over time the internet got really, really good at video, and the TV was relegated to the second (or third or non existent) screen for entertainment. Video on the internet became its own industry, and over time, following the path laid for it by the music industry a decade prior, absorbed the content libraries of cable television.

First, as with music, the idea was of an infinite library that allowed you molecular access to individual episodes and films. As the world shifted towards pay-for-access streaming services, the terrible economics of that model created a land grab for users and for original content (which is cheaper to produce and license). Cable networks smartened up, and started to ween their content off of other services in favour of their own, not wanting to be left behind as the world moved into apps and to subscription services. Now each network has their own good-enough streaming platform, and push proprietary content as the primary reason for subscription.

These changes feel organic and inevitable, but I have to shed a tear for the more internety idea of being given infinite access at bite sized increments, over the new streaming landscape. Where you pay for network bundles from content providers to gain access to small libraries of products that are proprietary to each network. TV is dead, long live TV.