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Aug. 5, 2022 — The definition of “television” is evolving rapidly

Part of the idea of television is to be able to turn it on and tune it into an event which is scheduled for a certain time of day. “Five o’clock, time for Wapner!” is a line from the movie Rain Man, and it neatly shows the social compact that we consumers have had with broadcast networks over the years.

Part of that social compact has been changed in the last few years with the invention of “time-shifting” technologies like the video cassette recorder, the DVD machine, and even TiVo, which allowed you to, say, watch The Arsenio Hall Show at 10 a.m. the next morning after recording it the night before (in the early days of my work in the dailies, I did it).

But these days, time-shifting takes the form of various digital networks which can be found on devices like the Roku or the Amazon Firestick. There are also subscription services like Hulu, Paramount Plus, and Peacock, which require fees to watch them.

This week, a number of upheavals have occurred in this world of time-shifting television.

First, after 57 years of being on over-the-air television, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” is moving behind the Peacock paywall and being replaced by a one-hour news program. This is odd to me on more than one level because, way back in the heart of the late-night TV wars, NBC wound up having to try to fill an hour of programming left by the departure of Jay Leno back to The Tonight Show back in 2010 with news programming.

Second, there was an announced merger of the digital networks of Home Box Office and the Discovery Channel. Thing is, I’m not sure whether the accumulation of content will help anyone’s bottom line, since cable users already with certain HBO packages get HBO Max for free. I’m not sure whether that will put more eyes on the U.S. men’s soccer team, many of whose games go to HBO Max starting after the World Cup.

Third, the ABC ratings-grabber Dancing With The Stars is now going behind the Disney Plus paywall. I wonder if this means that ABC’s grand experiment in taking Monday Night Football off over-the-air television is an abject failure.

Finally, you’re seeing a number of streaming exclusives this year. Major League Baseball has been running a Sunday afternoon game on Peacock. The NFL Thursday night game is going from Fox to Amazon Prime. I wonder what the overall effect on ratings will be for these two behemoths of American sports culture.

I know that for most television executives, they’re seeing the future in streaming their content to mobile phones. Thing is, I’m not sure there is enough 5G data for that, especially when there are large stretches of the country that do not get this kind of service.

Which makes you wonder: what if they broadcast a Super Bowl and nobody had the opportunity to view it?

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