Slowing down tech race rhetoric

Every day seems to bring another article or study regarding the nexus of television and technology that recalls the New Yorker cartoon with “The End Is Near” sign.

The world is changing at an unnerving pace, and the Internet continues to encroach on TV’s turf. The latest wrinkle involves candidates unveiling presidential bids on their Web sites, depriving more traditional outlets — which only recently expanded to include “The Tonight Show” and “The Daily Show” — from being where politicians launch campaigns.

Wading through the prognostication and data, however, it’s clear a lot of it amounts to hot air, and while media consumption is steadily evolving, fundamental aspects of the equation won’t be shaken even by the information age’s best gee-whiz gadgetry.

Despite the rush to emphasize what technology can do, then, here are a few confident observations meant not so much to reassure as merely to lend a note of sobriety to the discussion, singling out some showbiz pillars that will endure no matter what wonders the Consumer Electronics Show or NAB convention might hold:

  • TV viewing will primarily remain a passive, in-home experience.

For all the talk about mobile this and online that, TV will still be built around the old standby of a couch in a living room. Indeed, high-definition sets and enhanced sound systems keep improving the experience, making most mobile and online viewing additive rather than coming at TV’s expense — as new research by CBS (however self-serving) indicated.

Further evidence came last week in Nickelodeon’s latest survey, “The Digital Family,” which found that TV viewing has actually increased over the last four years and that parents and kids both view that activity (or inactivity) as “their medium of choice to relax” — no doubt while eating and growing increasingly plump, but that’s another column.

  • Advertising will be a central part of the equation.

    Nothing is more in flux or under siege than the conventional broadcast “free TV” model — the ostensible cost being that viewers dutifully sit through commercials.

That genie has left the bottle, but advertisers will find a way to get messages across — whether by weaving into programs or developing methods to become as zap-proof as possible. TV will grow more transactional and pay-as-you-view, but the system will always be underwritten to a significant extent by sponsors despite TiVo and its ilk — which, for all the hosannas directed their way, currently reach only about an eighth of U.S. homes, most of them seemingly in L.A. or Manhattan.

  • Creating content will require access to top talent and capital.

    User-generated films and videos are all the rage, and appealing from a democratic perspective, but established professionals with impressive resumes (or at least well-placed relatives) will invariably be the prime creators of popular entertainment — particularly the most elaborate and expensive productions that put big money on the line.

Technology has provided another entry point for those yearning to gain admission, but the club’s gates are still guarded and ivied, and agents surfing YouTube won’t change that.

  • People will crave information — especially local information.

The question of localism is so basic and mundane it’s often overlooked. Yes, TV viewers and newspaper readers want to be dazzled and entertained, but much of the time they just want to know whether they need to wear a sweater or if their local team won.

Re-learning to exploit these service-based functions in an era of instant information represents a formidable challenge, but regardless of who ends up delivering such news, there will always be a healthy appetite for it.

  • Nothing can eliminate political attempts to shackle TV content.

Although parental supervision and diligence is the only credible line of defense (and even then, not really) against kids seeing salacious, violent or profane material, the unassailable goal of “protecting children” is too alluring and bipartisan to prevent this issue from resurfacing with, at minimum, biennial regularity.

Jack Valenti can discuss V-chips, public-service ads and parental responsibility till the cows come home, but just as academics will keep studying media’s influence, politicians, too, will keep returning to this PR-friendly “family values” crusade like swallows to Capistrano.

For anybody who doubts it, just keep an eye on Hillary Clinton in the months ahead.

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