Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Death of Pop Culture

This is just a brain dump at this point, and it starts with the question: Are free-to-air networks angry at people downloading copies of their TV shows?

Let's say they are (they're losing advertising revenue because viewers who download watch the shows without ads). What's their response? How does the Network's business model change? 1) They could insert massive amounts of product placements INTO the shows. Therefore downloading them still creates benefits for the companies that are advertising. Or 2) Free-to-air networks become subscription-only networks.

Following model 1 means you limit the types of shows you produce (Lost might be a tough sell in this environment, for instance) and the advertised products are time-bound which may limit the repeatability of the series. I'm interested in the ramifications of model 1, but that's tangential to my main point.

Following model 2 means you create stratas of pop culture based on who can afford access to what material. At the very least, it'll create a rich and a poor pop-culture. ... And this is already happening. As soon as you create a divide based on economics, have you destroyed pop culture? Will there still be a broad enough base of free/cheap material to sustain it?

Is there a pop culture at the moment or do other non-economic differences (religion being the biggest one I can think of off-hand) mean that there's only broad special interest groups that only pay attention to their own thing. And if that's the case, then what does it mean for something to be "mainstream"?

Note: Pop Culture, for the purposes of this brain dump, is a shorthand ("Oh that show? It's like Buffy.") that can be used to create a sense of belonging and community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's see whether this works...

Mainstream is tricky. Is something that makes it onto TechTV mainstream? How about something that makes it onto the local morning radio show? When did "wasssap?" become mainstream, and are Nigerian 419 scam emails (asking for help moving large amounts of cash from somewhere) mainstream yet?

Neal Stephenson, in "The Diamond Age", has a culture where the higher up the social strata you go, the more unified the information you're given - instead of a multitude of news feeds, they get a printed edition of the Times.


Two thoughts. Firstly, this analysis also applies to TiVo-like applications - anything that allows people to time-shift will have a similar effect.

The other is that there are a number of elements that will ensure free-to-air networks for a good while to come. One big factor is that it's too hard to do for most people - while a handful of faithful Coro St watchers will log onto British web-sites to find out the latest happenings on the Street, compared to the number of dedicated watchers, I suspect it's pretty darn low; and those who'd download episodes are likely to be fewer still.

The fact that government will pay for programmes to be made for free-to-air broadcast may also act as a prop.

Huh - I think I've just convinced myself that the shows most in danger of sinking into subscription-only ghettos are those shows that I'm interested in, since those are the ones that other geeky people will also be interested in. :) This may mean that there's less leakage of these shows into the mainstream - but then again, I'm unconvinced that there's very much leakage anyway.


There's always been a divide in "pop" culture, if only because you don't necessarily share a culture just by virtue of living in the same place. Music-hall ditties vs black work songs. Folktales in courtly french vs. the Celtic tales of the land. Town urban legends vs. country... um... non-urban legends?

The main downside I can see is that it makes it trickier to do a bunch of types of comedy. I've already been caught out by trying the "Lands for Bags, of course" line on Americans - curse you, lack of shared cultural background! ;)