Television's Future Vision:
The State of Australia's Television on Its Fortieth Birthday.

(Part 1)

"The future as an idea...has a definite history and has served as a powerful political and cultural weapon...(It) is often regarded as a cause for a revitalisation of optimism, an exhortation to the public to keep "faith", and is embodied in commemorative expositions (like this conference) of progress, world fairs, oratorical invocations, and the declaration of national and international goals...(I)n the politics of literary prophecy, (it) is attractively portrayed as the fulfilment of a particular ideology or idealism...(where) a momentous changing of the times in which particular policies and technologies will yield a way out of the current dilemmas and a new age of peace, democracy, and ecological harmony will reign. ...(T)he future has acquired a new expression in the development of modern technologies of information processing and decision-making by computer and (other) devices."
(John Quirk, The History of the Future, in James Carey, Communications as Culture, Unwin Hyman, USA, 1989, p 174).

"Perhaps we will...return to a scale of human organisation and communication more natural to participatory democracy...That would be something new indeed, a postindustrial society that would self-consciously use technology to return to smaller scale institutions and a renewed commitment to the traditional norms of civic participation. Declining audience shares for television networks and growing pressures on mass magazines may set the stage for the growth of more individualised desktop publishing, two-way video telephony and electronic mail. Perhaps just as the cotton-mill and the assembly line symbolised the onset of industrialisation and mass society, the personal computer many come to symbolise the decentralisation of information processing."
(Neuman, W. Russell, The Future of the Mass Audience, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p 1).

"There are two parties, the party of the past and the party of the future; the Establishment and the Movement".
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoted in Wired Magazine, special edition, Scenarios: the Future of the Future, San Francisco, December 1995).

Prologue: New Year 1997: Faith

(A bell rings) Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!

A spectre is haunting the airwaves, cables, phone lines and computer screens.

Television has grown new and strange, not at all like we imagined it, and spreads throughout the land, sea and Sky.

What are we to do in the future? Are we having fun yet?

The pay television dead are mounting!

CTS (Lynton Taylor's now defunct group), Australis/Galaxy (or was that Foxstralis?), the IMM home shopping service (The Value Channel), the ABC/Fairfax AIM venture, Superleague - are on their last legs, and a host of large and small cable licensees (that didn't make to the press) that have winked out of existence, current and aspirant program makers and equipment suppliers are in an increasingly parlous state.

The cultural dead hangs heavy on our social conscience!

With our local industry struggling to maintain local training and production as many of our best creators move overseas to richer production fields, the new pay industry - according to a recent Communications Law Centre survey - delivers a few percent of Australian programs on its vast range of new channels (half of which is a computer-based bulletin board-style weather channel with static images) which is mainly American and Hollywood-sourced. As the giants fight for control, many new and different voices and program makers are squeezed out - denied access to an outlet, an audience and a market for their work.

Some say television is dead!

Conservative media commentator George Gilder in his "Life After Television" assumes these older old one-way broadcast services are already past saving, even as industries "converge" on you and I, Disney and CBS, Murdoch/Fox and MCI, and Time Warner and Turner. In his typical hyperbole he loudly pronounces, "a dying telephone industry clutches at the shiny new broadcasting industry death rattle." (Gilder, p 14) Stirring words indeed.

And so the "creative gale of destruction" blows hither and thither through the old broadcasting industry threatening even small sites of diverse and innovative production within the existing commercial and government television domains as budgets, rather than programs, are siphoned from the older to the newer, more dissipated publishing and exhibition platforms of a multiplicity of channels, each with its own smaller audience.

Regional and local television is dead!

With aggregation so disappears the marvellously diverse training ground of a hundred independent country stations where many in the industry learned hands-on how to operate and work in many aspects of television. Now industry participants - for example programmers - stay within more stable, compartmentalised, urban-based career paths that are reflected in less imaginative and exploratory scheduling practices.

And still the video industry increases its audience for its rival, alternative and older "pay television" distribution channels and audiences - particularly in rural areas where aggregation has meant regional broadcasters can no longer cherry-pick the best of the networks programming and schedule it with locally-made programs but must instead just rebroadcast or retransmit what is scheduled from Sydney. Perhaps this is a sign of the future?

Television's Future Vision Part 2 >

TechTonic is a production of 3V 1995-2002