Survival Of The Fittest: Television As An Evoltionary Medium

In Sunday’s Business Section of the NYTimes, Randall Stross speculates on “why television still shines in a world or screens” as readers continue to disappear from print media; books, newspapers and magazines.

He states, “a tipping point has been passed in the competition between print and screen that has been under way since the beginnings of broadcast TV and now continues with video and other media.”

His reasons why television will shine and print will burnout include:

  • Text is so infrequently used that it can feel like a burden.
  • Print media cannot provide the metrics advertisers are becoming accustomed to.
  • People are showing a clear preference of passively viewing video over actively reading text.
  • Video format is being reinforced. In December 2008, 5.9 billion YouTube videos were watched.
  • People are still buying television sets. The average American household contains 2.9 sets, while consisting of 2.7 persons.
  • Television is the one place advertisers can reach a uniquely mass audience with an “immersive experience.”
  • HarperCollins released its first “video book,” “What Would Google Do?” by Jeff Jarvis.

While I think these reason support his claim, I think there is more. I think more than people not wanting to read anymore, which seems a bit presumptuous, it is television is a constantly evolving medium, whereas print is not.

Print has, in its truest form, been the same since Egyptians were writing on papyrus in 3000 BC. Yes, there have been major advances in how print is produced and distributed (see Johannes Gutenberg’s Printing Press) and then making it interactive (see Tim Berners-Lee’s hyperlinking text), but for the most part it has remained unchanged in 5000 years. Television on the other hand is a medium that is constantly evolving.

The Gutenberg’s bible compared to today’s bible:

The first color TV compared to today’s color TV:


The difference in how these technologies have changed over time is truly amazing. Advances such as high-definition, video on-demand and remediation of Internet to TV are driving the evolution of television. There are more and more ways for audiences to engage and interact with what they are viewing. Viewing is no-longer as passive as it once was (eg. co-viewing with Facebook). So, it is not only that medium is continuing to evolve, the way in which audiences interact with it is continuing to evolve.

Yes, books have gone digital with Kindle and the iPhone, but they are still written word. Black text on white background. There is no HD text and you are not replacing your home library with a Kindle. While I do not think the printed word will ever become extinct, I think the traditional ways of distributing printed word (magazines, newspapers, books) will in the future.


1 Comment

Filed under Media, Technologies

One response to “Survival Of The Fittest: Television As An Evoltionary Medium

  1. Stephen

    Nice post. I still love the newspaper and get it in print form each weekend. The current Time magazine cover story is “How to Save your Newspaper” and it will be shame if we can’t do it as professional investigative journalism provides the checks and balances in business to our government and beyond. I do love the way the Kindle II looks though!

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