Week 3 – Television, As You Like It

I feel the need to preface this report by saying that I find this idea underwhelming at best, and intrusive at worst. It seems unlikely that the device in question is able to interpret and process consumer emotions by itself. Such a device would probably need to collect user information (through a camera at very least) and submit it to server for processing (a’la Apple’s Siri personal assistant), which could constitute a huge privacy violation.

In the realm of less-philosophical concerns, I suspect that use of this kind of programming for television (at least, television as we know it) would be extremely jarring and lacking in usefulness. Though the “millennial’ designator is a little too broad to be really useful, it’s nevertheless safe to say that more and more millenials are cutting the cord, moving away from broadcast and cable providers to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon — and in doing so, negating the need for a device that picks from available channels.

That being said, there’s at least one application of this technology that makes a great deal of sense, as well as a few higher-concept applications that may be a few years out. The current and most obvious use for this technology is to apply it to music rather than to television. Television programs often have a narrative thread, usually leading people to binge-watch rather than jump around to different shows, making a device that switches shows fall short of the ideal for the medium, and vice versa. Music, meanwhile, is typically encapsulated in 2-5 minute chunks (though this naturally varies based on genre of music, era of its creation, et cetera). Music is also easier to process in the background rather than requiring the full attention of the consumer (as video does). Where a transition to a new program would be jarring on television, musical transitions can be handled subtly, altering the mood of the consumer’s backdrop without shaking them out of their enjoyment as the device shifts gears for them.

Thinking longer-term, it could be possible to develop television programming specifically for users of this device, but it would need to be somewhat outside the scope of what we understand television to be. Currently, shows are static — once recorded, edited, and produced, they have a single tone, single message, and remain that way indefinitely. To really make this device work, shows would need to be able to shift in tone rather than changing channels to entirely new content.

Imagine a program with a relatively simple premise — a family sitting down to dinner, for example. With this simple backdrop, a large number of factors can be changed to convey a different tone. Lighting of the scene might shift, from dark and moody to brighter and more welcoming. The music, too, could adjust to reflect this shift. With multiple recordings of the actors, or perhaps subtle manipulation of their performances, we could even apply this shift to the dialog itself.

This concept diverges from the traditional view of television (itself an offshoot of film, and theater before that) as a relatively stationary medium, and it requires no small amount of innovation not yet in play. A fair amount of processing power — either at the point of origin, or on the consumers’ home system — will be required to enact changes on the fly based on the viewer’s mood, and the footage itself will need to be packaged in such a way that it can be manipulated and enhanced as needed. Narratives, too, will need to be completely reimagined — perhaps to such an extent that they can accommodate shifting of the plot and coutcome.

Taken at its extreme, and assuming years of development of this tech, television could become almost dreamlike compared to its currently rigid form. We could go so far as to leverage computer art to such an extent that actors aren’t even necessary — characters, wardrobe, movement, and dialog would all be generated by the computer. The shifting narratives that result would be even less cohesive than video games, the current choose-your-own-adventure-style medium. These mood-based programs might seem dreamlike, as they continuously adjust to suit the viewer’s emotions with no true start or end point.

I don’t think this is where the medium is going, but if we want to pursue this, we should start now.