Mitch Joel over at Six Pixels of Separation just posted on the quality disparity between TV and the Internet. No arguing the fact that the junk to quality ratio on TV heavily favors the former. The question is why is this the case? I think it has something to do with the difference in content production between the two mediums, and the basic premise of television as opposed to that of the Internet.
By and large television is a lowest common denominator, passive medium. The content producers for television (especially the junk) are producing it with an understanding that their audience consists of people of average (at best) intellect, who don’t want to be challenged. At least that’s the TV that Mitch is talking about.
Content on the Internet is being produced with an entirely different audience in mind, at least the type of content that Mitch consumes (and creates). That online content is designed for people who are active rather than passive. For people who want to be challenged and, critically, want to respond with a challenge of their own.
The real test would be if Mitch or Seth Godin or Chris Brogan or Guy Kawasaki ran their own TV networks. What would a Mitch Joel channel look like? I bet it would feature thought provoking, intelligent shows. Like the best stuff on PBS, MSNBC, Discovery or Bravo. But, that type of programming wouldn’t draw the number of viewers necessary to draw interest from advertisers.
Television isn’t a medium for telling stories and disseminating information, it’s a medium for selling ads. As such, the goal is not to produce quality programming, the goal is to produce programming that will attract the most eyeballs. Does that mean that TV will lose viewers like Mitch (and Guy, Seth, Chris and me)? Yes, but the sad truth is there are 10 happy TV viewers for every Mitch.
One other point of consideration, I’d wager that creating quality online content is a lot easier than creating quality TV content. I think a fantastic project would be if some of the best “online minds” got together and programmed seven days worth of prime time (three hours a day). Could they create the programming and keep it going for a full season? What sort of viewership would they generate? I bet they could develop one or two shows, but a whole network primetime schedule? That’s a pretty tall order – even for the Internet’s top minds.