The television tradition

I stole this from Google Images, I hope no one finds out.

You know what’s funny about Instagram’s IGTV? I wrote an unpublished essay considering post TV discourses a few months back. It acknowledged many of the ideas Instagram has drawn on to craft this new mobile experience.

There’s a hell of a lot of content online today. And, often times, it can be difficult to navigate through all of that, to find the good stuff. This is something television was always good at, if it was on TV, it was likely to be good content!

Instagram’s implementation and faith in the television model clearly shows a desire to move back to a time of curated, passive content forms, just on a wholly new platform.

It’s evidently possible to separate the idea of ‘television’ into two camps:

  • The physical television set, and its technologies.
  • The ideas, traditions and theoretical perspectives of television content.

It was once thought that television was an amalgamation of these two entities, and any consideration of their separation was not something that was technically or culturally sought after at the time.

Today, we often consume television content away from the television set, and we repurpose our television sets to adhere to our ephemeral content desires. Television programmes are often consumed on our smartphones, and our television sets become the locations we enjoy our video games, or streaming services. In this way, the television set has adapted to conform to the rest of our contemporary media devices. Televisions are extremely customisable, and can adapt to large array of use cases.

As seen with IGTV, and other ‘television style’ platforms, such as Neverthink and Dreams.TV the content is predominantly uniform, and offers a unitary consumption experience, with little opportunity to customise and control. How ironic it is that in a time of liberated media, we choose, as a digital society, to develop the archaic idea of uniform content!

Whilst the two elements may be drawing further apart from one another, television as a tradition and as a method is continuing to live on in wholly new ways.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from that essay:

The television tradition is also being adopted in new consumer platforms. Apps such as ‘Neverthink’, ‘Dreams.TV’ and ‘Uptime’ provide endless streams of online content to your phone. ‘Neverthink’ relies on users curating content in to individual channels. Users can then ‘tune in’ to these channels, and enjoy a wholly managed content consumption experience, on a platform that is otherwise extremely flexible.

This shows a move back towards the curated television experience, however on a more ephemeral platform, such as the smartphone.

Neverthink cites the amount of content online being a struggle to navigate; they determine that this form of programming is an ‘on-demand distraction’ (O’ Hear, 2017).

To some degree, this form of digital programming moves back from audience enlightenment to the ideas of audience passivity (Hall, 1973). There is clearly an inherent desire from consumers to allow their content to be curated for them, and for its passive consumption.

Whilst this may apply to the content selection itself, this medium is unlikely to affect the ability of users to construct their own opinions and counter the ideas of the once hegemonic media industry


Hall, S. (1973) Encoding and decoding in the television discourse. Birmingham: University of Birmingham, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies.

O’ Hear, S. (2017) Neverthink is a video app for when you really want to lean back. Profile in TechCrunch, 1st March. Available at: [Accessed: 15/05/2018].

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Alex Firth

Alex Firth

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