July 13, 2015
Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age by Michael Wolff
Published in June of 2015.
The story of television should give anyone predicting the technology driven demise of traditional higher ed some pause.
Today, the highest quality entertainment and the most lucrative revenue models can be found on TV. (Think HBO, AMC, FX, and ESPN). By contrast, the same Internet players that most technology pundits thought would kill traditional television have either disappeared (MySpace and AOL), are largely full of junk (BuzzFeed, YouTube), or are trying to reinvent themselves with TV like original video programming (Netflix).
This is the story that media insider Michael Wolff tells in his deliciously dishy and analytically hardheaded Television Is the New Television.
The business reasons why the Internet is full of cat videos and clickbait slideshows, and TV has True Detective, Breaking Bad, and Modern Family, holds important lessons for anyone thinking about the future of higher ed.
In media, as in education, quality is the ultimate driver of value.
In the media world, quality depends on the efforts of the creative professionals who write, direct, act, and produce the story.
In higher education, quality depends on the educators.
MOOCs and adaptive learning technologies stand as little chance of supplanting the residential postsecondary model as YouTube replacing HBO. YouTube is great at scale, but horrible at creating real value.
The reason is quality.
The fact that Internet players like Netflix are trying to become more like quality TV by commissioning original narrative programming (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black etc.) should offer some strategic clues for colleges and universities. Netflix is making big bets on talent. Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Jenji Khohan don’t come cheap.
Our higher ed talent is our educators. Any college or university engaged in a race to the bottom with educator talent, for instance building an instructional model around poorly compensated contingent faculty, is on the same economic trajectory MySpace.
Scarcity always determines value. In media, what is scarce is a good story - a strong and compelling narrative populated by characters that you want to spend time with. In higher ed, what is scarce (and can’t be scaled) is a highly skilled educator who builds a relationship with a learner.
Even without a higher ed lens, I think that you will enjoy every second of Television Is the New Television. But why would you be reading this review on Inside Higher Ed if you are not as obsessed with higher ed?
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