Back in the day, when TV first came into American homes – the idea was to attract the largest possible audience. There were three major networks, all offering similar content head to head in fight for viewers. It was paradigm inherited from radio, and it held sway for almost 40 years. By the 1980s, cable TV – and things began to change. Early cable stations could not match the budget of the big networks, which had grown to 4 – so they narrowly aimed their content to draw an easily defined audience that was palatable to advertisers. So, A+E actually stood for arts and entertainment, and History had non-stop documentaries. Marketers liked the idea of knowing whom they were reaching – and they could produce smaller batch ads aimed at the market demographic.
This paradigm held up for about a decade, until the wide access of cable and satellite TV in most households, combined with the DVR changed things. Now viewers could easily record the shows they wanted, when they wanted and skip through the ads. To grow audiences Cable channels invested in more programming and embraced a new, less expensive type of show – reality TV. Americans had fallen in love with reality and competitive reality TV, and channels were happy to oblige – suddenly the airwaves were flooded with all kinds of programs focused on would-be-celebs and unusual businesses – the walls between channels fell, and it became a grab for the highest audience.
Magazines had the same growth – Big general magazines held sway in the 50s and 60s with the boom of Life and Time, but the 70s saw the explosion of specialty magazines aimed at very specific markets – so there were magazines for every industry, interest and lifestyle.
So, how is this like the Internet? Well, we went from Google –a very far reaching all encompassing search engine to very specific types of social media. Facebook was for colleges, Pintrest was for women, Instagram featured photography…but as these platforms of social media grew they offered new features, and began to overlap. Just as with broadcast media – when money began to flow, greed and ambition was behind the explosion of all kinds of new offerings – as social media platforms begin to widen their profile – and the lines get blurred.
Adding to this trend is the fact that everyone is connected all the time. The massive proliferation of smart phones means that we are online all the time –and we carry a camera with us all the time. We need outlets to share, and social media is growing to fill our needs.