Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How the Small Screen Keeps Shrinking

The real estate of a television screen is pretty precious these days.

The last time I checked, there was a station identification logo in the bottom right of the screen (known in the biz as a bug) plus a banner at the bottom of the screen telling you what you were watching and what was coming up next. A few times during a show, the bottom of the screen would come to life with characters of upcoming shows moving around and staring at you — and, if you were lucky, a little NASCAR action with race cars darting about the bottom third of the screen. (Those NASCAR moments are called snipes, by the way.)

All this while the show you tried to watch was actually playing. In the background.

At first, it was network television. Then even the cable networks started doing it.

That was one of the things that made it easy to give up television.

Apparently, this is not only an ongoing trend, but one that promises to become both more entrenched and invasive (“As the Fall Season Arrives, TV Screens Get More Cluttered,” New York Times, September 24, 2007).

Watching television during my pedicure this afternoon allowed me to witness this debacle first-hand. On CNN, there was a news scroll across the bottom of the screen. On top of that was a financial display with odd sets of numbers. Layer three was the station identification logo and the speaker’s name (newscaster, guest, whomever). Then on layer four was the title of the news piece being discussed — and stacked on that was a rectangle with the name of the speaker, if the screen was replaced with a video clip.

When the newscaster was speaking, the upper right of the screen was dedicated to a smaller screen with live video or still photos of the news story being covered.

The pièce de résistance was the closed captioning that covered the top of the screen with three rows of badly spelled copy, presumably what the newscasters were saying. (The volume was off, so I cannot be certain.)

And I wonder why anyone bothers to watch television anymore. There is not enough screen for the program.

Commercials, on the other hand, seem to get the entire screen. Commercials seem to tell viewers how dirty and smelly they or their homes are, or how other viewers have lost weight, so you can, too — and here’s how.

Television programmers honestly think we need that kind of frantic pace on a television channel. The “next generation” of consumer, teens and young adults, are very used to it, they say.

These same programmers seem to forget who earns the paycheck in the household. The ‘tween watching “That’s So Raven” does not have the purchasing power — unless they really think the typical 11-year-old is buying the cars and the Viagra and the feminine hygiene products and laundry soap being sold between programs.

I didn’t think so.

On the other hand, the printed page has a lot less frantic activity. (Usually. Unless the reader is really tired, then all bets are off as to what the page will look like.)

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