“Real TV, now on your phone” (part five of “From Broadcasting to Multicasting: The Mobile Phone and ‘the Future of Television’”)

The following post is part five of my essay-in-progress From Broadcasting to Multicasting: The Mobile Phone and “the Future of Television.” For part one, as well as an introduction to this project, click here. For part two, which lays out the essay’s theoretical and historical contexts, click here. For part three, which looks at the circumstances surrounding the American broadcasting industry’s involvement with mobile television, click here. And for part four, which outlines some of the mobile communications industry’s various mobile multimedia initiatives, click here.

“Real TV, now on your phone”

Exemplary of mobile network operators’ efforts to affiliate multicasting with broadcasting is a succinct slogan that appeared in some of the advertisements for Verizon Wireless’ V Cast Mobile TV: “Real TV, now on your phone.” The press release that announced V Cast Mobile TV’s 2007 launch eliminated any confusion about what Verizon meant by “real TV” at its outset:

Were you glued to your couch to watch a great play of the big game, catch updates on the 2006 midterm elections, or witness one of those spectacular music award-show eyebrow-raisers? Or worse: how often have you missed those touchstone moments that affect a whole nation because you were on the move (Verizon Wireless, 2007)?

The “real TV” conjured up by this string of questions was television that was watched – and shared – with others. It was both the source and the subject of communal experiences and feelings of togetherness that cemented the bonds of the nuclear and the national family.[i] Above all, “real TV” was live television, enjoyed in the moment of its transmission, as opposed to time shifted, downloaded, or watched on DVD. In this respect, it was strikingly dissimilar from the on-demand model of television that drew a large number of converts in this period, especially amongst mobile television’s target market of tech-savvy early adopters. At a moment when companies such as TiVo, Apple, and Google were dominating conversations about the future of television with promises of liberating viewers from the “tyranny” of broadcasting’s unforgiving timetables (Boddy 2004), Verizon presented V Cast as a throwback to television’s high network era.

It is significant that each of the examples alluded to by the questions that began Verizon’s press release were of live “media events” (Dayan and Katz, 1992), broadcasts that have historically been central to both the ideology and the political economy of free-to-air broadcasting. On numerous occasions throughout the twentieth century American broadcasters defused challenges to the hegemony of the free-to-air network model by recapitulating the argument that broadcast networks’ ability to simultaneously address the entirety of the United States’ geographically-dispersed population was critical to the maintenance of national cohesion (Boddy 2004, pp. 101-2). Though decades have passed since broadcasters were alone amongst media institutions in possessing this capability, the importance of media events to the broadcast industry has grown as the national networks’ cumulative share of the television audience has declined. Broadcast coverage of major sporting events, national elections, and annual award shows continues to attract large audiences, generating significant advertising revenues and publicity for broadcasters. Equally importantly, these moments generate good will toward the institution of broadcasting. In explicit and implicit ways, television’s live coverage of media events invites audiences to remember what broadcasting was.

The publicity materials that introduced mobile multicasting to American consumers in this period in many instances made explicit appeals to consumers’ memories of television’s “touchstone moments,” as well as of television’s former status as the nation’s common medium. They did so in tribute to broadcasting’s history, but also in order to position the mobile phone as worthy, and in fact superior, substitute for television. Whereas the moments described by Verizon’s press release “glued” audience members to their couches, mobile multicasting made media events portable. With an LG VX9400, the togetherness viewers experienced in front of their television sets could be transported outside and shared with others. A pair of advertisements from the same Verizon campaign illustrated different versions of this scenario, portraying encounters between a V Cast Mobile TV subscriber and strangers with whom he happily shares the experience of watching “real TV” on his phone.

Other mobile companies advanced similar arguments about mobile multicasting’s remediation of the mediated togetherness of live broadcasting. Qualcomm, for instance, produced a minute-long commercial for MediaFLO that doubled as a tribute to the history of live television. Appropriately enough, the spot aired during what was at the time the most-watched live broadcast in American history: the 2010 Super Bowl. The commercial began with a sequence of black-and-white snapshots of television’s infancy: an Indian Head test card, a roof-mounted antenna, twisting bobbysoxers, Howdy Doody. It then segued into a rapid-fire montage of some of the most iconic moments in the medium’s history. In between brief clips of civil rights marches, the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, Neil Armstrong’s moon walk, the toppling of the Berlin wall, and the wreckage of the World Trade Center a series of on-screen graphics invited the audience to recall their own experiences of these “touchstone moments.” “Where were you then?” the text asked. “Where will you be?” The montage climaxed with footage of the celebrations that followed the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Superimposed upon a shot of a waving American flag were the words “Don’t miss a moment.” The commercial ended on a clever trick shot: the footage on the screen rapidly pulled backward away from the viewer, revealing that it was in fact a video playing on the screen of a mobile device (SPOTBOWL, 2010).

Much like the “living timeline” described at this chapter’s outset Qualcomm’s Super Bowl commercial retraced television’s path from the black and white sets of its broadcast past to the ultra-portable devices of its digital future. The layout of LG’s television museum had both literally and figuratively positioned the mobile handset at the culmination of television’s historical trajectory. Qualcomm’s rendering of television history went even further toward the conflation of convergence with progress, establishing a homology between the medium’s technological evolution with the narrative of social progress the commercial’s iconic footage conveyed. This homology was underscored by the commercial’s montage, which began with images of black and white television sets, and black-and-white television images of African American civil rights protestors being attacked with fire hoses, and concluded with images of the celebration of the election of the nation’s first African-American president. It was furthermore reinforced by its soundtrack, which featured a remix of The Who’s “My Generation” by the hip-hop star will.i.am. Television and the nation were together undergoing a remix of sorts, as embodied by a youthful president, innovative technologies, and a mobile populace. Put another way, both were being remediated by the mobile phone.

[i] Though Verizon’s conception of “real TV” as a source of communal experiences resonated deeply with the structuring ideologies of the American model of broadcasting, Orgad (2009, p. 202) identifies a similar trope within international mobile television advertisements.

Continue on to part six: “Conclusion: Vapor to vapor”


About fymaxwell
Max Dawson is a Los Angeles-based media consultant and professor.

2 Responses to “Real TV, now on your phone” (part five of “From Broadcasting to Multicasting: The Mobile Phone and ‘the Future of Television’”)

  1. Pingback: Conclusion: Vapor to vapor (part six of “From Broadcasting to Multicasting: The Mobile Phone and ‘the Future of Television’”) « fytelevision

  2. Pingback: Emergent technologies, residual protocols (part four of “From Broadcasting to Multicasting: The Mobile Phone and ‘the Future of Television’”) « fytelevision

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