In simple terms, in any mass medium there is always tension between what we could call “public service” and “commerce”, or better said, between culture and industry. Perhaps the best examples of public service are the newscast, documentaries, children’s programs and educational programs. Regarding commercial contents for television, obviously advertising comes first, but other “genres” can also fit in this category, such as football games, contests, and reality shows and, last bur not least, pornography.
The media industry is no ordinary industry, since it is most of all a cultural industry, as the “The Digital Age: European Audio-visual Policy” puts it200. Therefore, the audio-visual media plays a crucial, formative role in our societies and it cannot be controlled by any private or public interest. The audio-visual media has an immense power, as the report reminds us:
“The audiovisual industry is not an industry like any other and does not simply produce goods to be sold on the market like other goods. It is in fact a cultural industry par excellence, whose "product" is unique and specific in nature. It has a major influence on what citizens know, believe and feel201”.
Right now in Portugal, we are witnessing a major fight between the major broadcasters, specifically between TVI / Media Capital and SIC/ Impresa. Even the TVI and SIC administrators should agree – no doubt about it – that since September it has been decreasing very quickly the quality and variety of the contents being broadcasted by their television channels during prime-time. Perhaps a new trend is being set, in terms of what the Portuguese really like to see: hours after hours of docu-soaps (as “Big Brother” is defined abroad), hours after hours of football games, hours after hours of millionaire contests.
But perhaps, people will eventually get bored and feel that deserve something better than this diet of television. And just perhaps Interactive Television may be the alternative, and will indeed uplift the culture and empower the people.
“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments”202 – Marshall McLuhan.
Still to soon to determine the personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences of this medium called Interactive Television. Yet, what “it” will be may be already defined by the ones who will truly decide its future: the users. Interactive Television will be what its users want it to be.