The “person” bit is too often missing

The 1980s were a golden era for TV. We didn’t have cable TV. Our choices were limited to channels 3 (NBC), 6 (ABC) and 10 (CBS), along with a few fuzzy VHF channels (17 and 29, maybe 48 if the weather was clear) that required intricate maneuvering of rabbit ears to access an inordinate amount of Hogan’s Heroes, Gilligan’s Island and McHale’s Navy. (Side note: I cannot imagine the pitch meeting when the Hogan’s Heroes creators sold a comedy show set in a German POW camp.) No wonder kids played outside more. TV in the 1980s was a shared experience. When I was 10 in 1983, MASH had its final episode after an epic 11-year run. 106 million people watched on average over 2.5 hours of the show. Thursdays in the mid-80s were owned by NBC, when it trotted out a solid three hours of amazing shows, starting with The Cosby Show, then going into Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court and finally Hill Street Blues. Pretty much everyone watched.

Cable TV fragmented these audiences. I remember finally getting cable in the early 1990s and being amazed I could watch everything from Australian Rules Football to the America’s Cup to the odd late-night Shannon Tweed movie. That fragmentation was a forerunner of the internet, which exploded the number of content choices and did away with the artificial constraints of media distribution. Technologists rejoiced, but media people were understandably skeptical. Programming is both science and art. The internet changed that and left it to individuals to program for themselves. The problem: Infinite content requires a sorting mechanism. Enter the technologists armed with algorithms.

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