Tuned In

A Day at the Museum Media Center

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Interesting item in today’s New York Times about a small but telling change at the Museum of Television and Radio: it is no longer a museum, much less one of television and radio. Beginning today, the midtown Manhattan institution is being rechristened as The Paley Center for Media.

You can quibble with the new name, which to me sounds like the building that houses the audiovisual department at a community college, but I understand the spirit of the change, which recognizes that the museum center’s subject has metastasized from something housed on two boxes in your house to free-flowing electrons that can be displayed on all manner of devices. Shorter version: we’re down with the new mizzedia, kids! (As part of its commitment to new media, it may want to work on getting a redirect from its old website, which is crapped out as of this writing. Update: It’s working again as of 10 a.m. E.T., albeit under the old name.)

The more interesting part of the change is the dropping of the term “museum”–“not a word that tests really well with the under-30 and 40-year-olds,” says the center’s president. It was always a bit of a misnomer: its big attraction has long been the vast collection of old broadcasts available in its viewing/listening libraries. It’s been an indispensible research tool for me, and apparently a big draw for tourists; you can walk into the darkened rooms and see them, tethered by giant headphones to the viewing pods, laughing themselves silly at Seinfeld and I Love Lucy reruns. It’s like a benign version of The Matrix.

The Center says that it now wants to de-emphasize the archive and brand itself as “a place for industry leaders and the public to discuss the creation of those shows and the role of media in society.” That’s all good, but the archive is a great service; my personal dream has long been that they would find a way to make it available on some kind of broadband basis, though I imagine this would raise so many copyright and network-conniptions issues as to make it nearly impossible.

In any case, I may be overthinking the change. The most important reason for the rebranding may be a quite different change in the media landscape: the emergence of new potential donors. The center, says the Times, “hope[s] the change would also expand the pool of possible benefactors at a time when the traditional support base is shrinking as radio and television companies merge.”

Google Center for Media, anyone?