(Bless you if you’re old enough or nerdy enough to get the Buggles reference.)
Came across an article at Read/Write Web this morning – “Is the TV Channel Dead?” – which examines a question posed over at Techdirt: Is there any real need for the concept of the TV channel anymore? In this age of timeshifting by TiVo users, iTunes video downloaders, BitTorrent streamers, etc., does the concept of a TV channel which airs programming at specific times any longer hold any relevance? Is the future of television IPTV through hardware like AppleTV or straight onto your computer? This would effectively mean the creation of a la carte, always on-demand television.
What’s so wrong with that? My wife and I watch most of our television programming – everything from Ace of Cakes to Lost – timeshifted via our cablebox DVR to when the kids have finally managed to fall asleep. The children largely watch children’s programming through our cable provider’s On Demand feature. My college attending daughter watched Lost mostly on ABC’s website this year. Honestly, I’ve considered just getting rid of my cable subscription, keeping the broadband of course, buying an AppleTV and watching everything we enjoy over the net via Youtube, TV shows’ websites (ABC.com, etc.), purchasing individual shows over iTunes, etc. After looking at it and thinking through the costs, it really wouldn’t alter our viewing habits all that much, and would certainly be cheaper overall. For my household, at least, the idea of the “channel” has become almost irrelevant. Numbers on the cable box are just a destination to find the programming. It’s not like a decade or two ago when Thursday was NBC’s “Must See TV” or ABC’s TGIF family programming block. Hell, with the DVR I just look for programs, set a season subscription and just forget about which channel or network it’s on. Loyalty to networks has been replaced with loyalty to programs. With the DVR and On Demand, we’ve effectively built our OWN channel – RiceTV as it were. So what’s the big deal?
Well, turns out there’s a little thing like PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS which prevent everyone from following suit and launching us all into the brave new world of IPTV. At least for now, as I understand it from the article, the internet as currently constructed doesn’t have the capacity for everyone to switch to an all-on-demand-all-the-time viewing paradigm. The actual hardware side of this is a little beyond me, but read the article. It provides a decent explanation and links to even better discussion of it.
But for now, I don’t think this (the physical limitations) will be a problem. Regular TV viewing is simply too easy for most people, compared to the DIY setup, and not all programming is available on channel websites, iTunes, etc. Most people simply wont choose to go the route I’ve outlined here and which Read/Write Web discusses. This provides the ISPs plenty of time for the infrastructure build-out (but they’ll need to get a move on!) while the early adopters experiment with AppleTV and its emerging hacks.
I’m looking forward to the experiment…