A few months ago, I stood in the atrium/lunch room area of a high tech company talking to its founder. A year earlier, he had sold the company to a multi-national. We were talking about the future of broadcast television, the field his company did business in. He wondered if there was a future.
He spoke of his teenagers who watched little to no broadcast TV. Their “moving image” viewing experience came primarily from sites like YouTube – or from rented or purchased DVDs. Only about 10% of their time was spent watching broadcast TV – and that was only to catch the latest episode of one of their two favorite shows – episodes they would purchase when the box set was released.
He told me about his huge HD display…how Discovery’s HD channel played as wallpaper. The sound off. He rarely watched the news on his display – preferring to get his information from the net – whenever and wherever he wanted. He commented how times are radically different from the broadcast market that existed when he founded his company more than two decades ago.
Imbi and I came home from a wonderful Thai dinner on Queen Street in The Beach last night. As we came in, Rylan and two of his cousins were laughing uproariously at a moving image production. It was playing on Rylan’s Mac Book. A Robert Tilton and Methane mashup from Ebaum’s World that one of the cousins had discovered. They played it back a number of times. They then spent a few minutes trying to find something to watch on the tube, but quickly pulled out a DVD boxed set of a comedy show – and the laughter continued.
NOT DEAD YET
Broadcast TV reminds me a little of the Monty Python character in the Holy Grail who, whilst eventually dying, proclaims “I’m not dead yet.” The fact of the matter is that Broadcast TV is not dead. Yet. But there are people actively engaged in attempting to kill it.
It’s simple, really — we are trying to bring together the best of TV with the best of the Internet. We think TV is one of the most powerful, engaging mass medias of all time. People love TV, but they also hate TV. They love the (sometimes…) amazing storytelling, the richness, the quality itself. But they hate the linearness, the lack of choice, the lack of basic things like being able to search. And wholly missing is everything that we are now accustomed to from the Internet: tagging, recommendations, choice, and so on… TV is 507 channels and nothing on and we want to help change that!
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is the future of moving image delivery. It’s what Apple is doing with the iTunes delivery of near DVD quality TV shows. (Not that we in Canada would know as we can’t get them.) Arrington notes that Apple has 220 TV shows available. When they launch the iTV, they will no doubt provide access to a lot more.
PUSH VS PULL
I’ve said this before here, but broadcast is a push model. The networks deliver what they want to deliver, when they want to deliver it. PVRs allow us to TimeShift our viewing of their deliverables – but we record their material when they make it available. IPTV is pull – it’s about us choosing what we want, when we want it – and how we want to watch it. From a handheld device to the 54″ LCD screen on the wall. And we want to be able to choose from a wide variety of material – including news and sports.
THE PROBLEM IS…
…there’s big money involved in producing many of the long form shows I (we) want to watch – shows like House, 24 and possibly the Sorkin/Schlamme production, Studio 60. Disruptive advertising pays for those shows – but I want to experience them without the interruptions. (Some of us are willing to download “illegal” BitTorrent files to accomplish this – sometimes waiting days for the files to download. I’m not interested in that.) I should note that a near DVD quality version of Studio 60 is available from iTunes for $1.99 (in the US only). But I don’t really want a Standard Definition copy of the show – for which I have to pay a couple of bucks. I want HD.
SO LET ME TELL YOU WHAT I WANT (WHAT I REALLY REALLY WANT)
We pay about $30/month for basic cable right now. I’m willing to give that money to an IPTV provider if it gives me access to basic service in HD or SD – world news, sports and weather – plus Standard Definition network programming – that I can choose to download – and can playback on whatever DRM-aware device I like. I’m willing to pay another $20 per month to get the 10 or so shows my family wants to watch…in HD. Plus, you can provide me with paid access to special event programming – say, a Sting concert – that I can download to watch and for a few dollars more – burn to an HD-DVD.
I’m even willing to sit through a couple of minutes of high quality, targeted advertising before I get to watch each HD show. But the trick is, I get to choose what ads I watch. Just as I choose what ads I read in a magazine or newspaper, I want to be able to choose what you put in front of me before I get to see my uninterrupted show.
Further, at the end of a show’s season, I want to be able to purchase the content for long-term storage (on a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) at a significantly discounted rate over a retail box set. This would allow me to “legally” record the TV shows for said long-term storage. The ads would still be there – but I’d be able to fast forward through them – in this scenario.
Is this possible technically. Of course. Will it happen? Eventually.