TV Redefined Before Your Eyes - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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11/18/2008
11:04 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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TV Redefined Before Your Eyes

Write this down: We will look back on these few years -- ostensibly 2006 until the end of this decade -- as the remarkable revolution of television. We are transforming it right now and, I fear, not appreciating it. Time-shifting was just a blip, and I don't mean to diminish it, but like the West Coast offense, small ball, and reality TV, it's just one building block among many.

Write this down: We will look back on these few years -- ostensibly 2006 until the end of this decade -- as the remarkable revolution of television. We are transforming it right now and, I fear, not appreciating it. Time-shifting was just a blip, and I don't mean to diminish it, but like the West Coast offense, small ball, and reality TV, it's just one building block among many.I know people who are ending cable TV contracts and exclusively watching TV on the Internet. I see user-generated content worthy of consideration. I see new technology that delivers high-quality streams even on suspect connections. I see experimentation with business models that will forever change the nature of advertising. I see the future, and it seems within our grasp, like breasts sticking out in a 3-D movie.

There are monumental challenges, as there always are in a revolution. Our networks aren't fast enough for mobile video, the Internet infrastructure needs to evolve, there needs to be more programming, including live streaming, we need a sane approach to DRM, and there must be a business model that makes everyone (telcos, cable companies, content providers) happy.

Time Warner, Cox, Comcast -- these erstwhile companies will hold onto their hegemony for as long as they can, lobbying politicians and FCC officials, while Verizon and AT&T lay the pipes for a more amazing high-definition experience. And all of these players will cling to business models that lock consumers into difficult choices driven by piles of old money that aren't so much as disappearing as redistributing.

When there's something I want to watch, even if it's not on Fox or NBC, I go to Hulu, but I'm less interested in being a Hulu acolyte and more interested in starting points that help me find what I want. Hulu does well enough today, but it doesn't get me to YouTube. I want it all. So we'll need programming search, a portal, or . . . well, I don't really care, just build it already.

Then there's live events, like sports. I am loathe to TiVo these, because inevitably I find myself concocting some inane series of codes throughout the day so my friends don't ruin a game's outcome. Plus, I just like to see them live. CBS College Sports is starting to lick this problem. It has formed a relationship with NCAA schools to broadcast content, creating a unique player and user experience for each of the schools. If you visit the CBS Sports All Access network (this costs $14.95 per month), you get a slew of games streamed live -- either audio only or video. CBS doesn't have all the video rights, but it's nice if you went to Lehigh and want to see a game. I've been watching or listening most of the year (no, not to Lehigh!), and this would be perfect if there were just more games.

The infrastructure portion also is a tricky business. Some have opined that while we've done a decent job on the long-haul networks, and the last mile is being heavily invested in by the telcos and cable companies, the metro middle is mushy and the Internet just won't scale.

Another big issue has been promising quality streaming over varying connection speeds, but thanks to companies like Move Networks, we've got technologies like adaptive bit rate adjustment; now even the CDNs are starting to build this in. Watch something on Hulu and you'll see that the quality is pretty superb. Swarmcast powers the CBS streams, MLB.com (where you can watch every single baseball game live if you're a subscriber), and provided the technology behind delivering the China Olympics coverage.

But really it all comes back to how everyone will make money, a subject upon which there is little agreement, and relatively little success. But the experiments are fun to watch. Recently, Joel Hyatt, the CEO of Current TV, showed off a few new business models that seem to be working for his company, including user-generated advertising, of all things. Turns out that one of their more popular ad options has its advertisers succumbing to the power of the masses. Toyota recently delivered its own "TV commercials" but combined this effort with a campaign to get Toyota drivers to tell their own stories, to some hilarious results. And Current's deal with Twitter and its implications for community-oriented TV watching . . . well, there's just so much to do and don't look now but it's happening.

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