Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TV is Dead

OK, I've said it. As a boy who grew up watching far more television than I would like to admit, TV is dead.

I remember the doldrums of summer reruns and having to watch the shows I'd already seen, but with the teasers of a brand new season that started about the time I was going back to school.

I remember the excitement of a new theme song for a TV show and new episodes of my favorite characters when the new season started.

I remember wanting to schedule my time at home so I could see a favorite show, because that's when it was being broadcast and I wanted to be able to talk to my friends about it the next day.

As the youngest member of my family, I remember being the "human remote control" ("Mark, go change the channel") — or the "human antenna" ("Mark, hold onto the rabbit ears, because the picture is best when you do it.").

I remember when the only place we could watch television was in the living room or family room — wherever there happened to be the only TV in the house.

I remember when any channel above 13 — what was called UHF — was considered sub-standard at best. Anything that was good was on somewhere from channel 2 to channel 13.

Needless to say, I'm dating myself.

Perhaps the biggest change was time shifting. This occurs when people can record a show and watch it when they want to. VCRs brought this into existence and heralded a significant change in people's viewing habits and the entertainment industry as a whole.

Time shifting has gone far beyond VCRs to include DVRs (digital video recorders) — some even being provided by the cable companies themselves. But most of the major networks, such as ABC, CBS and NBC now offer viewing of major shows through their websites or through their affiliate sites such as Hulu.com or even YouTube.com.

Cable TV also caused a major change in the way television is viewed, bringing far more channels to the typical viewer than was available over the air via the antenna on one's roof. Interestingly, cable TV is being seen by some as declining, in favor of Internet-based television and streaming video.

The point to all of this is that television used to be entertainment that we consumed that was dictated by someone who set the schedule for when we would be entertained. That's simply not the case anymore.

The new watchword is: on-demand. People can now watch television, movies, events, classes and any other items when they want and where they want.

That part about "where they want" is also huge. Again, it used to be that television was consumed from either a living room of family room in a home.

The number of screens that people have has exploded. With a typical home having at least one screen per family member (TV plus computers) plus smart phones (iPhones, Android, BlackBerry and others) that allow streaming of video, plus tablet computers (iPads most notably), the ability to watch content is far easier.

Most of these computer devices are also mobile. With wireless Internet services, it's essentially possible to enjoy entertainment wherever you happen to be.

Entertainment is alive and well. In fact, the amount of content being produced continues to increase dramatically. What is changing is how people consume the content and how people get paid for it. These are two huge challenges for the entertainment industry and I have no doubt that the models will emerge that will make entertainment viable for years to come.

But, for now, I'm glad I don't have to stand by my old television and hold the rabbit ears.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 28 September 2010.
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