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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Video overload

Long ago there was Broadcast Television which was basically 4 channels - NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. They were transmitted via those large towers that spread the signal 'over the air'. You needed a good set of rabbit ears to pick them up with decent clarity. Then along came cable. These companies sent a hard wire directly into your house, eliminating the need for antennas and allowing for more channels to be carried. With this new technology channels of every kind started blooming - MTV, CNN, WEATHER, ESPN, DISCOVERY, etc.... All of a sudden there was more information available, faster, to more people. The cable companies dominated the video media landscape - they owned the hard wires and if you wanted cable you had to buy it from them. Fast forward a few years and we see Satellite television. Remember those gigantic satellite dishes you'd see in yards or up on a roof. Those things looked like your house was the broadcast center for a major network. Man, those things were ugly. And to pick up different channels you actually had to program the satellite to point to a different location in the sky to pick up the signal from a different broadcast satellite. Years later these colossal eyesore would be replaced by the sleek digital satellites - Dish Network and the likes. These dishes only have to point to one location to receive a digital stream of information containing a whole list of channels. So our main video sources at this point are cable companies and satellite providers. But now things are changing at a break neck pace. Prepare yourself for a complete upheaval in everything you know about home video.
Many things are happening. First - Telecom (that's telecommunications) providers like Verizon, Sprint, and BellSouth have petitioned, sued, and won the right to provide cable video via their own networks. Fair enough I guess, the cable companies stomped all over the telecom territories a few years ago when they started providing voice service. This means that you'll have 3 choices for video service - cable, satellite, telco. In theory the competition would make the service cheaper - but in reality the cable and satellite companies will just think of new ways to get a buck from you to make up for the bucks they lose to the telcos. Imagine being the local cable advertiser. One year you spend $20,000 to advertise with Cox cable which goes to 200,000 homes in the area. The next year maybe 75,000 of those homes now have Verizon "cable" and you have to spend $20,000 with Cox and $8,000 with Verizon to reach the same amount of people with the same number of commercials. It will get very frustrating for advertisers.
Now enters the internet. IPTV as it is called (Internet Protocol Television) offers something that people really want: The abiblity to watch only the shows or channels they want to without paying for "packages". I, for one, hate paying $75 a month for 250 channels when my family, combined, only watches maybe 17 of them. Internet based television will allow you to download and watch a baseball game, sitcom, movie, or new cast either live or recorded whenever you want, wherever you want. Every day data transfer rates get faster. Look at iPod video. It's been a big deal in the news the last 6 months or so that the networks are selling episodes of prime time TV shows to Apple for iPod downloads. Millions of people have paid $1.00 per episode to be able to watch Lost or ER while they're on the subway or waiting in line at the bank. YouTube is a very popular video site where anybody can upload any video they want and you can download it for your viewing pleasure. Surely the internet will be the future of VOD (Video On Demand).
I predict a lot of confusion and 'flooding of the market' with all these options. What excites me though is the potential for mass information gathering. I'm not one to use the internet solely for entertainment purposes - sure I have some music/band sites I visit every now and then and this blog site entertains me - but most of my surfing is to learn something. Having information, anything imaginable, at our fingertips is such an advantage that I feel sorry for all generations that came before. How did they learn? When a song was stuck in their head and they really wanted to figure out who sang it how did they figure it out? When they had the urge to find a quick tid-bit about South American emerald mining who did they turn to? I can find out about anything I have the remotest interest in. Once the internet has fully taken over the video industry I'll not only have static web pages to learn from, but an endless source of documentaries, how to's, and other informational videos.

It's gonna be messy but bring it on.

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