Can your television set stream the Internet entertainment content in the way that rivals traditional television? Do you feel that we have arrived at the point where we can break the chains that bind us to our CATV companies? Are we at the tipping point where CATV will become thing of the past?
Cable television (CATV)
“Cable television, formerly known as Community Antenna Television or CATV, was born in the mountains of Pennsylvania in 1948. “ -- about.com:invetors
I don’t think that John and Margaret Walson could have imagined what would become of the CATV in the next 60 years.
The National Cable & Telecommunication Association has a good article summarizing the history of cable television. Below are some excerpts:
“The 1940s and 1950s Cable television originated in the United States almost simultaneously in Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania in 1948 to enhance poor reception of over-the-air television signals in mountainous or geographically remote areas. “Community antennas” were erected on mountain tops or other high points, and homes were connected to the antenna towers to receive the broadcast signals.”…
“2000 and Beyond Arrival of the new millennium brought with it hopes and plans for acceleration of advanced services over cable’s broadband networks.
As the new millennium got under way, cable companies began pilot testing video services that could change the way people watch television. Among these: video on demand, subscription video on demand, and interactive TV. The industry was proceeding cautiously in these arenas, because the cost of upgrading customer-premise equipment for compatibility with these services was substantial and required new business models that were both expansive and expensive.
In 2001, partly in response to those demands, AT&T agreed to fold its cable systems with those of Comcast Corp., creating the largest ever cable operator with more than 22 million customers.” -- ncta.com
You can find more about the history of cable television here.
You love your TV (they know)
Brad A. Myers' web site has an interesting compilation of facts about TV, internet and computers. Although the time frame of the article quotes below vary greatly (some go back to 1995), I have outlined some of the more interesting quotes:
"...[H]ouseholds that receive about 60 channels usually watch only 15. Households whose systems can receive 96 channels (around the national average) actually watch ... 15." -- Steven Levy, "Television Reloaded", Newsweek, May 30, 2005, p. 55
"The average American child spends 900 hours a year in school--and 1,500 hours a year watching television." -- Jonathan Alter, "It's 4:00pm. Do You Know Where Your Children Are?" Newsweek, April 27, 1998, p.31
"In the world there are some 89,000 movie picture screens; there are 790 million TV households, there are 50 million paid subscribers, there are 315 million homes with videocassette recorders, who last year rented or bought 7.3 billion pre-recorded videocassettes. And last year alone, there were over 2,000 films that were produced, not to mention the many thousands of television shows." -- "Bud Yorkin Plays Kresge Theatre", Carnegie Mellon Magazine, Vol. 14, no. 1, Fall, 1995, p. 11
"... 16 million personal computers will be sold in the United States in 1995 and a further 34 million units worldwide. Workstation sales will add a million units more. To put this in perspective, PCs' and automobiles' yearly unit sales are now in the same ball park. By the end of 1994, the installed base of PCs exceeded 80 million units in the United States and 200 million worldwide (0.3 and 0.035 unit per person respectively). Intel Corp. chairman Andy Grove predicts that by the end of this decade, PC sales will surpass 100 million units worldwide--more than sales of cars or TVs." -- Egil Juliussen, "Small Computers," IEEE Spectrum, January, 1995, p. 44
Why CATV feels like a dinosaur today
Barrier to entry is high
If you think about it, the barer to your ability to show the content on your TV from a cable or dish provider is pretty high here in the US.
Each provider requires you to have a piece of hardware that allows you to decode the data stream coming from their central office. Big hunk of metal - not good for anything else. Lately they are combining these with the DVRs but software that comes with these DVRs is lacking a lot of features to make them manageable. Also none of them can socialize with any other electronics you might have lying around your house!
When you have settled and picked the provider of your choice, you must buy a “package”. These packages have a range of products bundled together such as internet access, high-def channels, local channels, sport, phone service, premium channels, etc. On average, the price for a good set of channels bundled with internet will run you over $100 dollars a month.
CATV content is unmanageable
CATVs premise is “watch now”. You cannot browse backwards in time or freeze the content. You have to purchase additional equipment (DVR, TIVO) if you like to do anything else. Of course this all adds up, DVR is X dollars per month; TIVO is not cheap either.
There is a somewhat moderate effort to make CATV flexible with the On-Demand service where you can retrieve past shows but its a far cry from the versatility and flexibility offered by computers today.
Cannot customize “my” entertainment
Trying to “design” your package with the channels you want is impractical because you will get penalized and pay an arm and a leg for it. The price of offered packages compared to their value is not proportional, in my opinion, and the prices keep going up.
You can play this exhausting game where you have to call the customer service, threatening to disconnect cable, so they can put you on some kind of promotion for six months and keep cost down. After the these promotions end, you mind find that the price of your package costs as much as a payment for a small car.
Competitive landscape is bleak at best and full of confusion in the CATV land.
Landscape is changing
TiVo has enabled us with the freedom to watch a broadcast program when it is convenient to us. The user experience with operating the remote control and the TiVo program is innovative enough to allow the average person not to be intimidated with the TiVo box.
TiVo is great with the fire-and-forget kind of programming where you subscribe to a broadcast you like and TiVo will hunt down new and old episodes you have not yet seen. However, TiVo suffers from the same fault as the CATV box (DVR or whatever you use) because it’s hard to make it socialize with other devices that might be present in your household and its internal workings are fixed and unchangeable (you can hack these boxed but that’s whole another set of problems). They did add some portability where you can see the content on the mobile device, which helps with flexibility of use.
As of late, TiVo has extended its universe to cover Netflix, Amazon, and other Video on Demand (VOD) services.
I started paying more attention to what is being offered on the Web as of lately regarding the video content. I have noticed crop of new sites such as www.hulu.com, www.joost.com, www.boxee.com, and www.sling.com. Sling had an excellent idea early on where you could simply plug SlingBox into your video source allowing you to watch and control your TV from anywhere in the world which is quite awesome.
It is quite clear, from the projects that Vertigo is currently working on, that broadcasters have figured out that Internet Entertainment Broadcasting is coming, and coming fast. For instance, look at our NBC Sports Sunday Night player! Before that we did the CBS inauguration and DNC convention (all in Silverlight), which was broadcasted in HD!! Silverlight is spreading (ITV) and I think its a superior platform for delivery of Rich Entertainment Experiences and not just the Rich Internet Applications.
If you study the TV to Internet landscape, you will find plethora of vendors trying to entertain you on the internet: http://vendr.tv/, http://revision3.com/, http://player.stv.tv/, http://www.ustream.tv, http://www.itv.com/, etc. I think you understand that www.youtube.com is a staple of Internet Entertainment Broadcast. NetFlix really rocks, and so does Amazon, with their video on demand services (VOD).
There is so much going on and so much available, that you will find that you need a service to locate the content such as http://www.findinternettv.com.
Below are insightful statistics that make it clear where the entertainment industry is heading with new the generation:
"More than 9.8 million children are using the Internet, a number projected to triple in the next four years... In a recent poll by CNN and USA Today, 28 percent of teens said they could live without their TV, but only 23 percent said they could get by without a computer." -- Brad Stone, "The Keyboard Kids", Newsweek, June 8, 1998, p. 72
"Given a choice of six media, one-third (33%) of children aged 8 to 17 told KN/SRI that the Web would be the medium they would want to have if they couldn’t have any others. Television was picked by 26% of kids; telephone by 21%; and radio by 15%. For the top three media, results were dramatically different among girls and boys. Twice as many boys (34% versus 17%) chose TV as their must-have medium, while telephone was more than twice as popular (31% versus 12%) among girls. The Internet placed first with 38% of boys and 28% of girls."
"More Kids Say Internet Is the Medium They Can’t Live Without," StatisticalResearch.com, April 5, 2002 (thanks to Dick Halpern)
I think its obvious that the next generation is hooked on computers.
A friend of mine was quite a visionary. He used his Xbox (1.0) exclusively to watch “TV”. This was 2003 and his Xbox was moded to accommodate this way of viewing the CATV programs. I did not like the “moding” part and did not understand it at that time why he was bothering with it at all!
Today its different. I think we all feel pinched and look everywhere to save money. CATV is not an essential service. CATV has kept us (consumers) paralyzed for the last 60 years with no intention to change!
Look at something like the SkyPlayer for Xbox 360. My jaw dropped when I saw this! Of course its not available in the US (only in UK). Sigh…
I can see how the Xbox can replace that clunky CATV receiver. Combined with Zune software and PlayOn you can get wide coverage of the current Internet Entertainment Broadcast spectrum. The potential to offer so much more is there.
What do I want and what am I willing to give up
To me the entertainment is the mashup of video, internet and real-time broadcasting.
I want the ability to find content, presented in a pleasing environment, with the browsing experience to map to the same mental model of how we browse channels on CATV—but better and richer.
I want my friend to suggest that I watch something and I can watch it instantly or even collaboratively.
I want to view photos from Flickr on my TV. I would like to see my FriendFeed, Facebook and Twittter streams while I watch a show or a movie (REDUX might be it)!
I find that some sites (1, 2) are a guilty pleasure and would like to see their content “live” and moving on my TV at all times. I want thousands of “channels” that I can search, browse easily, and record easily.
I want HD.
I do not want to hack anything. No modding or chipping or whatever hacks people do these days. If we are to transition to new media devices they have to work for an average consumer (yes, I did call my self an average consumer).
I want to have a smart content recorder that will find the programs (à la TiVo) by scouring the internet. This recorder will be smart enough to get the content from both the free and paid providers (eg. NetFlix) with whom I have a subscription.
I want standards that will allow video streaming as well as dynamic content mixed in the stream and consumed by whichever player I like. I am aware of DLNA but that’s just a start and I think a good one.
I am ok with product advertisements showing up (unobtrusive?). I actually believe that if I see the engaging ad, I might act on it by trying to explore more! I am ok with advertisements because they can offset cost of content production and transmission for the Internet Entertainment Broadcast providers.
I think one thing that is hard to give up is the “office water cooler” effect, where you discuss with your colleagues the shows you have seen the night before.
What am I doing now
I am in the very early stages of trying to figure these things out. I have not given up CATV just yet, but I am close. I have given up the HBO because I cannot afford it. I fear Showtime is next. I believe i can sacrifice the immediacy afforded with CATV (for now) and wait for the show to appear somewhere on the internet.
I am trying to keep it simple.
I have setup my Xbox so that I can watch movies from NetFlix and Amazon. I had some DVD’s that I stored on my computer, and with Zune sharing, I can see those movies on my Xbox. Also, my music lives on my Windows Home Server so I can stream music via Xbox to my television.
I have setup PlayOn to get the Hulu but have not completely committed to the service.
I’ll keep plowing ahead with an effort to completely disconnecting myself from my CATV provider. The only thing I still need, for now, is their internet service. FiOS is coming to all major cities, but I have not had enough time to look into it where I live.
How do you get your entertainment today? CATV or Internet? Any tips you can share?
I just want to make you aware that I am no expert, nor do I have completely accurate data. I am not endorsing any of the companies mentioned here, but I do like some of them. These are purely my opinions and not those of my employer.
* References Source: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/user/bam/www/numbers.html