January 08, 2006
Coming To End Of Era For Appointment-Based Television?

W.R. Hearst III would have us believe that we are coming to the end of the era of simultaneous watching of new TV show episodes.

"Appointment-based television is dead," said William Randolph Hearst III, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm. "The cable industry is really in danger of becoming commoditized."

Mr. Hearst sits on the board of Akimbo, a provider of an Internet service that permits users to download video content via the Internet to a set-top box digital video player. This week, Akimbo announced its first mainstream content deal to enable its customers to download Hollywood movies for later viewing on their televisions.

The "appointment-based television" does have one big advantage in popular culture: It allows a large group of people to simultaneously have the same experience and then to share their reactions to it at work or at play the next day. Part of the pleasure that many people derive from viewing some popular show is the ability to react to it together when socializing. I can recall guys at work discussing a new X Files episode and I've certainly heard women discuss a Desperate Housewives episode. Will all TV shows continue to have synchronised first viewings before becoming available for download?

Every year broadband connections get faster and cheaper and that trend looks set to continue for some years to come. Video on demand is now reaching the point where the download times are getting reasonable. Also, lots of other enabling technologies such has hard drive capacities, video browsing software, and display device improvements make the availability of TV shows and movies by download offer a lot of advantages. There's no need to stick to a single broadcast standard for resolution of shows. Every show could get downloaded at whatever resolution your display device reports itself as supporting.

Experience with downloadable music web stores has probably helped warm up the entertainment industry to the idea of downloading video for sale as well. CD recordings can already be copied illegally. The video downloads for sale do not make the pirating problem much worse. But they do open up the possibility of a lot more impulsive purchases by customers who can instantly order something without going to a video store.

Google has just announced their own service for selling video on the internet.

The Google video service will allow content providers to post videos for downloading on the company's online store. Providers will decide on pricing and levels of copy protection, but all video would be viewed via Google's own media player.

"It lets anyone sell video," Mr Page said. "The content producers decide what to charge."

Google sees their service as allowing a far larger number of people to get into the video content production biz.

"Google video will let you watch lots of high quality video on the web for the first time. You can search and browse, and we make it fast and easy for you to watch," said Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president, Products. "For video producers and anyone with a video camera, Google Video will give you a platform to publish to the entire Google audience in a fast, free and seamless way."

I expect this technology will allow independents to get distribution for things that large companies won't want to bother with. So more niche video will get made.

Google has already lined up some big media players including CBS for TV shows and a Sony music division that will provide music videos of many big names such as Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera (whose impressive vocal range unfortunately comes combined by her attempt to be as tasteless as possible).

"This is yet another exciting platform in which CBS can leverage its market-leading content to a whole new audience," said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation. "Making our programming accessible to the Google Video Store guarantees our shows significant new exposure to millions of users who are likely to access this Web service and who may not be traditional TV viewers. As the industry's most prolific generator of popular TV content, it's only natural that CBS would partner with Google on this service, which is destined to become one of the web's most popular destinations."

Google is such a heavyweight with so many web site visitors each day that they have an enormous ability to launch a new web service.

Both cable TV companies and satellite TV companies stand to lose marketshare to internet video. But the satellite people have it worse since they can not provide separate feeds to millions of people. At least the cable TV companies can compete against phone companies to provide broadband services.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 January 08 10:39 PM  Comm Tech Society

Mike Anderson said at January 9, 2006 4:05 AM:

It allows a large group of people to simultaneously have the same experience and then to share their reactions to it at work or at play the next day.

About the time I was in the fifth grade, I realized this was the very definition of intellectual shallowness, listening to one of my classmates give me a line-by-line recap of a Jerry Lewis comedy routine. This is one artifact of broadcast television that won't be missed.

Jake said at January 9, 2006 9:04 AM:

I learned this at a seminar I attended on advertising on TV. The advertising guys said that most people don't watch TV to be entertained, they watch TV to recover from the their day at work. Thus people are zoned out especially during commercials. When you are zoned out, you are not that particular what you watch.

That is why pay-per-view programming has not worked. People are not willing to pay for programming when they are in a recovery mode

Jody said at January 9, 2006 12:10 PM:

Mike: I'm uncertain how the end of broadcast television will improve your problem. In the least, I can envision a mechanism where it gets worse - the speaker would be working from an assumption that you haven't seen the show thus assume that Jerry Lewis's routine would be fresh and of interest to you...

Kevin said at January 9, 2006 11:04 PM:

Will all TV shows continue to have synchronised first viewings before becoming available for download?

Not synchronised, but close to it - for shows with Fans. You can read a comic book any time, but there's still a crowd at the store the day the new comics are released. Fans rush out to buy new books or CDs by big-name artists the day, or the weekend after, they're released.

Sports will be watched realtime, or near-realtime (delayed only until after work / happy hour / the gym / last call).

Soaps - by which I mean daily episodic TV - are the interesting case. Will people continue to watch them daily, or will the batch them up for weekend viewing? The TiVo people could probably tell us today.

Tom said at January 10, 2006 5:03 AM:

This isn't the future - it's my present. With a 1 year old, the DVR is the greatest thing in the world. I rarely watch shows when they air anymore. Most of the time, it isn't even the same day.

When American Idol comes on, I'll probably watch it that night (most likely a half hour later, after the kid is down), for the resons described. We talk about it at work. On the rare occasion that I watch sports, it's live (although I might pause now and again). Sports just aren't exciting if I could just go online and get the score. The rest of my shows, I watch when I get around to it.

Robert Ramsdell said at January 13, 2006 11:35 AM:

As Kevin notes, there will be synchronized watching, but now the schedule will be driven by production rather than networks, and only those most interested will watch when the show is 'scheduled' (i.e. released).

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