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Convergence Media

Looking Into The Crystal Ball: The Future of “TV”

gmail-good-news-now-you-can-watch-instantly-on-your-mac-kegillgmailcomWe’ve had HDTV for three months, Verizon FiOS for almost a month. We’re using the Verizon HD PVR, which means our SD TiVo sits idle. (Plus, we don’t know how to integrate it with the FiOS set-top box.)

I’m starting with the state of our TV system to explain why I’ve been thinking about PVRs, AppleTV, Media Center, Hauppauge, EyeTV, PS3, xBox 360 and the like.

That changed Wednesday night. I saw the future and it is hardware independent. (And I need to revisit Boxee.tv as it integrated Netflix today.)

What happened last night? (Or, more accurately, really early this morning.)

I watched the pilot episode of MacGuyver (1985, IMDB, Wikia, Wikipedia) using Netflix onDemand (Watch Instantly) streamed to my MacBookPro. I have yet to watch the Netflix stream on the HDTV, but we watched the BBC series The Last Enemy that way and it worked great. (BBC worked better than Hulu, by the way.)

I suddenly – consciously – realized that cloud-hosted onDemand “TV” is the future. Yeah, there may be “channels” (we have to organize content somehow) but I don’t think that they will be like TV channels are today, offered sequentially. (Unless, that is, the TV networks are able to impose their oligopolistic power on the system.)

Moreover, I realized that I was living The Long Tail (Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More), watching (for the first time!) a 23 year old television pilot (cult show though it may be) in the wee hours of the morning.

That doesn’t mean that the interim period — with bridge technologies like that long list above — will be painless. It won’t be. Periods of transition never are. (Remember VHS, Beta and LaserDisc from the 1980s.) It does mean that today’s technologies may have a much shorter shelf life than VHS.

And I’m pretty sure it means Blockbuster’s box is D.O.A.

I’m beginning to wonder if the television industry pushed back on early Congressional efforts to spur HDTV because of the inevitable effect of digitized content on their business models.

Let there be no mistake: existing business models are at risk. If onDemand content continues to develop at its current rate, in as short a period as a year I can see us canceling FiOS TV and upgrading our FiOS Internet.

Don’t get me wrong. 1080p beats 640p or 720p hands down. But just because today’s bandwidth constraints limit the among of 1080p uncompressed video we download from the cloud, don’t make the mistake of thinking that constraint is permanent.

Clearly, I’m also betting on legislated network neutrality.

I don’t pretend to know what the resulting business models are going to look like or who is going to get flattened (businesses or individuals). I suggest looking at Sanctuary (YouTube) as a possible model for a future show. (If only we could buy episodes on iTunes.)

And the changes may not impact movies as rapidly as TV. (I think TV impacts will be felt after the newspaper industry is thoroughly bruised.)

Let’s look at the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise — these data are box office sales only. No DVD sales or rentals included. Those are gravy, donja know?

So what might happen to movies in a flattened market? Will we still pay a premium to see a movie in a public space, the theatre? Will we buy the Blue-Ray disks? Will the there be more or fewer mega-stars like Depp?

The movie situation is a bit more academic or abstract than the TV one. Movies are an every-now-and-then public act. For most Americans, watching TV is a private, daily act. And there’s more content. That’s why I think it will be this segment of the “video” market that is disrupted first.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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