New Year, New Hope for IPTV

So as a new year (and a new President) are upon us, I find myself wondering about the future of television. I hypothesized last year that in the future, we'd free ourselves from arbitrary schedules and the concept of a "broadcast network" entirely. Why should a network (or "channel" for that matter) have to release only one show at a time? Why not let all the new shows for a day come out at a certain time?

Certainly, a portion of this country receives broadcasts over the air, and probably will for quite some time. This will limit us to the time-locked, one-show-per-channel But an ever-growing number of us have a feed from our local cable or phone company for internet. What that means is that the same person providing me the access to some arbitrary multicast feed of channels that I pay an exorbitant amount for is also letting me stream from the myriad of services online - Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and a myriad of network-specific sites, like and I feed all the "channels" into my Tivo DVR and then watch them when I want. The whole thing seems silly though, and there has to be a better way for everyone involved.

And here it is:

Currently, networks like NBC see themselves as content providers, effectively they are both publishers and distribution houses for a very narrow stream of content. They have a limit on the content they can carry, both from a financial resource standpoint, but more importantly they only own a few channels, which can only put a single show at a time on. This is a choking point which doesn't NEED to exist in a modern system, but is vestigial backwash from when radio waves carried a signal out from one tower to your house.

I envision a day when networks like NBC act almost exclusively as content aggregation. They pay for shows to be made, insert their commercials and so forth directly into them, and then send dozens (or hundreds) of shows directly to my local cable / internet provider each week. Then, my provider can set up a "portal" - possibly even give me a little Set Top Box to stream it directly from their servers. Even manage subscriptions through the box - letting me automatically download a show (effectively subscribe), letting me pick my shows and pay for groups, seasons, genres, or just single episodes. Or an "all I can eat" pass to watch whatever I want when I want it.

Everything is On Demand. The amount of traffic I pull down from the Internet is dwarfed by the amount I pull down over a high-speed, local connection to a server sitting halfway across town. Why stream from NBC's servers over an expensive, "real" internet connection when I can pull down from my local ISP?

What this will do is basically abolish the concept of a TV "network". They'll be feed services, and can focus on what they're actually supposed to do - provide content. They're publishers, not distributors, and they should stick to that. The value of a themed "schedule" pales in comparison to the value of watching what I want, when I want it, with not limit to storage, capacity, or the number of channels I can record at once. And I shouldn't need a $1000+ piece of hardware or something I pay an extra $15/mo for. I should just do it.

Microsoft is working on something called "Media Room" - it is effectively a DVR for an entire cable provider. Record everything, turn your entire network into an "on demand". It is incredibly promising, but the current content providers are crying "Foul!" at the concept of delivering content to users whenever they want it, rather than based on an arbitrary schedule. They're fighting with lawyers and lawmakers, and it'll be a while before technology and consumer benefit win out. The old, lumbering media giants don't want to give up a piece of their estate, even though they'd be better off in the long run. Also, they don't want to make it really easy for new competitors to enter the business of media distribution. There isn't a way to easily monetize Youtube (yet), but if I could put content on my local ISP's network and let people pay a quarter per show? I wouldn't need NBC at all, except to make the expensive shows. The value of their distribution network would no longer be a hurdle, just the amount they can front for famous actors / sets / equipment.

Leveling the playing filed scares them, so they'll fight it as long as they can.

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