Editorial

Editorial: It's time for the TV revolution

If you're anything like me, you probably get fed up with your traditional TV subscription, whether it's satellite, cable or whatever. You end up getting forced to pay exorbitant sums of money to access hundreds upon hundreds of channels populated entirely by 24 hours of total crap. Personally, I probably watch 15 channels regularly, and that's stretching it. My subscription includes 300 or so, and if I try to go for a cheaper option with fewer channels, I end up losing one of the few that I actually like.

Want a better solution? There's terrestrial TV. It's kind of like a surprise party bag, since you're never really sure what you'll get. If you're lucky, you'll end up with the major networks, plus a few channels that show '50s era public domain westerns. The History Channel (not to imply that they a actually show any history related programming these days)? Polemic cable news? Movies? Forget about it, it's not happening.

Your other option is the Internet. That's the modern way of things, so it should be awesome and really convenient, right? Wrong. First off, you're confronted with the huge question of piracy or legality. Sadly, piracy tends to be the superior (but even less convenient) option, but I won't even go there – I'm just pointing it out because it's just downright shameful.

The legal offerings are pretty slim pickings. Hulu is nice to catch that episode of The Simpsons you missed, and Netflix is good for mainstream movies and old shows on demand. Sadly, you end up missing a lot of the things you like about TV - believe it or not, you might actually find that you miss that exercise known as channel surfing.

That's kinda weird when you think about it. Sometimes we think of channel surfing as being the bane of traditional TV, that on demand is the ultimate solution. Yet if it's taken away from us, we realize it's a really great system of discovery. There are certainly times when on demand is better - when I watch a movie, it's usually something I've been planning on watching for a while, or when I miss a show that I really like. But that's where it fails; so far our options for on demand TV have either been very expensive, very limited, or both, and they've all lacked a really great system of discovery.

And that brings us to my solution. What we need right now, to revitalize television and bring it in line with the 21st century and the digital revolution, isn't really all that radical. So far, all of the really successful digital services - which have really been limited to music so far - have succeeded by trimming the fat off the media and giving people what they want, without shoving anything else down their throat. Two examples of really great services are iTunes and Spotify.

iTunes and Spotify have been successful because they combined the advantages of traditional media while letting go of all the baggage. iTunes redefined music by making it possible for people to pick and choose only the music they liked, essentially destroying the beloved (or loathed) album format. Instead of being forced to buy ten tracks of junk to get one good one, you could just buy that one good song and forget about the rest.

Spotify took much the same approach by drawing on a traditional medium – radio – and letting people sample music for free while listening to advertising, but with the added ability to pick what you wanted to listen to.

TV needs to undergo the same kind of not-so-radical revolution. I think that the best TV service will be the one that doesn't throw out the good things about TV along with the bad things – the business model needs changing way more than the way it actually works. People were buying music and listening to music for free (with advertisements) long before iTunes or Spotify. Aside from making everything digital, they do a pretty good job of mimicking traditional mediums, sans the baggage. And that brings us to what really needs to change in the TV business.

The model of forcing users to buy hundreds of channels to get access to the few that they want needs to go, just like the lackluster album before it – not that there weren't a few good ones. Instead of treating TV like films, which you almost always plan on watching, let's treat it like TV, which you usually don't plan on watching.

One of the great things about digital music is that you can pick the songs you want to listen to without paying for the ones you don't. So let's do the same thing with TV – don't make me pay for Bloomberg and C-SPAN just so I can watch National Geographic. TV channels (or we could compromise and go with whole networks, which would probably be easier to achieve) could operate like apps, laid out on the screen with big, beautiful high res icons.

When you open one of those, instead of being confronted by on demand shows at exorbitant prices or previews of shows you can watch on 'regular' TV, you would see live TV. I don't think there's really anything wrong with how TV works, so let's not mess with it. Trying to fix things that aren't broken usually doesn't turn out very well.

On demand services could still exist as the digital equivalent of buying a series on DVD, but subscriptions on a channel per channel basis would become the normal way of viewing TV. You're still paying a bill, but it'll be much cheaper since you'll only be paying for the networks or channels you want to watch. The networks really don't have anything to worry about here, either.

You'll still be paying for their services, assuming that you actually want them, and you'll still be seeing their ads, it's just that you'll be doing it without any of the baggage. In fact, the only real loser here seems to be the service providers – more on that later.

I know I'm not the first person to propose a system like this. It seems pretty clear to me, but I've also noticed that a lot of people either don't like it or haven't thought of it. The only thing keeping it from becoming a reality is the TV industry, a combination of the networks, who want you to buy all of their channels, and the service providers, who depend on your doing so to survive.

I think the only way the networks will change is if they become really desperate, because that's how companies work; there's no talking any sense into 'em, even when they really don't have anything to be afraid of. The day they become really desperate couldn't come sooner.

And what about the service providers? Well, they would undoubtedly die, but that's really not a bad thing. I'm sure that if the day finally does come, and I hope it does, they will end up saying that the new business models will destroy the economy, as they go out kicking and screaming. Sure, some people will lose their jobs, but those jobs will be more than replaced by the new industry that arises.

If dinosaur businesses like cable and satellite companies had their way, we'd all still be talking on telegraphs and driving wagons. It's kind of like natural selection; better services come around and eat up the old, clunky ones, and it's the old, clunky ones for being old and clunky.

Maybe I'm wrong about what people want out of their TVs. This is just the kind of service that I would want to use myself if I could create it. If I haven't been creative enough, if I've overlooked some other gripe that people have with their TV service, then I'm sorry, but I'd love to hear some of your thoughts about it. So feel free to comment below, and tell us what you think. Hopefully someone with enough clout to make the networks take heed will see this as an opportunity.

TV is Happiness image courtesy of Duke University, broken TV image courtesy of Cincinatti Living Online. All logos are the property of their respective owners.

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Comcast worries that going to a la carte Channel selection, which is what most viewers want, will cause the demise of some channels. That would be a good thing, because too many channels just provide repeats or repeats as these migrate around the various channels.

What we customers want is ability to select the channels of interest, say four in the current next group without getting the 90 others, There is not enough new material for all the existing channels. If one can pull up old shows from a server, one would not need all the channels. Af agencies would suffer and fewer ads would be sold, perhaps.
But for maximizing the bottom line, Comcast is wedded to the old model, and since they have a virtual monopoly in many areas, one has not choice.
The moment that satellite TV offers choice by the channel, all cable ISPs would have to follow suit or risk loosing customers.

Amen brother! Not only should we be allowed to pick channels, but individual shows as well. I don't want to buy an entire month of Showtime just to watch Dexter...

The report claims that Apple is interested in offering entire channels as apps that could be used on a number of the company's devices, including the Apple TV set-top box and presumably a potential Apple-branded television set. The report's sources are, however, unclear on whether Apple is seeking to bundle multiple app channels together to form its own equivalent of cable television packages or if it wants to offer them individually to subscribers.

Source: MacRumors

Sounds similar to what you were looking for?

The cable companies are in deep doo doo. More and more people are except the reality tv morons, are going to web based content. Between my XBOX and my Intel Wireless Display built in to my laptop, I have absolutely no use for mainstream television. If the cable companies had a sack at all, they would offer TV the old fashion way, give it to me FOR FREE, but cut the commercials down to 15 seconds, and make them actually get me to be interested in the product instead of trying to program images into my brain.

I cut the cord about a year ago. I bought a roku box and a hd antenna. Between my subscriptions of Hulu plus, Netflix, and renting season passes to my cable shows ( justified, deadliest catch, walking dead..etc) I never miss cable. I only pay for the shows I want and $16 a month for Netflix and Hulu. My family has been happy with it, in fact the guys at work are starting to buy rokus.

My cable company forces you to pay for the digital package in order to have HD which they claim is free. The digital package is all of the channels except premium of course. I do not even want all of the channels. I just want specific channels in HD. Plus they charge you for a required cable box for the digital package. I got tired of paying for all of these channels and the additional box when I only watch about five channels and for about five hours every seven days.

So I switched to Dish Network and pay for the smallest package. HD is free, no fee for the box, and I get the same channels except a few which include one that I wanted. I save over fifty dollars a month and can live without that one channel.

Ultimately I realized is it worth paying the money at all for twenty hours or less a month. Not really. Once my contract is up with Dish I probably will say good bye for good.

What I really would like to do is pay either for the shows or channels I watch and yet have the convenience of on and off like TV hooked up to cable.

Maybe the writer should move to a spot where theres some competition? is it normal for people not to be able to buy an individual channel?

My cable provider will let you purchase individual channels for $3 a month. Mind you the 5 channel valu-paks are only $4.50, but their requirement is 'full tier analog cable' which is very ironic, and a 'base charge' of $63 a month.

Broadcasters will eventually crash and burn.
MAYBE.
You still need people to manage and pay for live broadcasts, but with products like TriCaster, you never know...

Regardless, there would still need to be some sort of service provider... All of these networks would never agree on a single method of distribution (Frequency, DRM, etc.) nor would many of them have the organization to be able to distribute like this. I agree that you should be able to pick and choose what stations are in your bundle, but ultimately, I think that is how it will be decided what satelite or cable provider has officially "won" rather than a means for replacing them...

M_Lyons10 said,
Regardless, there would still need to be some sort of service provider... All of these networks would never agree on a single method of distribution (Frequency, DRM, etc.) nor would many of them have the organization to be able to distribute like this. I agree that you should be able to pick and choose what stations are in your bundle, but ultimately, I think that is how it will be decided what satelite or cable provider has officially "won" rather than a means for replacing them...

The service provider is your ISP, and the networks are their own. pay $5.99 a month to watch HD streaming, $1.99 ad-free or watch ad-supported shows like OTA/hulu/network websites does. I don't see the problem with this model.

Cable and satellite have been increasingly on the decline since youtube started HD.

Ive been downloading tv shows for the past 5+ years. mainly because 1/3 of all tv shows have commercials.

who really wants to watch 10mins of commercials on a 30min tv show.

ShareShiz said,
Ive been downloading tv shows for the past 5+ years. mainly because 1/3 of all tv shows have commercials.

who really wants to watch 10mins of commercials on a 30min tv show.

Your the reason good sows like firefly, reaper, dead like me, and al the rest get cancelled.

HawkMan said,

Your the reason good sows like firefly, reaper, dead like me, and al the rest get cancelled.

No, the current system of content delivery is.

ShareShiz said,
Ive been downloading tv shows for the past 5+ years. mainly because 1/3 of all tv shows have commercials.

who really wants to watch 10mins of commercials on a 30min tv show.

Install some capture cards, setup mythTV, and enjoy comskip or go up even better and enjoy MCE with ShowAnalyzer...
ShowAnalyzer will skip on the fly, comskip only after the file stays the same size for a period of time.. start watching 15 min into your show and it will find and skip the commercials fairly reliably.

Was talking about this yesterday with a friend.
I hate the fact I pay $110 for cable service, with, as said, hundreds of channels, though I only watch about 10 of them.
I am also a firm believer that if I pay for these services, I shouldn't have to deal with ads (TV commercials.) The service is archaic, of paying for a service and still suffering through advertisements, and it needs to go. I don't see anything wrong with offering channels for free (or heavily reduced monthly price), after buying a box from the company, to get their ad-funded TV (like almost all business and services do nowadays, cause they are not stingy stone-age dinosaurs) and people paying a premium, get TV, with channels they want commercial free, and aren't forced to pay for any channels they don't.

I know my thinking is far out there and it won't happen. But it's clearly a good business model, proven for most online sources.

Also, paying $300 an NFL season just to get all the games is bulls**t. And you either have to have DirecTV, Dish, or a PS3 and internet. And still at that price you get ads out the arse. Hate what the NFL has become, every 3 minutes of game-time comes with 1 minute of ad-time. >:-(

Haven't watched TV the last 2 years, i use Torrents or stream the content instead. When there is a better alternative i'll happily pay for it as long as i get rid of the commercials.

THe one thing you forgot to mention is that the actual shows are paid for by advertising.

Your cable subscription pays the delivery provider.

Your model fails becauase a la carte on demand services would require that individual programs be paid for by individual sponsors, much like how soap operas started out in the 50s.

Rethink your strategy for getting shows produced that can be consumed on-demand and you might be on to something.

Been a long time since i watched something on TV, first because commercials this days are more important than the TV show, second, cable and satellite are expensive and where i live you have to get the TV package in order to get internet, but i just want the internet, third, local HDTV looks better than cable, but still lots and lots of commercials.
I prefer getting the torrents, or try something like Hulu or Netflix, youtube and vimeo are good sources of video entertainment! If you enter a page today most of the times they offer a video about the content of the post.

The government allowed them to monopolize and set their own rules for the most part. It pretty much comes down to politics and who is paying to get the politician re-elected.

They have zero incentive to change. Without services like Netflix popping up they would have never even bothered updating their equipment/UI.

I find it amusing that you can get better picture on local here than through cable's "HD" for free.

Unless you can guarantee channels the same or better revenue and infrastructure that cable and satellite offer it's just not going to happen. It's so deeply rooted, I'm not sure if you can wrestle it away from these providers.

What I really dislike is extra features that require you to have a cable/satellite box and sub, it's like paying twice. A choice would be nice but it's all about control I guess. Deals are also hard to come by, content is all over the place, licensing needs to be changed so exclusives can be less of a selling point and the time frames for showing content round the world. HBO could sell HBO GO round the world but since companies like Sky Atlantic have bought the exclusive catalogue for who knows how long when are you going to see that content shown on another channel or HBO outside of the US ?

If I could buy individual channels, on demand as well with no time differences and quality content, I would dump my cable sub in a heartbeat which is the reason it's not going to happen any time soon.

oceanmotion said,
Unless you can guarantee channels the same or better revenue and infrastructure that cable and satellite offer it's just not going to happen. It's so deeply rooted, I'm not sure if you can wrestle it away from these providers.

What I really dislike is extra features that require you to have a cable/satellite box and sub, it's like paying twice. A choice would be nice but it's all about control I guess. Deals are also hard to come by, content is all over the place, licensing needs to be changed so exclusives can be less of a selling point and the time frames for showing content round the world. HBO could sell HBO GO round the world but since companies like Sky Atlantic have bought the exclusive catalogue for who knows how long when are you going to see that content shown on another channel or HBO outside of the US ?

If I could buy individual channels, on demand as well with no time differences and quality content, I would dump my cable sub in a heartbeat which is the reason it's not going to happen any time soon.

At this point, the model won't go away by find new models for the same content, but getting entirely different content that isn't tied to the same model. Unfortunately to get to the point where a show isn't considered amateur hour is going to take a few more years at least, but certainly the equipment to do is there for MUCH cheaper than it used to be.

Article said

You end up getting forced to pay exorbitant sums of money to access hundreds upon hundreds of channels populated entirely by 24 hours of total crap.

And that's why I've stopped watching Cable/Sat TV since I got my PC

Moker said,
you just mentioned the exact reason why they won't do this.

your bill would go down.

I'm not so sure. It seems like the only ones it would really hurt would be the service providers and the niche networks. Since the networks have no vested interested in one another, and most of them don't really care about the service providers, either (NBC excluded), I could imagine some of them jumping on board something like this, if the right people were involved. It would take someone with a lot of money to get it rolling, though.

THolman said,

I'm not so sure. It seems like the only ones it would really hurt would be the service providers and the niche networks. Since the networks have no vested interested in one another, and most of them don't really care about the service providers, either (NBC excluded), I could imagine some of them jumping on board something like this, if the right people were involved. It would take someone with a lot of money to get it rolling, though.

Except the traditional networks own several niche channels and want to bundle all their stuff together, even if you never bother to watch it. For example, Comcast/NBC owns NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, USA, G4, plus several hundred local NBC affiliates. They have absolutely NO interest in giving you just the channels you want, and even less letting you just skip the channel and pay for the programming directly.

Moker said,
you just mentioned the exact reason why they won't do this.

your bill would go down.

I think that right now TV services cost way too much. Bringing down the price by offering alternatives will draw in new customers.

dagamer34 said,

For example, Comcast/NBC owns NBC, NBC Sports, MSNBC, USA, G4, plus several hundred local NBC affiliates.

The bundles don't even make sense. G4 should not be in the same bundle as NBC Sports. They don't even fit into the same niche. The need to make smaller bundles with specific niches. Music channels in one bundle, "nerdy" channels like G4 and SyFy in another, etc.

Moker said,
you just mentioned the exact reason why they won't do this.

your bill would go down.

Actually the reason is the opposite. A la carte selection is expensive. There have been providers who have tried it and still do. In. Or way the terrestrial provider do. As soon as you hit 6 channels it's more expensive than the full package, so even if you opium 2 the price for each channels ridiculous.

It's the price the tv channels ptake that cause this. With packages they can offer deals with the tv channels since you're not watching every channel all the time and it gets cheaper.

So it's better to think of the package you do buy as buying e channels you want, and consider all the other channels agree bonus. Since if you cold just buy those channels, you'd probably pay more for just those than the whole package.

ILikeTobacco said,

The bundles don't even make sense. G4 should not be in the same bundle as NBC Sports. They don't even fit into the same niche. The need to make smaller bundles with specific niches. Music channels in one bundle, "nerdy" channels like G4 and SyFy in another, etc.


Actually, I'd say they do make (an albeit cynical kind of) sense. For the same reason that some stores place logically connected items far apart so as to make you walk around and increase your chances of buying more stuff, placing similar channels across several packages makes it likelier that you'll buy more.