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2009/01/28

Kill Your Television

The House blocked the Digital TV Delay.

I live roughly 1/3 of the way between Indianapolis and Chicago. Since I moved here in 1993, I have, at best, only received one channel, the CBS station. Even that didn't come in well sometimes, even when my parents-in-law lived in the shadow of the broadcast tower. Before that, I lived in South Dakota, with only the in-town PBS channel coming in clear. Campus provided cable to the dayrooms. So, here, in 2008, it has been all 20 years of since I had to rely on over-the-air broadcast rather than cable.

(OK, I get satellite at home today, but for purposes of this discussion, that counts as cable, OK.)

And that's not the whole of it. I think I was in St Louis in 1985 when I last really watched broadcast. JoAnne Worley singing "You'll never be able to own your own telephone" from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In in syndication, with Sports Illustrated giving away free football phones with a subscription between bits. That was the last time I watched TV over the air. And even then, we had cable, too.

I am fairly sure that I am not remotely alone here. I am sure that, even in places where there are many broadcast channels in range, most people pay for more channels. They pay to get news on demand with CNN or Fox News, to get weather on demand with the Weather Channel, to see grown men covered with muck or destroying stuff on the Discovery Channel, to get music bitchy and annoying people on demand from MTV.

The coming of TV killed radio. My suspicion is that the analog-to-digital switch will kill over-the-air video, and the difference between cable->settop box->TV screen and cable->computer->monitor will decrease even more as time goes on.

I do not understand why anyone would pay to get a digital converter box.

It is my prediction that broadcast (from digital over-the-air to digital over-cable, "everyone having to watch this show at 8pm Thursday") will be dead by 2020, given way to streaming or podcasting models.

So, when I find that the House blocked the Digital TV Delay, I range between "good for them" and "who cares?" I respond to digital broadcast TV with words I first heard from a Gallagher special on Showtime in the mid 80s: "Don't you wish there were a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence There's one marked 'Brightness,' but it doesn't work."

My question is about the frequency range it vacates. What's going in there?
An important benefit of the switch to all-digital broadcasting is that it will free up parts of the valuable broadcast spectrum for public safety communications (such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads). Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned to companies that will be able to provide consumers with more advanced wireless services (such as wireless broadband).

http://www.dtv.gov/consumercorner.html#faq2
Am I way to cynical to think that the "Also, some of the spectrum will be auctioned off" is much more of a pusher for this technology than the "public safety communications"? If it means I get to have decent-speed bits of info flying to a hand-held gizmo I can shove in a pocket, then I'm all for that cynicism.

My friend Patrick has an idea for TV to be an entirely pay-for-play proposition. You want to watch a guy travel the world to find new and exciting ways to get covered with grease and animal dung? You subscribe, you pay $20 a year or so, said host travels the world, gets messy, and releases video. DRM-free video. You watch it. You maybe send an episode to a friend, who also pays $20 a year or so. I am not sure that will play. No. I'm not sure when that will play. I've seen interviews with Joss Whedon where he played with the possibility of new, fan-supported Firefly episodes before shooting it down. Thing is, this is pre-Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which, beyond being something to do during the Writers' Strike, was pretty much an experiment on how to do a fan-supported internet video show.

My current hardware desire (besides memory! always more memory!) is a PCI HDTV card, so I can tell my PC what I want to watch and watch it when I want to watch it, where I want to watch it. This is the failure of DVRs that I see. I have 4 TVs in my home. All four have cable boxes, but only one had a DVR. It is in a room I hate to linger in, so I never get to watch it and never get to record from it. This way, my cable becomes like my podcasts, which is how I want it. I am fairly sure that I am not remotely alone here, either.