Is There Any Need For The Concept Of A TV Channel Any More?

from the might-be-time-to-rethink dept

More than two years ago, we wondered if the concept of a TV channel was going away. After all, with things like TiVo as well as the ability to watch TV streamed or downloaded online, was anyone still paying attention to which channel a particular show was on? While that may have been a little early, it seems that this type of thinking is picking up steam — especially in the UK, where some are wondering why they should wait many months for American TV shows to show up on UK TV when they can (or will soon be able to) simply watch the shows online at the same time everyone else can. Of course, this could also have a pretty big impact on the push for a la carte cable offerings. If people are no longer thinking in terms of channels, but in shows, does a la carte pricing make that much sense? If anything, a la carte channels may push people to move even more of their TV watching to the web, since they’ll only have a small number of channels on their TV, but they’ll catch other shows online.

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Comments on “Is There Any Need For The Concept Of A TV Channel Any More?”

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Paquito (user link) says:

Internet Killed the TV Star


Very interesting point… But, as you well know, right now the people’s average of time watching tv is going down while surfing the internet is going up…

As the internet develops new ways to transmit info (blogs, video blogs, internet television, internet radios…) the switch will be when the screen we have in the living room change the image input (from the antenna to the modem/hub).

Things like Joost are showing it is already possible to create a better viewer experience in terms of choice and interaction (as users can rate the content, for example).

Let’s see how turn things but, if I were Tivo, for example, I would start talking with those “internet guys doing I don’t know what”…

Regards from Spain,


OKVol says:

But on the gripping hand,

/* apologies to Niven */

There is a very serious technical consideration here. Allow for this technical view:

TV broadcast (and cable-cast) is, in network terms, a true multicast protocol. One transmitter, many receivers. When you go the on-demand, the protocol converts to unicast, or what you normally have with web servers and browsers. Each server has two-way handshake dedicated connections. 20,000 people watching a U-tube video takes 20,000 times the bandwidth of people watching Steven Colbert live.

This bandwidth multiplication is the real issue. HD takes even more bandwidth per connection.

Don’t forget the Dilbert factor either: The cable guys are the ones that didn’t qualify for a job at the phone company. I’ve had to work at a technical level with some of the industry, and most are clueless. I was amazed that a set-top box software upgrade at Suddenlink in my hometown recently took down all digital channels for an entire day. I also suspect that Time-Warner has yet to fully integrate all the smaller cable companies that they bought up. Last I knew, some where still running duplicate RFC-1918 IP address space.

So, the main hindrance to these ideas is that the traditional outlets for the factories of the media that we call TV shows are still stuck in old, multicast methods, and the media companies that distribute those don’t have the infrastructure to distribute that media in less efficient methods.

I just want to be able to plug in a 500Gb USB drive to my set-top box so I can record more…over the multicast delivery I have today.

A La Pue says:

Re: But on the gripping hand,

Would this increase in bandwidth requirements be true for “a la cart” via traditional cable? i.e. I could pick my 20 favorite channels and pay $1/channel instead of paying $40/month for 200 channels and only watching 10%??

“TV broadcast (and cable-cast) is, in network terms, a true multicast protocol. One transmitter, many receivers. When you go the on-demand, the protocol converts to unicast, or what you normally have with web servers and browsers. Each server has two-way handshake dedicated connections. 20,000 people watching a U-tube video takes 20,000 times the bandwidth of people watching Steven Colbert live.

OKVol says:

Re: Re: Re2: But on the gripping hand,

a la cart is French for “it’s going to cost you more”. It is the same multicast protocol: all the channels arrive at your box, and your cable company filters out what you don’t pay for at the box or at the cable connection point outside your house.

Does anyone remember analogue cable, when the carrier put the filters on your connection to remove HBO, Showtime and Cinimax? Where the feed for your house connected to the splitter at the pole, you could actually tell who had what services by what filters were missing. Any system that still has any premium content that is on channels below 100 still uses this technology, if you can still hook a TV to the cable w/o a digital box.

Now, with digital service, they can maintain this from the DAC (Motorola for Digital Access Controller), and set your box to allow through what channels you are paying for.

It is interesting that the digital signals that are multicast are still IP protocols.

MoneyMoMoney says:

Re: Re: But on the gripping hand, - followup

^— Quote from the linked article:
“Analysts believe that ISPs will be forced to place stringent caps on consumers’ internet use and raise prices to curb usage.”

Forced? What a crock…why don’t they get with the times and upgrade equipment! Raise prices to pay for the upgrades, not to curb usage! WTF is wrong with this picture.

Norman619 (profile) says:

Re: But on the gripping hand,

You are quite right. I used to work for Time Warner Cable and when we pushed out VOD(Video On Demand) we were slammed with calls from customers who were getting what pretty much was a busy signal. The VOD servers were not capable of serving the entrie customer base at once. We will see the same thing with the internet if it is abused in this way as it is today. The internet is already clogged as it is. Pushing video to it on a large scale as this would cripple it. Before we can do this there needs to be a mass upgrade of the internet hardware. It’s old equipment and we never intended to serve the amount of data we want it to serve.

Alex (user link) says:

Couch Potatoes

A fair point but (if you are talking about brpadcast TV) I’d add that the Tivo model for TV isn’t as mature outside of the US. In the UK for example the offerings (Sky Plus etc) are expensive and have low uptake and In emerging markets channels are the norm due to very reasonable technical issues.

I argue that there is a place for channel based TV though, the serendipitous discovery of other shows because they were on straight after the one we like for example. There are very different goals to lounging in front of a TV and in specifically downloading/watching the Tivo of your favorite show. I think broadcast TV is very different to online TV (I’d argue that online TV doesn’t exist. Offline is a browse model. Online is a direct video fulfillment model based on experience and peer recommendation) and I would arge that the channel concept in Joost et al. is not worth pursuing.

Dean Landolt (profile) says:

There's more to channels than scheduling...

Mike — you answered your own question…

“If people are no longer thinking in terms of channels, but in shows, does a la carte pricing make that much sense? If anything, a la carte channels may push people to move even more of their TV watching to the web…”

Great. So what’s wrong with this picture (other than further gov’t intervention in media)?

The options still aren’t *great* for watching internet video on your HD set, but they’ll get there (if we ever fix the broadband competition problem).

Oh — and there’s more to the channel concept than scheduling, or branding for that matter. After all, I got here via feed reader. That RSS feed? It’s a channel too. There are all kinds of great video RSS feeds — so even if you move your eyeballs to the web, given enough time, you’ll find eventually yourself channeling into a channel…

Channels are but one way of many ways to sort and filter content — when you find one you like, it saves thought cycles to find something after every EOF. Plus, they’re what we’re used to, so they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon!

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes we do

because TV channels are more than just a way to find your program. It’s a warm and fuzzy blanket the average TV viewing audience wraps around them.

Much like many computer related technologies. Of course we don’t really need them, but the average user wants them. Most couldn’t tell you why it’s just a matter of percieved comfort.

Anonymous Coward says:

We aren't rethinking enough

Why are still even thinking in terms of TV? I’ve long forgotton what “channels” are as the wire that comes into my house from the “cable-tv” company provides my broadband and phone. We don’t own a TV and don’t have a cable package with the service. Yet we still occassional say “let’s watch TV” when what we really mean is that we are going to watch a streaming video program on the computer with the screen turned toward the couch instead of the desk chair.

Anonymous Coward says:

Channels will never leave us

because channels like ESPN, live 24 hour news channels, and music channels will always be popular because live content in much less valuable on replay (think sports fan who prefers a live game, but once he knows the score isn’t nearly as interested) or even worthless (breaking news stories that are updated every 15 minutes) and sometimes the order matters and people prefer to have someone else pick the order for them.

On-demand TV though would have a huge market, especially for the shows that have very linear plots (24, Heroes, etc.) and if you miss one episode you no longer have any interest because you can’t catch up (which I got around by downloading entire seasons of different shows and justified to myself by saying I’ll start watching on air once I’m caught up)

Haywood says:

For my part, they could go now

I’ve converted to xvid/ avi tv viewing, and don’t really care when it is shown on a channel except to schedule my next download. I watch internationally, I have nearly as good a grasp of UK tv as someone who lives there. I no longer care when the season begins or ends. The only danger is the couch potato syndrome, I have a problem watching all the available shows and getting anything else done. I sacrifice nothing as I’m still viewing it on a large TV pumped from a media center PC.

RobW says:

TV Channels are very critical

Personally, I don’t watch make-believe shows on TV that most people Tivo (I grew out of them as a kid). I’m the kind of person who watches TV for news (forgive me, I live in New York, and thought something of the fact that when I popped on the TV – which, incidentally, boots a lot faster than most of today’s fastest computers, though in the 80’s the speed of computers were more comparable to TVs – the morning of september 11th 2001, the first thing I saw was the tower that was hit, then saw as it happenned the second tower being hit and the station I was watching (channel 7) immediately going off the air when it hit. I sat in disbelief. I don’t know if it’s possible that anything on the internet can ever have that kind of on-demand impact on a viewer, and anyting tivo’d — well it’s not news if you’re watching it tomorrow, even if it did interfere with your recording. Note: On TV the same thing goes like the Huge bridge collapse in minnesota (just a foodnote on the internet) or the mine collapses and subsequent debates over whether it was a real earthquake reading that caused a mine collapse or vice-versa. You just don’t get a lot of that on the internet yet, and may never.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: TV Channels are very critical

“I don’t know if it’s possible that anything on the internet can ever have that kind of on-demand impact on a viewer”

This is too funny. It sounds much like the historical statement “I don’t think anyone will ever need more than 640k of ram.” Ofcourse it will. In fact the PC is better suited for uses liek this than your TV which is just a dumb terminal.

RobW says:

Re: Re: TV Channels are very critical

This is too funny. It sounds much like the historical statement “I don’t think anyone will ever need more than 640k of ram.” Ofcourse it will. In fact the PC is better suited for uses liek this than your TV which is just a dumb terminal.

It’s a myth that anybody (including the person I know you’re attributing it to) ever seriously said “640k ought to be enough for everybody” or any derivative of that. I originally heard that quote in 1994, and believed it then (back when e-mail taglines were popular), but since then have done my homework and it was never spoken or written.

What does the fact that you _have_ to upgrade computers to make them work have to do with the fact that TVs are better?

OKVol says:

Re: Re: Re: Re3: TV Channels are very critical

Upgrading the Internet is like any other major infrastructure upgrade. No one wants to pay for it. Even worse, the international-mega-corps won’t invest unless there are short term gains. ROI within the quarter.

Then there is the layered approach. Your provider upgrades, but what if your content is somewhere else? What if you have to cross a third, fourth, or fifth in between? What about the trunk aggregation lines and capacity?

As you get faster at any given point in time, the equipment is more expensive.

One recent example of this is ESPN360 that had video available for only one ISP. It is dying because the rest of the world+dog can’t access it. But, that ISP could provide the bandwidth.

Only when the infrastructure corrodes and collapses of overload, and customers start leaving in droves, (i.e. AOL), will change occur.

One related issue with this is the current push to get ISPs to publish expected bandwidth available, not just the maximum. Sort of like drive times within LA, and how much longer it takes when it rains.

The Man says:

I think you geeks are the exception not the norm

I would like to see results of a phone (not computer) poll asking how many people watch TV shows on the Internet, or who are interested in watching tv on the internet. (real produced TV shows not crap on youtube, except for of course real TV shows placed either legally or illegally on youtube)I think the number would be low. I don’t know how many of you geeks on here work in the computer industry, but as someone who does, The last thing I want to do when I am off work is be on a computer. I don’t want to spend hours setting up a network in my house and streaming video to a video server and on and on. I do not even want to spend the extra money for TiVo. I will watch whatever happens to be on my sat provider if I have time to watch tv. If only crap is on, I will try to choose the less crappy thing on. I think that is how the majority of Americans want to watch TV.

Sanguine Dream says:

Re: I think you geeks are the exception not the no


I sit at a pc and phone all day long. The last thing I want to do is sit in front of my pc to watch shows. Mind you my pc is not really up to par to watch shows from it but I can safely say that even if it were I wouldn’t I do not want to be in front of a pc 24/7 no matter how much I like pcs. And besides if staring at a pc 24/7 became the norm think of the bad vision that would cripple the nation in about 20-30 years.

:( says:

Re: I think you geeks are the exception not the no

That is exactly why the majority of television sucks. You only spend those few hours setting up your network once. Then, you’ll be able to watch whatever you want whenever you want. Unfortunately, you’re too lazy to find out how easy it could be. It doesn’t take a geek to connect the square peg to the square hole.

RobW says:

Say what?

The proof is here: On internet sites like this, you’ll see sites arguing (as “news”) that the internet is where it’s at. TV stations don’t have news flashes or updates saying “TV is better than newspapers/magazines” or even “TV is better than the internet” for that matter. Only on the internet are people stupid enough to even talk about such things, and that’s because on the internet any idiot can write whatever they want (as evidenced here) and gullible fools will think that fool is in the majority. What people arguing for Intenet “over” TV are saying is that “Why listen to those people, on the internet you can hear me and I’m sooooo much more interesting.” Of course, internet reporters (unless they’re on a “real” newspaper/tv site) are just content generators that couldn’t get a job in a real media outlet.

Scritcher says:

Two types of channels

Something else to remember is that there are two distinct types of channels. Just as in retail there are specialty stores and department stores; in TV there are specialty channels as well as the traditional networks. The traditional networks offer variety at the expense of focus and vice-versa but as we have seen already in retail and TV the generalists are shrinking but in no danger of disappearing while the variety of individual specialists continues to grow. There will continue to be a place for both and I hope to see an increase in the abilities of all to engage in on-demand services. In fact it is on-demand programming that could very well enhance the traditional networks buisness model. By serving up a continuing variety of programming and permitting the customer to then make a focused choice of programming from it; then returning to the variety on order to find something new. With a model like this the consumer would be browsing the traditional channel for ideas then essentially create a “channel” of their own, then edit it or discard it to create a new one after a while.

Michael Long says:

Channels as type...

Once you get to cable the concept of a channel changes, primarily to define the “type” of show that will be seen there. Sports, science, history, arts, all have specific channels that make it easier to find the type of show or shows that you want to watch.

The issue with dealing directly with “shows”, obviously, is that I have to know I want to watch one. But how does one find new content?

That said, I’m seriously considering ditching my cable bill and using iTune’s Season Pass feature in it’s place. For $30 a month or so I can get a season pass to a series I want to see, with no commercials, and get to keep the show afterwards. After twelve months I’d be getting more than enough content to keep me busy.

bob says:

It's a realtime stream, not a channel.

I just think of a TV channel as a realtime stream that lets me record the content I want to watch. The content I really want to watch, or stuff that’s time sensitive gets watched as it streams. Stuff that’s not available on local streams (such as Dr Who or other brit shows) gets procured via alternate means. I’m certainly not going to wait for a show to be re-streamed on my half of the planet just to be nice.
If it turns out that my method of TV watching is hurting the current business model, then I think they need to figure out how to coerce me (or someone) into paying them for the content. I’d happily watch an un-cut show for a buck or two per episode, or watch one with commercials for free.

Mind you, I only watch TV this way because all of the TVs in my house have computers with remotes hooked up to them. I’m sure I’m in a very small minority when it comes to that.
I wouldn’t watch much at all via computer if I had to watch it on a monitor.

CND says:

Not everyone gets high-speed internet

So let’s not forget those of us who do NOT have it! We don’t even get mail delivery, much less have cable. Our internet access is through DSL – god help me if I had to watch video over that…..

It irks me how quick “techies” are to assume that everyone has (or even wants to have) everything delivered over the internet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not everyone gets high-speed internet

I hear you. I’ve been flamed on many a forum becuase I didn’t care for the online features of the orginal XBox. What they carefully danced around was the fact that I clearly stated that online play means nothing to me since I don’t have high speed net (which is required for XBox Live). And even now I’ve only had DSL in my area for about 1 1/2 yr.

It really does anger me when “tech savy” people claim to be in the know but then are too simple to realize that high speed does not exist everywhere yet.

John (profile) says:

What about watching European shows in the US

Here’s a good example: the show “Doctor Who”, which ran on the BBC (in England) from 1963 to 1989 and was carried on a US network for about 3 weeks in 1978 (if that long).
Some PBS stations show it, but I don’t know if they’re considered “network TV”.

The new series, which started in 2005, is shown by the Sci-Fi Channel here in the US… about 6 months to a year after it aired in England.

Using you-know-what services, I’m able to download the newest episode by midnight (about 5-6 hours after it aired) and watch it the next day. This certainly beats waiting six months for the episode to show up on the Sci-Fi Channel… or for it to never show up on network TV because it doesn’t fit the Friends/ Lost/ American Idol/ (name a reality show) mold that so many network viewers watch.

Ryan (user link) says:

Channels and the Long Tail

At the head of the tail, star-studded blockbuster programs will sell regardless of the channel or studio. In those cases, the content distributor acts more like an investor of stock on the public market. I don’t care or know which studio released Bourne Ultimatum, I just know I want to see it.

In the middle of the tail you have content that has been “blessed” by a brand or major network in the hopes that consumers will become aware of it. The channel is then of some importance, like a name-brand VC firm whose endorsement carries some weight in the public markets… but like a VC, a channel still has 1 in 10 odds that this type of content will be a home run. So they diversify their portfolio to manage risk and let the markets sort the rest out. Only 4M viewers on a major network on a Thursday night? Bad ROI, yank it. We need home runs here.

At the long end of the tail, the content won’t find you. The channel is irrelevant because it doesn’t exist. The YouTubes, Googles, and anyone else that can facilitate the easiest discovery of content (and draw a critical mass of content producers) will be the new channels. Still, that doesn’t these bottom-feeders are going to move upstream!

These dynamics will persist just as they persist in the financial markets. You need the seed investors looking for a person with a good idea, VC’s looking for a company with promising upside potential, and public markets looking for solid earnings. Content will always have a similar hierarchy.

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