Why TV As We Know It Is Doomed

old televisionGrowing up in Queens we had seven TV channels to watch. In the general scheme of things the Fox family had it good. Most folks could only get three or four. Some got fewer.

In the early 50s the world came to a halt when Milton Berle was on. If you didn’t watch Uncle Miltie Tuesday at 8:00 PM, you were out of luck!

Dependence on schedule began to change with the VCR in the late 70s. Enter time shifting, plus you could buy or rent a cassette and watch on-demand.

There was an impact on TV, but not much. VCR technology was good, not great. Programming a VCR complex, as Billy Crystal demonstrated in City Slickers.

DVRs changed that. Schedules began to lose importance. Even live TV could be paused.

Viewers liked and embraced DVRs. Schedules were inconvenient. Video on demand was what they wanted, even if they couldn’t always verbalize that desire.

According to Nielsen, 50.3 million of the nation’s 114.2 million homes with a television have a DVR — nearly half of all homes with a TV set. Although DVR penetration is starting to slow, people are using the devices more. CBS research indicates DVR usage has grown 6% this television season compared with the same period last season. – rbr.com November 2012

In my mind there was always a roadblock preventing us from moving beyond the DVR–bandwidth.

One broadcast station can serve thousands or even millions of consumers. Random access, video-on-demand requires a full individual stream for each screen.

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe there would be enough bandwidth to support this profligate streaming. I don’t feel that way anymore!

It’s true all the major Internet providers have imposed or are considering imposing caps, limiting how much bandwidth you can consume. But a funny thing has happened in the last year. Their grousing has quieted.

Yes, Internet providers want to charge for bandwidth, the way the electric company charges for kilowatt hours. But I no longer hear anyone talking about bandwidth shortages, even as bandwidth skyrockets.

When you can watch any show. any time on any device, will you still need traditional television? Going forward, why will we need any network, cable or broadcast? TV stations are expensive relics with huge institutionalized overhead. That’s not a formula for continued success

They’ve already reacted to reduced audiences by upping their spot load–carrying more commercials per hour. Against on-demand content that seems like a fool’s errand. Unless their business model changes radically, TV is doomed. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

Back in 1999 this Qwest commercial probably made no sense. It’s actually a prediction of the reality I’ve just written about.

I love TV. I will be sad to see it go.