An Exciting Field In A Historic Moment
My three year old boy doesn’t understand the concept of broadcast television.
I fully admit to being a technophile by hobby as well as trade, and so my house is filled with the latest in digital distribution devices: every television receiver has a DVR, and half of those have Internet video streaming devices like the Roku or Playstation 3, and they relay Hulu Plus and Netflix and Amazon on Demand in HD. I have Blu-ray players and DVD players and the digital movies stored on my iPhone and computer hard drives can fly between devices over my wifi network. Every desktop and laptop has immediate access to an Internet full of streaming media, and my main HDTV can now stream video directly off any number of these services with its own internal apps. And as of last week, even my iPhone has a client for Hulu Plus and Netflix video that means I can stream almost anything over 3G for the children in the back seat of my car while driving down I-80.
So, perhaps it is no surprise when my boy points to a laptop and asks, “Caillou?” He assumes its there for the watching at his whim.
And he’s right. It is. If I were to say, “Caillou doesn’t start for an hour, son” he would just blink at me absently and wonder what I was talking about.
Now, think about that. These children, at the youngest age, have already rejected the traditional concept of broadcast television, and, more importantly, have already fully embraced the future of content delivery over the Internet.
Now think what long term effect that will have on our communications systems.
Nine years ago when I bought my first TiVo, my friends and family looked at it dumbly and asked me, what’s the point? Isn’t it just an expensive video recorder? You aren’t getting it, I said. This little machine changes television into an experience that you fully control. You can now watch anything you want at any time, no longer bound to the scheduling fancies of the network executives and the little interruptions that always made you miss critical moments.
My retired 75 year old parents just got their first DVR, and I think that pretty much means the entire western civilization has finally figured this out. In fact, Comcast just released a survey that showed 62% of Americans regularly use “time-shifting technology” (which means watching TV at something other than the broadcast schedule in real time).
But I submit to you, DVR was just a stepping stone, a gateway drug, if you will. All it did is whet the appetite for people to have control over their media and informational consumption.
Now we have pay-TV providing shows on demand over their own Internet portals. We have devices relaying broadcast quality HD through the Internet to large screen HD televisions. We have TV On Demand on both the cable and the Internet. People are getting used to consuming their own content on their own schedule, and the Internet is making it possible.
This summer I will be attending the annual US Telecom Research Summit in Washington DC, a gathering of telecommunication carriers for the purpose of sharing data on the direction the industry is going. This year, two-thirds of the presentations are about “Over-the-Top” video (OTT). Two years ago, OTT meant YouTube and thumbnail sized video talks over Skype. Today, it means HBO and Comedy Central and CNN and primetime shows off of CBS/ABC/FOX/NBC and pre-released Hollywood films, and, well, everything else you have ever watched on your TV or online.
What does this all mean? It means that the boundaries between the Internet and TV and movies are disappearing, new demands have arisen that can only be satisfied by data networks. It means that some day in the very near future you will sit down before your TV and have the entire history of film and television at your fingertips for you to pick through.
It also means that, as data and broadcast converge, that desktop boxes will converge as well. Just as the iPad and smartphones have made the first real chink in the armor of the desktop PC and laptop, the drive to centralize broadcast and data will stretch into Internet enabled devices that do all of these things.
Already technology exists that allows a set top console to not only see you walk into the room, but to recognize you and welcome you, and understand you when you talk to it (“Computer on!” is finally reality, folks). It can access, via Internet, an endless supply of new and old TV, movies, news, magazines, web sites, messaging clients and video phones, and just about anything else that can be done on a desktop computer.
Just imagine what we will do with this convergence of information technology in the coming decade, and then imagine what will happen in the next when our children, who will grow up consuming any media or informational content ever created on demand, start developing their own vision of the future.
The common denominator in all of these scenarios is the Internet. Internet on phones, on computers, on TVs, in cars, in planes… Internet everywhere. The Internet is not only the largest and most capable communications infrastructure ever created by man, but we have only begun to experiment with the totality of its potential.
I work in an exciting field in a historic moment, and the best part of my job is keeping XMission a step ahead of the future. XMission remains committed to providing the Internet in all its forms for all of its uses to all of our subscribers, and its thrilling to see where that commitment may take us.
(Warren Woodward has developed and managed many of XMission’s residential broadband services on DSL and fiber for over 10 years, including data, VoIP and IPTV.)