Future of Television?

I have been happily using MythTV for over a year now to record TV shows, movies, and pause live TV. In truth, I probably watch less TV now, both in shows as well as by cutting out commercials, than I did before MythTV. However, the ability to pick and choose what I want to watch when I want to watch it has been completely lifestyle changing. By not rushing to the TV to catch a show I want to watch I end up doing other projects and reading when I feel like it and only watching TV when I really feel the need to "veg out".

However, running MythTV hasn't been without its troubles. I have dealt with various upgrade problems, full hard drive, strange crashes and even a mis-configured password file that allowed some 'nasty type' to replace my Good Eats with Sesame Street. While I have nothing against Sesame Street, and did enjoy it back in the day, I do miss the Good Eats I had queued up to watch.

These bugs, as well as a failure to schedule, or even scheduling conflicts between multiple shows, has caused me to miss recordings I would have liked to make. Therefore, I become greatly interested in the How-To written Phil Torrone on Broadcatching.

Broadcatching is, essentially, sharing recorded video over the internet. However, the mechanism has been greatly polished up to use RSS feeds and an automated BitTorrent program to allow users to create search lists and continually grab videos/shows they are interested in. There is a veritable plethora of people, hobbyists, out there that take great pride in creating and making available television shows and movies of high-quality for sharing over the internet. The result is that nearly any show and movie, within hours of being shown on television (or pre-release, in some cinema movies case), is available online via this mechanism.

I am not sure of the legality of sharing these files, but I see a fine and hazy difference between recording these shows on my own hardware/software setup and downloading these shows via someone else's hardware setup. Am I cheating my local cable company by not watching *their* feed? I don't feel bad about it and would make a strong case that it shouldn't be illegal even if it is.

In the end, this sharing is happening, and based on how effective the MPAA, RIAA, and other entities have been in fighting this sharing, I doubt it will go away anytime soon. Therefore, I believe the video industry has an excellent chance to embrace these technologies to broaden their market reach and customer interest.

What I imagine is this: Television shows are distributed by the media industry at the same time it is aired on broadcast or cable/satellite television. It would even a good idea to distribute shows that a provider doesn't want to spend airtime on, or wants to broaden the viewing scope outside of the normal show time.

The released videos aren't just the basic recording of the television show however. An obvious problem with hobbyists distributing shows is that they have probably removed the commercial content. Furthermore, given the choice, a customer would probably choose a commercial-free recording over a still commercial filled recording. Therefore, the original media distributor would release 'enhanced recordings'.

An 'enhanced recording' would contain additional information about the show, links to products shown in the video, actor/direction biographical information, links to similar programs, and educational content (e.g. "Click here to learn more about DNA fingerprinting.") Amazon.com already does a similar technique with their "Amazon films". These films are short films which contain various, subtle, product placements. While watching the short film, viewers are presented with links to purchase the cellphones, mp3 players, cars, or clothing shown in the video.

The idea of the 'enhanced recording' is to provide added interest to the customer for downloading and viewing these 'official' distributed copies over the hobbyist released versions. Furthermore, watching television moves from a purely receptive medium to an interactive one. Viewers can still choose to just sit back and watch their show, or they can learn more about the show, its contents, and similar shows produced by the media company.

More and more Personal Media Players (PMP) are being released on the market. These media players allow users to view video and audio anywhere they want. The enhanced video would could include basic additional content for these users to download and view while on the go, or the user could bookmark a portion of the video or link to later view and download.

The current means of television and movie watching stop interacting with the consumer when the credits begin to roll. Advertisers and the media producers have to make their pitch and money within the timeslot of the show. By including links and information with the video itself, consumers are still engaged in the show and more interested and willing. DVD editions of television shows and movies do a similar thing. I often find myself digging around a DVD immediatly after watching the show since my mind is still engaged and interested in the show. I want to know more now. How often have you popped a DVD into you player just to read the actor bios or other movie previews?

Again, television show distribution is another battle in which current media conglomerates are skeptical to embrace and lead the future. However, there are options for them to create truly great content, available to users how they want to receive, and still make boat-loads of money in the end.

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About the Author

Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.