Friday, May 20, 2011

Watching TV Without The TV

When Does One-Way, Big Appliance TV Go Extinct?

Some people are wondering whether TV sales are now at a tipping point, stalled in growth and maybe even on a decline that is likely to continue.  Is this the beginning of the end of television as we know it?  Is television, like the landline home phone, a dedicated appliance that increasingly seems out of step with the way we live?

The theory is that younger people are spending more of their “screen” time on the Internet on their laptops, iPads, and smartphones.  Some of that time is spent doing non-TV things like playing Angry Birds, web surfing, using Skype and FaceTime, and of course listening to music.  But some of that time is spent watching TV or similar content. 

Similar content? What are people watching on computers and mobile devices?  What do they want to watch?  What’s the mix of traditional 30-60 minute programming versus short clips popular on YouTube and similar video services?  And what about content that splits the difference, sometimes called “webisodes?”  One example is the Internet series The Guild that pokes fun at online gamers in a 5-minute sitcom format, but which is distributed on the web.  Similar in length and access, hip informational video podcasts like and inspiring talks from the TED conferences are drawing an audience.

Are people moving away from the lean-back 30-60 minute content of their father's generation and moving towards the lean-forward YouTube and webisode content?  Do enough people want 30-minute sitcoms on their computer to make it a worthwhile business?  Hulu thinks they might.  Does anyone want The Guild on their 50” television?  Roku and Boxee are betting they do.

So today’s question is how is TV changing for you and the people around you?  Are you part of the “dropped my landline phone, never buying a TV again” set?  Were you never a television watcher?  Are you an avid TV watcher waiting to buy an 80” 4D Hyper HDTV when they drop below $10,000?

Tell us about your “view” of the changing television landscape.  Please post your comments here.



  1. I don't think big screen HDTVs or 30-60 minute programming will go away anytime soon, but I do think we will continue to have more options for receiving this content. As more devices, big-screen TVs included, accept content directly from places like Hulu and Amazon video, I think the demand for traditional cable or satellite TV providers will decrease. But it won't disappear.

    In my house, we have not hand a landline phone since 2002, and we have not subscribed to cable TV service since the airways went digital 2 years ago. We did upgrade our TV to an Internet-ready 50" LCD. I'm not familiar with Roku, but I think our TV can natively do what a Roku box does (we have Pandora, Amazon video, Hulu Plus, etc on the TV). We also have a PS3 that we've never used for gaming. It's our blue-ray player and the client for our TVersity server which we use to stream the free content from hulu.

    One thing we did miss was live sports, which is not often aired on the non-cable channels. We now subscribe to In addition to watching it on the computer, there is a PS3 app that lets us stream the games to our TV. However, it won't always let you watch local games live, so we pay a small monthly fee for a proxy service.

    While this all works well for us, it can also be a pain to jump through all of those hoops just to watch what we would be able to get by subscribing to a cable or satellite TV provider. In my experience, the learning curve for some of the new technology is too steep right now. For example, sending some of our traffic halfway across the country so we can watch local sports seems a bit ridiculous. But I do love being able to launch the Amazon video app right on the TV to buy or rent a movie without leaving home.

    The beauty of receiving content via the Internet is that you can watch it on any device. I just think one of those devices will continue to be large TVs.

    And after saying all that, here's the reason why I don't think cable TV service will disappear in the near future, even if all TVs become Internet-ready: I helped my grandmother switch from dial-up to DSL 8 or so years ago. Despite telling her otherwise every time I'm at her house, she still launches AOL to "connect to the Internet."

  2. Do you think there are some specific things that TV makers or Roku or Boxee or Apple(TV) could do to take away the hurdles you mention?

  3. The more I sit here and think about it, the more I realize that most of my frustration would probably go away if we paid more money for the content. I live with someone who doesn't want to pay for something he can do himself, so we end up with things like TVersity to stream free content instead of just paying for Hulu Plus to get it directly on the TV.

    One thing I've found that is a little frustrating is that I can't get all content from one place. Hulu provides most of the shows I watch, but not everything. There are some shows you can only get live (Oprah, American Idol), and there are some shows you can only get from the networks' websites (like Undercover Boss is on, but not on Hulu). I haven't spent much time trying to find other ways to access these things, but it wasn't obvious on my first try. And then there are sports which have their own applications. So even if you're willing to spend the money, you have to remember/figure out where to get which content. One thing that would be really neat is an application that simply works like a directory. It would allow you to search for what you wanted to watch, and then link to the appropriate application or content provider to get it. Of course, that doesn't help with the shows that are only live. So it could also tie in to a DVR. You would program it to record the things that are not available for on-demand streaming, and link to the content of the things that are.

    After writing this, I remembered reading something about Tivo adding some on-demand service a while back. I just visited their website and see "The TiVo® Premiere DVR, the world’s first Smart DVR, brings the best entertainment from cable and the web together in one place, with one easy-to-use remote, one simple search across everything, for one truly Brilliant TV experience." It seems to combine the Roku capabilities with a DVR. I wonder how good their search is. Still need a cable subscription for some of the sports channels, probably.

  4. As far as your "remember/figure out where", GoogleTV was an attempt to handle the search part of what you describe. You say what you want to watch, they figure out if they can fetch it for you based on the services you have access to. But like other recent Google projects, it seems to suffer from uneven implementation and UI. Plus high price of the appliance.

    TiVo is an interesting company, and in particular their UI is unbeatable in my view. If they can't make it on their own, I wish they'd be able to license their technology (UI and remote design) to the big providers like Comcast and Cablevision and V-FiOS. My impression is that the big cable providers aren't interested, but boy do their interfaces suffer by comparison.

  5. hmmm, OK, I'm still a landline and i refuse to use a cell phone, I like not being 'connected' 24/7/365. My 2 tv's are old Sony's, the biggest is 19" and I don't actually watch it so much as listen to it in the background when i'm working. The little 9" one is what i watch, but then my nose is about 18 inches away, so it's a 'big screen'. I don't pay for TV, but i LOVE iTunes and my iPod. I'll buy or rent movies, TV shows, load em to my iPod and play them on the little TV. Granted, iTunes doesn't have all my favorites, like 'Big Bang Theory', but hopefully in the future. What do I want.i want simple and easy and not too expensive so right now though iTunes doesn't have everything I want, it's close. And $2.00 to have a tv program sans commercials, political ads, the latest info on Brad and Jolina, who killed who, who invaded who, who's pissed at who, and some idiot weatherman telling me a thunderstorm is 200 miles away and then interupting my viewing is worth the cost. I want easy access to all programing and movies, at a low cost, from one location, simple to use. But then i'm old and cranky. Hugs my iMac, gives my iPod a kiss and heads off to watch a movie from iTunes on my little old, but fully functional, TV.