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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Cablevision’s remote DVR: harbinger of the everything-on-demand future?

It’s been my dream for ages: everything online. Old TV shows, every movie ever made, everything on demand all time. I don’t want to flip over to Turner Classic Movies and watch whatever old movie it’s deigning to air at that moment — I want to tune my Internet-ready HDTV to TCM’s Web site and stream any movie in its catalogue whenever I want. I want to surf that TV over to the BBC’s Web site and watch any episode of Doctor Who or Blake’s 7 or Starcops at 3am.

We got a teeny weeny bit closer to that day yesterday, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge by a slew of media companies to a new plan by cable company Cablevision to offer remote DVR — that is, instead of needing a special DVR cable box to record shows, Cablevision would store your recorded shows on its own servers and you would just watch them remotely. By refusing to even consider overturning a lower-court ruling that put a legal stamp of approval on Cablevision’s idea, the Supreme Court said it’s okay for the plan to go ahead.
It’s not quite streaming absolutely anything you want whenever you want, but it’s a step in the right direction. And it will show even TV viewers who never could bother to learn how to program a VCR how much more fun it is to watch what you want when you want.

(Two steps forward, one step back: Hulu, which had been allowing PlayStation 3 owners to watch online video on their TVs through the game console, suddenly reversed itself and blocked streaming through that platform. Doh!)

Watching some folks try to cling to the dying TV paradigm is pretty entertaining in itself. From the Los Angeles Times story on the Supreme Court knockdown:

“Without a linear lineup, people would not know how to find the best content to watch on demand,” said Dan Brenner, a partner at law firm Hogan & Hartson and a former head of regulatory and legal affairs for the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. Prime time “would remain a way to create marquee content.”

Spoken like someone who does not get it, at all. Are shows scheduled for prime-time automatically the “best content”? Isn’t “prime time” more about the hours when the most people are sitting down in front of the TV looking for something to watch? Till recently, that meant audiences were mostly captive to what the networks were airing then, but with remote DVR making it easy for even the least technologically minded to time-shift, isn’t it all about the change?

Cablevision’s remote DVR: harbinger of the everything-on-demand future?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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  • It’s kind of interesting how some folks can in one breath rejoice as a single cable company takes a tiny step toward giving people what they want, and in another condemn the actions of those who have forced them to do so.

  • Oliver

    Sounds like a good idea

  • I think you’re dead on with your assessment of where it’s going, everything being on-demand. And I think once we get there, we’ll look back and wonder how the hell we ever survived before that was available. Our kids and grandkids will look on stories of how TV is today the way kids today look on stores of three channels and no remote control.

  • misterb

    When content is free, context becomes more important.
    People need hints to know whether what they are watching is any good – MAJ can supply those hints for some of us, but many of the people who watch CSI watch it because they’ve been trained to appreciate it by CBS. Perhaps not consciously (they didn’t take CSI Appreciation in night school), but the medium is the message.
    I think you might be surprised at how slowly the networks die.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I think that what Mr. Brenner means is that prime time TV can remain a showcase of new programming. Broadcasting, and its self-advertising, will still be a “catalog,” so to speak, for new shows, and I think that will be the case for a long time to come. And yes, to some extent at least, viewers will take cues from broadcasters on what’s worth watching. A “real” show from a broadcaster will remain afloat atop the sea of amateur and low-budget drek on the internet. Even if the broadcaster’s show is also drek, it will be big-budget, glossy drek.

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