Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Individualized TV? Cringley says look to 2015

For several years I have been telling news people and journalism educators who come to Newsplex that 2009 -- next February to be exact -- marks another tectonic shift in their business. When TV goes fully digital, it opens up potentially hundreds of high-speed digital channels that will turn us into a mobile-computing society.

The iPhone and its progeny are just the beginning, but any news organization without a developing mobile strategy is toast. Among other things, I expect this will flatten or otherwise significantly change the online usage curve we see at news sites where the peak happens during daytime office hours. (An example: You are driving home and suddenly get a craving for shrimp for dinner. You could flip open your mobile device and shop for the best prices and, once you got home, instead of firing up that desktop, flip open the mobile device and find a recipe. News/information organizations will find more pressure to be fast and continuous, even smaller local organizations.)

Now comes "Robert X. Cringley" of PBS's "I, Cringley" to rearrange my thinking even more by suggesting that about six years after the 2009 change, that big LCD screen you just bought will be the next epicenter of change -- and this one could put TV news types under the same kind of stress newspaper folks have been going through.

Simply put, Cringley argues that broadband capacity will grow at an exponential rate for the same basic price of $10 to $30 year: After staying for years at an average 1.5-megabit-per-second download speeds, broadband ISPs are moving to an average of 6 megabits per second in 2007-2008, 24 megabits per second in 2010-2012, and 100 megabits per second in 2014-2016.

At the same time, Cringley argues, U.S. broadcast TV technology has been pegged to the 1080p high-definition standard, and it will be difficult to change that for some time. Given the bandwidth needed to transmit a 1080p signal, combined with ever-lower costs for processors, and on the horizon is the potential for fully individualized TV:

Around 2015 is the time when the cost of sending a separate 1080p video signal to every Internet-connected viewer -- or POTENTIAL VIEWER -- will be the same as using a broadcast model and sending that signal through the air. After 2015 there will be no scaling limits, no processing limits, no decoding limits. And since individual video streams mean individual commercials with a requisite CPM (cost per thousand) bump of up to 10X, commercial television as we know it will die, replaced by consumers choosing from a menu or recommendation engine what they want to see when they want to see it. ...

Commercial stations will repurpose their bandwidth for alternate wireless services, eventually shutting down their digital transmitters completely. And PBS, which can't create a marketplace all by itself, will follow.
A fascinating bit of analysis. Agree or not, it's worth pondering. And it adds another thing to think about as we train broadcast journalists -- such as whether "broadcast" is even worth considering anymore.

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