Monday, April 14, 2008

No television left behind

When I worked in public television over 10 years ago, we talked a lot about the coming of Digital Broadcasting. We capitalized it , made every decision based on it. We hardly noticed the Internet at all, except that Meeting Manager did make getting a conference room much easier.

At that time, the magic date was 2006, when the government was telling broadcasters and manufacturers they must be prepared to give up their airspace (that is sell in order to purchase something called band....width... oh these modr'n kids). Also at that time, television manufacturers replied with, well, good luck with that, US government, because we don't have the first idea how to make a digital TV, and we are Japanese, so you are not the boss of us. Sony, never to forget Betamax technology, said they would not be leading the charge on this one, thanks.

In public television, we were accustomed to government rules -- of the "grant-funding" kind, even though Sesame Street licensing is a $22M enterprise -- and we loved the idea of being on the cutting edge of anything. Remember that public broadcasting still considers a bank of telephones and some whiteboards riveting television and a viable fundraiser. When I asked our then VP of new technology what the urgency was on the part of the FCC, he said, without apology, "to make money." I admired his honesty. He is also the television executive who taught me the "follow the porn" theory of technology.

I am no early adopter, for sure. "WebTV?" I said, face a puckered mass, "Who wants their TV and their computer in the same room?" I was unable to follow the obvious developmental step that computers would continue to get smaller. Now I ride any free signal I can get --on the trunk of my car if that's what it takes -- and I can't go twenty feet from my house without my iPod.

So I admit I was behind the curve. I have to add, though, that the television industry missed a step as well, in allowing programming to become completely ridiculous before we late-adopters had already invested in converter boxes and flat screens. TV people, you have overestimated my need to see "So you think you can _______" in "hi-def." You and I both know that the 2-hour Home Improvement segment on Nick will not get any better. You will not really use the multi-layer data features of digital bandwidth for "multicasting." You will air more advertising in there. You will follow the porn.

This is a pretty good FAQ list put together by the FCC, missing the most F A Q: Whose big fat idea was this anyway? But notice how they manage to equate this "transforming" technology with the War on terror:

Because public safety and emergency services have become even more important today, Congress established a “hard” DTV transition deadline that requires all full-power television stations to cease analog broadcasts after February 17, 2009.

You, grandpa, are not only a bad citizen and patriot if you grumble about the need for digital television, you let the terrorists win.

Converting to DTV will free up parts (“bands”) of the scarce and valuable broadcast spectrum, allowing these bands to be used for public safety and emergency services, such as police, fire and medical services, and new wireless services, such as wireless broadband.

Or... you could have just given them the digital bands.

The FCC explains for you what you gotta do to get on the bandwagon. Did the TVA send such a pamphlet around to explain to the good people of Tennessee how to prepare for the advent of electricity? (turns out... boy, did they ever)

Making a seamless switch to Grey's Anatomy, Season 5 is not top of my list of must-do. I am surprised by that -- I who taped every episode of Northern Exposure, Mad About You, Ally McBeal, when I didn't even have cable service. Horribly static, unwatchable VHS, but I was so terrified that I would not be able to watch them again "in the future."

I got bigger decisions to make, like my Presidential choice and my refinancing options. And what to put in position 1 in the Netflix queue.

1 comment:

  1. Hey - my PBS station has an interactive white board...



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