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Why internet TV will mean the end for channels

By November 22, 2006 11 Comments


This is a second follow up post to Internet TV – the end of the world as we know it.  In the original post I argued that the internet might be more disruptive to TV than people realised, in the first follow up post I gave more detail on why IMHO there is no future for set top boxes.  This one explains in more detail why I think TV channels as we know them will also disappear.

This area is a little less clear cut than set top boxes – so what I say here is more provisional.  I should also thank Tony Hart of PacketVision who has helped me in my thinking.

My starting point is the Long Tail argument that channels only came into existence because distribution has been the limited resource.  When TV started and there was only one signal the choice was to either broadcast the same programme over and over or broadcast a schedule of different programmes – hence the TV channel was born.

In a future world where we receive our TV via the internet there will be no limits to distribution so the need for channels disappears.

There are plenty of things that exist in the world even though there is no need for them.  The reason I think channels will disappear is that they bring several disadvantages:

  1. They tie you to a schedule – so called ‘appointment TV’.  If you want to watch a programme you need to be there when it is on, or invest in a system that allows you to time-shift.
  2. Channels are arbitrary bundles which end up being more expensive than they should be at – £50 a month my Sky subscription feels like it is more than I would pay for the individual shows I watch
  3. Channels need to appeal to large populations making it impossible for individuals to get customised experiences.
  4. They create an extra layer which complicates the process of finding the programmes you want and is wasteful.  You need to know what channel your programme is on then scan the listings to find when it is showing.  Channels need to market themselves as well as their programmes – this adds no value.

In place of channels people will go to websites where they can view their favourite shows directly.  To watch Lost you would go to the Lost site and simply start watching a stream.  You find the website via search, via someone sending you a link, or maybe by typing in a URL if you have seen an ad for the show.  You will either pay to watch or suffer some ads in the stream.

Getting the interface right so the non-technical find it easy and the TV can be controlled from the sofa in ‘sit back’ mode is critical to this.  If we are talking about downloading programmes then digital rights management issues will need to be solved.  This may not be a problem with streamed content???

Channels have one huge advantage – they make decisions for people about what they are going to watch.  Not for me.  I can’t remember the last time I watched something that wasn’t saved on my Sky+, but a lot of people turn the TV on and watch what is there.  Related is the fact that in some houses the TV is permanently on, in the background. 

I think this will change.  Channels are a blunt instrument for suggesting which programmes you might like to watch.  Better would be a combination of preference engines, collaborative filters and recommended lists from people you trust.  So I might turn on my TV and see that my collaborative filter suggests I watch highlights from the Ryder Cup that my golfing buddy also watched, or maybe recommended, alternatively I might feel like a film and check out a list that Johnny Vaughan is recommending.  A preference engine that I pre-programmed on my PC would make these options easily available on my TV via a traditional remote control.

Taking this scenario to the next level, celebrities like Judy and Richard might recommend an entire day’s worth of programmes and organise an interface that allowed you to start a 24 hour stream with a single click.

This gives all the benefits of a channel, but is different.  What I am describing here is a TV recommendation service that you might subscribe to.  One option might be a 24*7 stream that looks like today’s channels, but that would only be one option.

The reason I am a little equivocal with this prediction is that I’m talking about a big change in behaviour, which is a dangerous game.