Social media to remove the need for linear programming

By July 31, 2007 8 Comments

Back in November when I wrote that Internet TV will mean the end for channels I could see clearly (in my own mind at least…) that arranging linear schedules of TV programmes was an accident of history – a product of the limited available spectrum for distributing video content and the high cost of local storage and processing.  Moreover channels add a layer of inefficiency to the business of finding programmes to watch that we could all do without – surfing through channels (the average US consumer now has 102 – remember Bruce Springstein….), remembering what time something is on, buying a machine to record it, etc. etc.

Making this kind of observation is all very well, but to predict the end of something you need to have a view on what will replace it and how the change will happen.  The ‘what will replace it’ bit is easy – picture an iTunes style interface with playlists recommended by your friends and favourite pundits will link you to websites where you can download or stream the music.  I’m guessing downloads to start with followed by streaming as high bandwidth networks become ubiquitous.

The ‘how it will happen’ is harder, and it wasn’t until last week when I was talking with IPTV startup Inuk that I started to get a picture of this.

Despite the inefficiencies I mentioned above (and in more detail in my previous post) people are pretty happy with the way TV works.  TV is a mature product and millions of people watch it – hours and hours of it in fact.  So any change isn’t going to be quick, and it isn’t going to be revolutionary.  Rather it needs to start with the existing paradigm of linear programming and move people in incremental steps to the new world.

The evolution I am glimpsing starts with people watching existing TV channels via a signal that comes through their computer.  The first step could be a presence application that lets you see which of your friends are watching the same programme.  Then comes chat.  Then comes friends putting links to new programmes in the IM window, or links to playlists they have enjoyed.

By this point the first place that people will go looking for inspiration when they want to watch TV is in the links and playlists their friends have provided, and at that point the demand for linear programming could start to drop off quickly.  The exception to this might be people who have the TV on all day as background – but in this case too I suspect clicking on a long playlist will produce a better experience than watching say BBC1, and with minimal extra effort.

There are lots of building blocks that need to be in place for this to work and lots of places you can go with recommendations (including the obvious but this is how I see the world ending up.

As a parting shot – one of the more important building blocks and one where I have yet to see a full answer is the next generation EPG.  The interface will need to be significantly more complicated than today and current remote controls may not cut it.  All thoughts here welcome.