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Is the TV Channel Dead?

This morning Techdirt posed an interesting question: is there any need for the concept of a TV channel anymore? With the rise of TiVo, which allows users to watch time-shifted content on their schedule, downloading, which lets people download television shows (not always legally) whenever they want, and now IPTV (like Joost), the traditional channel model may be falling by the wayside.

As Techdirt notes, the idea that the channel is an outmoded format is gaining steam, “especially in the UK, where some are wondering why they should wait many months for American TV shows to show up on UK TV when they can (or will soon be able to) simply watch the shows online at the same time everyone else can.”

During an OSX vs. Vista debate on the ScobleShow last January, there was an interesting tangent in which the participants, particularly Fred Davis and Jeremy Toeman, debated the merits of IPTV vs. the traditional broadcast model.

I’ve long envisioned a future television landscape where shows are “released” at a certain date (akin to air times on the current set up), but people could stream them whenever they want, paying a la carte for only the shows they want to watch — perhaps subscribing to an entire season for a reduced fee. Unfortunately, the infrastructure for such a future simply does not exist yet.

According to Toeman, the current broadcast infrastructure is set up to support all 110,000,000 households in the US watching the same content at once, in real-time. But for if every individual wanted to have different content streamed to them on their own schedule, there’s nothing in place that can support that.

“Let‚Äôs say that at any given time, all 110MM households want to watch a recent episode of a show (say, last week‚Äôs Heroes). Best method possible? Give them all DVRs, use the broadcast pipe to get it to the house, let them watch it time-shifted however they‚Äôd like.

But now let‚Äôs say that all 110MM households want to watch radically different content, such as the episode of The Facts of Life where Blair learns a very important lesson, or that very special Blossom. Then, having access to a personalized, on-demand IP network is ideal. It‚Äôs costly to build, costly to maintain, and time-consuming to construct (not to mention dealing with the graphical user interface complexities), but it‚Äôs the right model.”

The technical specifics are probably a bit over my head (and I’m not totally sure on demand has to be done over IP), but as last100 reported earlier today, ISPs are seething over IPTV projects like the BBC’s iPlayer in the UK. Their networks simply can’t support the strain.

That said, I think the answer to the Techdirt question is that yes, the notion of a TV channel is a dying. It’s certainly not dead yet, but the increasing popularity of web video and the “on demand” nature of the Internet will force television networks to begin rethinking their delivery methods and eventually upgrade their networks to be able to handle completely on demand services.

What do you think? Is the the concept of a TV channel going out the window? What do you think the future of TV will look like?

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