Evolution makes the old archaic and the new essential. It has done it with land lines and cell phones. It has done it with atlases and GPS. It has done it with physical music and iPods. People want their technology to do more, cost less and take up practically no space. This isn’t a new concept: A guy (Gordon E. Moore) proposed an idea (Moore’s Law) stating exactly that 45 years ago, and the trend is true to this day.
Look at what was considered high-tech a decade ago: getting music from Napster and using America Online for your Internet needs. Now, you can fit tens of thousands of songs in your pocket, watch TV on the Internet, find and read reviews of restaurants in your vicinity from your phone, watch TV on the Internet… OK, I’ll just come out and say it—you can cancel your Cablevision subscription. You don’t need it.
First there was the battle with Scripps over the Food Network and HGTV. Now it’s ABC that’s on the chopping block. A deal could be in place by the time you read this. A deal may never be in place. But that doesn’t matter—all those episodes of Iron Chef and Everyday Italian and My First Place you missed? You could have watched every single one of them on the Internet, at your leisure, for zero dollars.
Now I am in no way advocating cutting off your Optimum Online subscription—you need the Internet to get to these shows. Besides that, Optimum Online is a pretty decent Internet service provider. They offer a package with 100 MEGABYTES PER SECOND downstream. That’s an entire music album in one second or a 30-minute TV show in less than four. You want that. But these tiered cable packages that are strategically organized so the five channels you actually want are each in a different level? You don’t want that.
Do a Google search for “TV shows online” and you’ll get 134,000,000 results, twice as many as “Barack Obama” spits out. Many are illegal, but some are legal. And the legal ones are fantastic.
Every single major network has a robust website where you can watch nearly any episode of nearly any show it airs. No “I have to be home by 7:45 so I can get settled before House starts at 8.” There are commercials, maybe a minute long at the most. You’ll get through an hour-long show in 42 minutes. Let’s call this the strip-mall approach.
There’s the Wal-Mart of online TV—Hulu. The site was started in 2007 by NBC and Fox, with later backing from ABC, as a place to watch shows from almost any channel. It’s got the same set-up as each network’s individual site, but in one place. The selection isn’t always the greatest: Maybe it only has the five most recent episodes of Lost, and you really want to see one from last season—you don’t go to Hulu. Maybe you want a special type of deodorant—you don’t go to Wal-Mart.
But here’s the best part—you don’t have to be in front of a computer to do any of this. There’s an array of products designed with the sole purpose of bringing Internet content to a television. Media Center PCs—smaller computers (thanks, Mr. Moore) meant to have a TV used as their monitor. Apple TV—Steve Jobs’ foray into living rooms, capable of taking anything from iTunes or a host of popular content sites like YouTube (starting to dabble in movie streaming) and throwing it onto a TV. The (upcoming) Boxee Box—a small, well, box that connects directly to the ’net and your TV and basically usurps the crown your cable box had. Maybe this is the QVC or Home Shopping Network approach. The point is, there are options. Real, legitimate, options.
Maybe you’re reading all this and thinking, “Way too confusing.” That’s fair. But think back to when Napster and AOL were a big deal and think about what the average person has learned since then. How to send an e-mail. How to navigate Web pages. These are things that scared the hell out of people because of their initial complexity. Now? My 6-year-old niece knows how to use Google.
If you’re happy with Cablevision and happy paying money to not have to think about how you watch TV, I can understand that. But don’t be duped into thinking there’s no other way to see who Jake picks on The Bachelor, because there is. Maybe on the fringe, for now, but not for long.
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And then there’s Twitter. Why even watch any TV at all? Just follow the Trending Topics and odds are they’ll tell you everything that happened on the tube the night before. I’ve had American Idol and Lost spoiled and I wasn’t even looking for that stuff!