Friday, March 23, 2007

Somebody Adjust the "Vert. Hld."

Interesting that one of the more insightful and farsighted things I've read about the future of online entertainment comes from someone pretending to be Steve Jobs:
The Internet is a transport mechanism. Simple as that. Its real power involves its ability to let you choose from millions of pieces of content in a non-linear format, the idea that you can see whatever programs you want to watch, however and whenever you want to watch them. The real power of the Internet is going to be when the big media companies, with all their great content, figure out how to aggregate that content into huge archives in the cloud and put some kind of interface in front of the archive that lets you search and choose content; and when they find a way to make you pay for it. That's when things are going to get amazing. That's how the Internet will change the media business -- not by creating new content that looks like a Special Olympics version of real TV, but by finding new ways for you to consume the shows you already like. It's a new distribution deal. That's all.

What we're doing today with things like Apple TV or TiVo is just applying Band-Aids to patch up a frigtarded system (linear TV programming) that made sense in the 1950s when bandwidth was limited. Our Apple TV only sidesteps the problem. It still forces you to download to your computer, then beam through a router to our TV box and then up into your TV. So great. Now you've got more pipes coming into your TV but this new pipe is kind of unreliable (wifi routers) and slow and clumsy.

The real fix is gonna happen when someone figures out the back end, aggregating good content (ie Seinfeld and I Love Lucy rather than Ask a Ninja) and then finds a way to get that straight into your TV without all these clumsy connections and multiple hops. But it's a battle. The linear model, as stupid as it is, still clings to life. Inertia is a powerful thing. But ultimately we'll win. Give us ten years. And yeah, this is why Apple is presenting itself to the Hollywood studios as a friend and ally, not a competitor. It's also why we didn't buy YouTube.

I have lots of notes that I've written to myself in the last year about the future of media and the frustratingly wrong-headed predictions that some people have made, and I will sit down one day and make them more coherent in order to post them here. But when I read this, I have to admit that I was pleased with the elegance with which he made his point, and I agree with a great deal of it. "YouTube will change TV -- we will all generate our own content and watch each others' videos!" rings false as a prediction when you consider how much of YouTube is made up of clips from TV shows, from the very medium it will supposedly replace.

Access is what it's all about. Everything being available in different media. Pushing things out on the internet is still broadcasting, it's just using different equipment. Imagine being able to pull and old episode of "Seinfeld" or "M*A*S*H" or "I Married Joan" down whenever you wanted it, rather than waiting for someone to air one over a transmitter at 3:30 in the morning. There are going to be shifts in power -- some will adapt, some won't; some new blood will rise, some old guards will fall -- but the spoils will still go to whoever can be depended upon to produce good, entertaining programming and get it to viewers in an easy and reliable way.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and watch the episodes of "Andy Barker, P.I." that I just downloaded. Maybe later, if I still can't fall asleep, I might click on that episode of "The Incredible Hulk" that I got for the sake of nostalgia.