Are Roku and ivi the future of a la carte?

Roku logoRoku, which makes a device for translating streaming internet content to your television set, made a bit of news this week when it added the cable channel WealthTV. Much more quietly, our old friend added Brush with Life, which is, well, I’m not sure what. Go visit their site, preferably on a wide-screen monitor, and maybe you can figure them out. If you know more about Brush with Life, tell us about it in a comment, please.

Since the handful of corporations that control most TV content have dug in their heels against a la carte pricing, maybe odd little channels like these will be the future of TV programming. If we don’t need blockbuster programming, maybe tightly focused channels could deliver the kind of narrowcasting that pundits foresaw when digital cable channels proliferated. (Instead, as stated in my First Law of Programming, formerly narrow channels change to broaden their appeal. I wrote much more about that law, a la carte and cable channels in October 2009. I’ll try to avoid restating too much of that, so you’re welcome to go catch up if you want.)

As television moves from cable and satellite delivery to the internet, this could easily open the door to true narrowcasting. One of most commonly submitted questions to FTAList has been: How can I start my own satellite TV channel? The old answer is that you need to talk with an uplink center to rent some bandwidth, figure how to get your content to that uplink center, and oh yes, find a way to generate enough TV programming to fill every hour of every day. But internet-based delivery removed the uplink from that equation; if you can get the programming to the internet, that’s most of what you need. Then the real trick is to get enough paid subscribers to make payroll.

Some channels like these are already broadcasting on sites such as TVU and Justin TV. If any of these can put together enough original content for a 24/7 run, they could provide more choices for viewers who don’t want to pay for 200 channels to get the five they really watch. It’ll be fun to see how this shakes out over the next few years.