Bugs Bunny in Falling HareI can remember when TV was limited to just four or five broadcast channels, and that was it. I remember when the first 36-channel cable box arrived, with much rejoicing. I remember the days when VCRs first emerged, and how long it took for me to spend the big bucks (then) to buy one. In other words, my formative years were steeped in non-directed viewing, and it’s taking me some time to unlearn those habits.

Directed viewing is the future, and a lot of the present. When you dig around online to find a particular old Looney Tunes cartoon, or when you order an episode of Downton Abbey on demand, or when you pop in a DVD or Blu-ray disc, that’s directed viewing. The old days of flopping on the couch and channel surfing to see what’s on, that’s non-directed.

Watching a lot of free-to-air TV networks, it’s easy to think, “Hey, I could run a channel as well as that.” FTA viewing is pretty much non-directed, unless you use a DVR with it. But satellite time is expensive, and internet streaming is pretty cheap. And that’s why I started experimenting with TVU Networks, as I explained a few posts ago.

You remember the old cartoon Falling Hare, where Bugs Bunny fights a gremlin? (You can watch it here.) The gremlin convinces Bugs to whack a bomb just right to make it go off. After a wild windup, just as he’s about to hit the bomb, Bugs stops short and yells, “What am I doing?” That was my flash of insight as I dug deeper into launching a 24-hour internet channel. It’s all in the difference between directed viewing and non-directed viewing.

If you’re on the internet already, you have a zillion on-demand options for viewing content, and you’ll probably use them. Directed viewing. If you just want to hit the couch and flip around, you’ll probably be watching broadcast TV or cable/satellite channels. Non-directed viewing. Put it all together, and a 24-hour online-only entertainment channel is probably a bad idea. Good thing I stopped!


Leslie EllisLeslie Ellis is the force behind Translation-Please.com, a great blog that discusses TV’s technical side in terms that we normal humans can understand. She’s also got a blog on Multichannel News, and that’s where she just posted a concise background piece about that TV bandwidth that lots of folks are fighting over.

How much bandwidth do you need for a channel? Why are channels set the way they are? What happens to them after they’re switched to carry data services instead? Leslie answers all these questions, so go read it!

Home screen - SuomiTV iPadThis year, one full meme’s worth of internet buzz has been TV Everywhere (which may or may not be a trademark of Dish Network). It’s a simple idea, that a viewer should be able to watch any video content on any device, assuming that he makes the right payments to the people who bring it to him. TV wants to be free, y’know?

Unfortunately, a couple of news stories from Friday indicate that the TV delivery infrastructure is running away from the online video streaming of TV Everywhere.

John Eggerton, the hardest working man in Washington, wrote in a story for Multichannel News that the FCC may allow its ban on system-specific programming to expire. That’s the rule that requires every network to offer itself to all multi-channel video providers. For example, Comcast must offer its regional SportsNet programming to other providers, such as Dish.

According to that story, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski circulated an order that would decline to renew that restriction when it expires at the end of 2012.

Separately, the Chicago Tribune ran a Bloomberg News story about a possible internet-based TV provider with an unlikely background. Dish CEO Joseph Clayton said that Dish would start such a service if only it could get the network programmers on board.

“There’s no question there’s a group of consumers, mostly around age 18 to 28, that aren’t going to watch 250 channels of TV, pay $100 a month and watch it on a 60-inch flat-panel display,” Clayton said. “Maybe they’ll spend $20 – maybe less, maybe a little more – for a lot less channels and watch them on their iPhone, their tablet and their PC.”

The trouble is that the six corporations who control almost all major TV content don’t want to unbundle their channels to let streamers pick and choose what they want to watch. And they probably aren’t willing to accept the smaller return they’d get through those cheaper IP-based subscriptions.

Those two articles paint a bleak picture for the immediate future of IP-based TV viewing. If the Big Six won’t cut streaming deals with Dish, a huge customer that already has working relationships with them, what chance would the next internet start-up have? And if the Big Six is free to withhold their programming from absolutely anyone, how will viewers find everything they want in one application?

“(T)he public wants fresh meat and the public is never wrong.” That’s what John Goodman’s character said about talkies in The Artist, and it’s true for IP-based TV now. Movie studios in the 1920s recognized and embraced the new direction. Eventually, the Big Six will also come around. The public is never wrong.

Before you look at the video at the end of this post, answer me this: What do the following have in common?

  • A wooden block of kitchen knives
  • A troll doll on a tricycle
  • A box cutter
  • Four crayons
  • Salt and pepper shakers
  • A can opener
  • A stapler
  • A squeaky green frog toy
  • A soda straw holder/dispenser, with straws
  • A hand drill

Those are many of the items on the table of surgical utensils shown on the video of Like a Surgeon by Weird Al Yankovic. It’s a testament to its comic density that they all flash by in one second (at 1:15 below), much too fast for any viewer to find in one sitting.

When Mad Magazine was still a comic book, Will Elder pioneered the practice of adding little gags in every background of every panel. Like a Surgeon is the closest I’ve seen to bringing that “Chicken Fat” effect to live action. Weird Al’s other 80s videos were funny (mostly), but never like the first three minutes of this.

MBC logoAs I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a few days in Chicago last month. Every baseball fan should make a pilgrimage to Wrigley Field at least once. Nuff said.

Between my Wrigley tour and a game the next day, I had some time to spare. I happened to see a brochure for The Museum of Broadcast Communications just down the street from my hotel, so I went to check it out.

As a physical museum, MBC is a work in progress. The radio floor is laid out with a row of Radio Hall of Fame portraits and little else, but there are great old specimens of receiving equipment around the corner.

Upstairs on the TV floor, there are almost a dozen exhibits of old programming, but there’s arranged erratically. One is sports through the decades, another is children’s shows, another is sitcoms. But there’s no flow to the narrative, just different pull-outs of TV history, often Chicago-centric programming. There’s also a TV news setup in one room so you can try your luck at delivering a story from the anchor desk or a weather forecast in front of a green screen.

My guide at the museum kept showing me its different sections, and when we got to the TV area, he made it a point to mention that I really should check the archive of video that’s available online at Museum.TV, which happens to be the MBC’s web site. That archive was unavailable then, but a recent check showed that it’s a treasure trove now. MBC has hundreds of video clips available on demand. You have to register to view them, they’re pretty low-quality, and they use Windows Media Player, but this wealth of free TV history is just amazing. This feast for the TV historian gives me hope that the physical museum might get its act together too. Check it out!