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December 24, 2008

Babysitter’s View of the Future

Grandson Jack went to sleep bravely with just a few complaints about the pain of teething. As babysitters do, Mary and I turned on the big screen… and watched the future of TV.

Like most young couples Hugh and Kate don't have a landline phone although of course they both have mobiles and use Skype Video to keep Jack in touch with grandparents who aren't in town. But Kate and Hugh also don't have any sort of network TV connection: no rabbit ears, no cable, no satellite. Their at home news and entertainment is all web-based.

The movie Mary and I watched was streamed from Netflix. 12,000 of Netflix' 100,000 total movie and tv show titles are available for instant viewing on a PC. That's not a huge collection but we had little trouble finding something we had missed and wanted to see. All but the cheapest of the Netflix plans for mailing-order DVDs include unlimited hours of watching streamed video. You can pause and backspace a movie which is being streamed but you can't (without hacking) save it.

The PC was hooked to the big LCD screen for good viewing from the couch. The movies are NOT downloaded in high def (presumably too big and slow for most Internet connections in the US today) and the presentation occasionally had brief freezes which could have been either transmission hiccups too big to be handled by the buffer or interference from some other process on Kate's Mac (my guess).

Kate and Hugh say they generally don't miss having a "real" TV connection except that they have to page through their news rather than have it being presented to them. I'm sure they'd be happy for a link to any web-based news shows. Kate's never watched sports on TV and Hugh's Irish so doesn't miss being able to watch the NFL or NBA. If he cared, he could pay to watch baseball on MLB.com.

As our bandwidth gets broader, our Internet connections'll become the only connections into our houses. Programming will still exist as will serial and movie production. The concept of the "channel" will simply disappear. Some sorts of aggregators will replace TV networks as places where we find stuff prepackaged to accommodate our tastes or simply as a place to buy content as Netflix is today. Cable companies will split into content providers accessible over Internet connections and physical providers of Internet connections giving access to all content. at&t and Verizon will find that they went into the "cable" business just in time to get out of it but can still benefit if they sell fast enough connections cheaply enough.

So, speaking of the future of entertainment, where did Kate and Hugh go while we were babysitting? The movies, of course.

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