Sunday, April 17, 2011

When Is a TV Not a TV?

Late last month you may have received information from Time Warner Cable about a new service being offered to area subscribers. The service allows individuals who have an Apple iPad to watch some TV programs carried on the Time Warner system. The company and other cable TV companies around the country are offering a new App that uses your iPad and home wifi to connect with your cable. Once connected, the iPad serves as a portable TV and can be used anywhere in the house without wires or other special connections.

The service was praised by many media pundits who applauded the seamless merger of the computer and the TV. This convergence has been the “holy grail” of proponents of bringing the Internet and traditional TV to a variety of screens large and small, fixed and portable. iPad users too were happy to get a free app that made watching TV more convenient.

Not everyone was so happy. Faster than it took to download the new App several program service providers were yelling foul. Several cable networks like Discovery, Fox and Viacom argued that their programming was licensed to Time Warner for distribution to TV sets not streamed to computers. They demanded that Time Warner remove their programming from the list of offerings for iPad viewing.

Welcome to the new TV landscape where ultimately the definition of a TV set will be a critical factor in your ability to watch your favorite shows. As you may expect the brouhaha centers around money. The program distributors are concerned that if viewers watch their programming on any device other than a traditional TV they will not be counted in the Nielsen surveys and as such the advertising revenue may suffer. Nielsen has been struggling to compile reliable information about TV viewing as more and more of us are using computers, smart phones and other digital devices to view TV programs. The proliferation of non traditional non real time viewing has begun to fragment audiences and the future only promises to further change viewing patterns.

TV Program producers are scrambling to keep from repeating the revolution experienced by music producers and distributors. They wish to hold on to their business as usual lucrative industry. My bet is that they are swimming against the tide and just as online music distribution has made CDs as out of date as rotary phones, the blurring of the differences between the computer screen and TV screen will make the traditional TV programming business a much different enterprise moving toward a pay per view model from the current advertising supported industry.

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