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(June 2002) [Printed in "Reality Module No.28" as part of "Freeform Futurology VI."]

(A casual series of articles exploring various aspects of our evolving society)


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I imagine a time not far off when broadband Internet access will be the rule rather than the exception.

The technology would enable video-on-demand to a mass audience. What changes would this bring about?


Do you remember the hype surrounding interactive television? How we'd use our remote to vote on issues, answer quiz questions, or order product information.

The technology may yet take off - creating a creative amalgam of TV and Internet - but the model forgets one thing: most of us are passive TV viewers. We like to sit back & be entertained, to experience vicariously the virtual dream world of the TV show.

I imagine another model being more successful - a video-on-demand option where the word is 'choice.'

In 2002 most of us have a choice of watching what is on TV now, or watching a program we videotaped some days ago (like I do).

Since 1976 we have had the technology in our homes to record TV programs to watch later or to keep indefinitely. This was an earlier technological shift - no longer do we have to be there at the time to watch our favourite programs when they are broadcast. The advent of video libraries also gave us a wider choice of programs to watch on any given night. The VCR broke down the temporal restrictions of television - we can start and stop the show, rewind it, and select from many videotaped shows.

In 2002 a small number of people download TV programs from the Internet - and watch them later on PC screens. I feel that this is an intermediate stage in technology, and it is in grave danger from the copyright police.1

1There is another technology called the Personal Video Recorder, which records cable shows onto a harddisk and keeps them for a specified length of time.

It takes many hours to download video files from the Internet. I know someone who keeps their PC on overnight to download an episode of "Smallville."

When broadband Internet becomes common these long download times will vanish - you will be able to download a TV show in less time than it takes to watch it! You can also send the image to your wallscreen to watch it in comfort.2

2Most modern display devices are multisync. They can sync to video and computer display resolutions.

What effect will this new technology have on the TV- watching habit?

It might work like this:

You'd come home and then decide what you'd like to watch in what order from all the programs available.

You might decide on a "Buffy-Fest" or a selected episode each of "Lost In Space," "My Favorite Martian", and "I Dream of Jeannie."

You would select the TV programs you'd like to see from a series of interactive menus - and each program you choose to see will be charged to your credit card.

There will probably be many pricing options:

  1. Old TV shows will be cheaper than new TV shows.

  2. You might save money by agreeing to 5, 10 or 15 minutes of advertising per hour.

  3. You might subscribe to a series or to blocks of shows. (Special deal on "Caped Crusaders" if you subscribe to "Hip-Hop Today" as well!)

  4. You'd have the option of renting a show for one screening, or for a day or a week. (For a higher charge you might purchase the rights to a copy of the show to keep forever.)

  5. TV producers will send you the pilots of their new shows free-of-charge - in the hope you'll like the show and subscribe.

The HDTV version of the brand new "Buffy 2: The Slayings" ("the evil Queen Dawn and her vampire consort hold the world in chains. Only Pussywillow and a trio of geeks can save the world from eternal damnation by resurrecting a long dead Slayer!" ) will be much more expensive to view than "Gilligan's Island" with 15 minutes of ads!


What effect will this new way of enjoying television have on the existing free-to-air stations or indeed to the cable TV providers?


The TV networks will survive in their present forms only as long as the new VOD technology remains expensive! If the new technology becomes cheap enough, people will increasingly choose VOD because it is more convenient and versatile.

The TV networks will be reborn as program packagers.

I'd subscribe to the "ABC News!"

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Related Works

- In This Series -
(1) What Can & Cannot Be Done - The Limits of Futurology (April 2000)
(2) The $20 Computer (April 2000)
(3) Smashing Windows(TM) - The Ascent of Non-linear Thinking (August 2000)
(4) Nu Plastic Yu! (February 2001)
(5) Nu Plastic Yu Tu! (April 2001)
(6) Artificial Minds? (AI Revisited) (August 2001)
(7) Video-On-Demand (June 2002)
(8) Changes (June 2002)
(9) The Implications of Immortality (June 2002)
(10) Cheating in Education (April 2003)


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Copyright © 2002 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.


Last Updated: 21 June 2020