When I was a wee lad, I remember watching the moon landing with my siblings in my parents’ bedroom on a 20-inch or so black and white TV. Back then we had the simplicity of three channels’ worth of programming. The only portable media devices were crappy transistor radios that had speakers the size of a quarter. Bill Gates hadn’t even dropped out of Harvard, and Sergei and Larry hadn’t been born yet.
Now look at what we’ve got. Portability and personalization have become paramount. People want to watch what they want, when they want it, and have lots of different devices to choose from. And to put this in perspective, each minute a full 24 hours of video content is uploaded from around the world to YouTube, and even more depressing is that every day three billion photos are posted to more than 600 million Facebook accounts. This is certainly more content then one could watch in multiple lifetimes. Forget about having 500 channels and nothing being “on”. Now it is more like 500 million channels and we are buried in cute dancing cat videos and celebrity rants with their own live channels.
This week, we at least got diverted from Krazy Charlie’s Channel and witnessed a UCLA college student’s rant about “Asians in the library” talking on their cell phones. The insensitive YouTube video got millions of hits, and spawned its own meme of commentaries and parodies, one of which showcased a young Asian student with his guitar and well-produced music video. Also in the People Behaving Badly department is comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who is no longer the quacking spokesduck for Aflac thanks to his own Tweets on the events in Japan.
Back in the 1960s, we had TV shows that premiered in September and ran original weekly episodes until April or May, with just a few repeats here and there for holiday breaks. Now that “season” is anything but contiguous. Luckily, thanks to Tivo and its equivalents, we can safely ignore the broadcast schedule and record what we want and watch it when we wish. And we don’t have to worry about setting up our own video playlist when we are just in our living rooms: we have the ability to remotely program our DVRs when we are away from home with a series of smartphone apps from the major providers such as Verizon, AT&T, DirecTV and Dish. We never have to miss a recording again.
It isn’t just your phone, either. With millions of iPads sold in the past year, Apple has invigorated the tablet marketplace and made this the go-to entertainment machine with hundreds if not thousands of apps from games to daily newspapers. Did anyone care about Windows-based tablets two years ago? Having a rich ecosystem certainly helps, along with a drop-dead gorgeous screen. Now even insurance TV commercials feature the “swipe” control gestures that were once the province of “Minority Report” science fiction.
Tablets, along with cheap portable DVD players and more ubiquitous aircraft WiFi have also transformed how we no longer care about in-flight movies. Now you can bring your own content and not rely on what the airlines have scheduled for a movie that you probably don’t even want to watch anyway. Remember when airlines charged $5 for bringing your own earphones? Again, those days seem so long ago, akin to when we dressed up and were allowed to smoke on planes. We truly have come so far (not to mention being more comfortable on longer flights, too).
In the past few years, we have gone from digitizing and capturing content to our hard drives to streaming it from someone else’s. It used to be a sign of coolness when you could boast how many hours of music and video were on your own hard drive, or how you could immediately download whatever audio or video recording you wanted from Amazon and iTunes. That is no longer relevant, thanks to Hulu and various on demand audio and video streaming services such as Pandora, Netflix’ Watch Instantly and Verizon’s Flex View. With these Internet services, you can get the particular episode of a TV show or a movie or a song within seconds – delivered right to your desktop computer. With all this streaming available, who needs to capture content anymore?
Moreover, you can watch these shows not just on your computer, but on smartphones, tablets, and Internet-connected TVs. Netflix now has more than 100 different devices that can receive its streaming content, including a range of DVD players, TVs, all three major game consoles, and iPhones and iPads.
This week I am road-testing a new Ford Fiesta. It sports a new version of its Sync services that treats Pandora Internet radio “channels” as just another audio source to be controlled in the car. You can skip songs or switch channels just as easily as if you were changing FM stations on your car radio with its latest 2011 models. All you need is an app for your smartphone and a USB cable to connect it to your car. Say goodbye to Sirius radio.
Is the living room TV still the epicenter of home entertainment? Perhaps, but with all these portable devices and services that can deliver audio and video content over broadband networks, the tide is turning.