TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: The End of TV as We Know It

The End of TV as We Know It

Monty Solomon (
Sat, 11 Dec 2004 09:55:44 -0500

Sit back on the sofa and get ready for packetized, on-demand, digital

By Frank Rose
Wired Magazine
Issue 12.12
December 2004

We live in the age of the digital packet. Documents, images, music,
phone calls -- all get chopped up, propelled through networks, and
reassembled at the other end according to Internet protocol. So why
not TV?

That's the question cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner and Baby
Bells like SBC and Verizon have been asking. The concept has profound
implications for television and the Internet. TV over Internet
protocol -- IPTV -- will transform couch-cruising into an on-demand
experience. For the Internet, it will mean broadband at speeds 10,
100, or even 1,000 times faster than today's DSL or cable. Online
games would be startlingly realistic; the idea of channels would seem
hopelessly archaic. Why not indeed?

So far, the answer has been inertia. But competition is a powerful
stimulus. For years, DirecTV and EchoStar have been adding subscribers
far faster than cable, so cable companies want something satellite
can't match. At the same time, voice over IP is enabling cable
operators to poach phone customers from telcos. Combine VoIP, truly
high-speed broadband, and totally on-demand TV - and you've got such a
compelling proposition that the Bell companies figure the only way to
survive is to do likewise.

IPTV is not to be confused with television over the Internet. On the
public Net, packets get delayed or lost entirely -- that's why Web
video is so jerky and lo-res. But private networks like Comcast's are
engineered, obviously, for reliable video delivery -- which means IPTV
will look at least as good as TV coming from digital cable or

It will be accompanied by another, equally critical change. Instead
of broadcasting every channel continuously, service providers plan to
transmit them only to subscribers who request them. In effect, every
channel will be streamed on demand. This will free up huge amounts of
bandwidth for hi-def TV and high-speed broadband. Add IP and you get
interactive services like caller ID on your TV. And the system will
be able to track viewing habits as effectively as Amazon tracks its
customers, so ads will be targeted with scary precision. Put it all
together and you've got television that's as intensely personalized
as 20th-century broadcasting was generic.

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