Today I consider whether or not TV Stations as a distinct programming lineup have become obsolete. More or less since the beginning of commercial television there have been TV Stations to tune in to. (eg ABC, HBO, TNT) These stations create and broadcast original programming or buy the rights to broadcast programming created by others so that I can pick it up on my television. Every year they decide which television shows will play throughout the day for the next year. This show should play on Thursday at 2000 because that’s when such and such an age group will be watching. That show should be on at Monday at 2100 because otherwise it might have to compete with a show from another network. Some shows have nearly literally lived and died based on the timeslot they were shown in. Sometimes shows are moved around to follow other shows to benefit from the inertia of the viewers of the previous show to carry this one until it either proves itself or fails.
I think that, due to recent technological innovations, this model is wholly obsolete. Take, for example, the concept of one show competing against another one based on being on the same time slot. Nowadays, thanks to digital video recorders such as TiVo or MythTV, viewers no longer have to make such choices. Depending upon how many tuners they have in their DVR they can record one show and watch the other or record both shows and watch a third. In fact, the idea of having to be at a certain place at a certain time to experience a TV show is quickly becoming antiquated. Why should I have to route my schedule around my entertainment? If I wish to watch a certain show at 1400 instead of 2100, that should be my right. And if I wish to watch it on my iPod or Nokia n8xx or my laptop while I commute, that should also be my right. After all, as long as I watch the show, what should the timeslot or location matter?
Additionally, other than HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax, none of the TV stations have a true identity anymore. Even Music Television mostly just shows reality TV nowadays. So the idea of a TV station is also obsolete. With my MythTV I don’t know if I recorded show X from ABC, FOX, or USA. It really doesn’t matter. What I think will eventually happen is that production companies will become more well known than the TV stations. I’ll know that I like David Kelley dramas, not that it plays on FOX.
I think the Cable companies (and FiOS) should instead make EVERYTHING available on demand. Every TV show should be available to watch whenever I want to watch it and I shouldn’t need a DVR at home to record it. It should just be available. Here’s how I envision it working: TV Studio X comes out with a TV Show and say they will make shows available on demand weekly. So every week a new show will appear on your cable network’s on demand infrastructure for you to watch whenever you want. So what the cable network would probably want to do in order to make economic sense of this is to have the episode and episode n-1 available in case you want to catch up. If you want to save up more programs because you’re going through a busy spell, you can rent a box from the cable network that allows you to save shows onto the hard drive. This clears up the cable network from having to tie up their servers with all this content. If they really want to provide an awesome experience for the user, they can also make it so that you can download P2P any episodes that anyone else has on their set top box.
All the technology for that already exists today. We could be TV Station agnostic and be able to watch shows whenever we want. What about commercials? Perhaps that, you argue is a reason for having TV Stations instead of my model. However, it should be trivial for the cable network to download the latest commercials along with your program and display them at the appropriate time. Therefore, the program you want to watch comes as 3 files and the set top box makes a playlist of program part 1, commercial, part 2, commercial, part 3. Or the TV Studios could just move towards advertising during the show. They already do that somewhat – just increase it. It’s pretty easy – you can make it so that on the program’s website (or maybe through the set top box) you can look at all of the products in the show and where to buy them. The studio gets a cut of the sale if I click on the suit one of the characters was wearing and then buy it. The advertisers should love it because now they’ll have a tangible connection between what’s being advertised and who’s buying. And it shouldn’t be too hard for them to advertise this way since most commercials are practically short films nowadays.
So I think there’s certainly a large possibility that TV Stations are obsolete. The only thing keeping them around is corporate inertia.