Love is a better teacher than duty.

~ Albert Einstein ~

Do You Watch TV Online?

October 27th, 2012 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 53 secs

How many people do you know who watch TV online?

Forget pay TV, people are now turning over to watch TV online. Ever since Australians began turning to television back in 1956, new viewing benefits have inspired an enthusiastic response.

For everyone old enough, the advent of color TV was dramatic and widely praised. Suddenly, television really did seem vividly real. Then came more channels, pay TV, digital, high definition, and, now (thanks to the Internet), we can also watch TV online.

What does that mean exactly? Well, you know that many of the world’s TV stations also broadcast on the Web as well. So, with the right software, more and more people are accessing thousands of television stations right around the globe for nothing more than the cost of broadband access.

Given the impact television already has, I wonder what the outcome of this new development will be. Does being able to watch TV online mean we will broaden our viewing habits? Or, will it be nothing more than yet another TV niche?

The jury is still out for many, simply because Internet speeds are too slow in many places to allow streaming anything but static and staccato voices. But when the speed is there, the ability to watch TV online could change our experience of media forever.

Already, online TV aggregators like Hulu, Apple TV, the BBC, ABC TV, YouTube, and more are giving people the opportunity to watch programs with greater convenience. Yet, the more people watch TV online, the more pay TV and free to air television stations are going to have to change.

So far, pay TV and free to air television are holding their own, in no small part because of habitual convenience, familiarity, and our belief that TV, and the Internet are separate. If you want to watch TV online you still need to make that decision and take a few steps to get there. That’s a few steps too many compared to the simplicity of free TV. With one press you’re good to go.

But I suspect the switch is inevitable. More programming choice is coming, and as usual, some will be rubbish, some brilliant, and the rest, well… so, so. The technology may be cleverer. But you can expect that when you watch TV online, someone will still need to cover their costs. That means a future of additional fees, lest Internet TV degenerates into 50,000 channels of worn-out reruns.

Concerns about television will remain with the new medium too. Regardless whether we watch TV online, via cable, or on conventional free to air, the same issues apply. Logie Baird, the inventor of television back in the 1920s, dreamed that it would be a magnificent medium for learning. Aside for the odd channel and program here and there, that never came true. Instead, TV became the supreme entertainment medium. So, despite all the extra choices watching online brings, TV producers remain wedded to their familiar tried and true recipes. For the moment, it seems everyone is happy with that.

Still, something unexpected could happen. Perhaps people will broaden their palate and opt for something deeper. That hasn’t happened with viewers having wider cable or satellite access.  They tend to settle on a few stations relating to their locality and combine them with a couple of national or international networks catering to their interests. Yet, there is a new trend; an unforeseen move toward non-TV Internet is taking us down a much more self-directed road than anyone ever expected. Younger viewers, especially, are now spending more time on the Web in general. So the option of watching TV online or anywhere else is increasingly less compelling.

Back in Australia in1956, a dapper man with horn-rimmed glasses, dinner jacket and tie, politely said, “Welcome to television” and we’ve been peering at it ever since. Now that we can watch TV online, it’s offering an interesting switch. Remarkably, however, this choice is already finding new “competition” in the shift to personal Internet viewing. Clearly, whether it’s acknowledged or not, television as we know is in for a radical shift and I think that’s a good thing.

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