Tuesday, May 09, 2006

This prediction is not even wrong

In Slate, Sean Captain predicts that "your laptop will never replace your TV." His argument is not strictly about laptops but more about the prospects for download television. He argues that broadcast television will dominate because download television cannot deliver the same quality efficiently or more critically in a timely fashion.

Of course, this prediction suffers from the 'current infrastructure' fallacy. It is true that right here, right now, watching streaming television is not possible. However, waiting for downloaded television is but Captain dismisses this:
But the download-and-play model isn't a real solution to the Internet/HDTV intersection problem. The more time-sensitive a program is—sports, the news—the less sense downloading makes. The same goes for massively popular shows: Who wants to wait a day to download American Idol? Plus, why would broadcasters want to support 30 million simultaneous, bandwidth-hogging downloads when they could send out a single broadcast signal instead?

Well, let's dismiss one argument: there are television programs people are willing to wait for or there wouldn't be Tivo. Moreover, it assumes that downloading couldn't begin prior to broadcast. Why can't networks provide a download product that arrives completely on your PC at the same time as broadcast?

Second, it forgets that download television offers a tighter revenue stream -- whether by subscription or by ads (with better viewship information). So there are big incentives to do this even if the costs are higher. Moreover, for DVD releases there may be cheaper distribution this way and this will complement developments in download television.

It is tough to make definitive predictions and I am always sympathetic with ones which suggests that despite the hype the status quo will be maintained. But here Captain focusses on the wrong thing -- viewing from computers -- and doesn't ask the broader question as to whether the model of broadcast television will persist. For that reason, his prediction is not even wrong.

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