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 V.18 No.32 | August 6 - 12, 2009 

Idiot Box

TV: Why Bother?

Networks get webby

Mired as we are in summer rerun season, we might find time to take pause and wonder: Why bother with TV in the first place? No, I’m not talking sacrilege here, my friends. I still love television with an unhealthy devotion. But why, in this age of cable, satellite, TiVo and other technological wonders, are we still chained to the traditional fall/summer new/rerun loop created by the broadcast networks?

More and more, people are ditching television altogether—and yet still keeping up to date on their favorite shows. How? One way is to simply wait for the end of the season and rent the entire run on DVD from Netflix. Why stretch your love for “True Blood” over the course of two or three months when you can down the whole thing in a weekend? Trust me, TV executives like it when you pay to rent or purchase TV shows that were free in the first place.

The other way to get your TV fix without actually watching a TV is through the Internet. A year or so ago, the model was to post shows on Apple’s iTunes store, so video iPod owners could pay to download them for a buck or five. That seems to have transitioned to the new Apple TV gizmo, which allows you to download shows and movies onto your iPod then transfer them to a set-top HDTV box for viewing on your regular old TV. The boxes start at $229 and a sitcom in HD will run you about $2.99—making it the perfect device for people who are rich, lazy and gadget-happy.

Though the entertainment industry continues to fight over formats (DVD or Blu-ray?) and devices (Slingbox? Network attached storage? iPhone?), more and more networks are simply posting shows on their websites for free. Comedy Central, for example, allows you to check out any episode you want of “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” Log on to southparkstudios.com and you can stream any episode of “South Park.” For free.

It’s a concept that keeps loyal fans happy and actually prevents piracy. When the BBC started posting high-quality episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on YouTube earlier this year, piracy of the show all but vanished and DVD sales shot up 23,000 percent. (Take that, RIAA and MPAA!) Throw a single commercial in the beginning of a free online episode, and it apparently pays for itself.

Hulu.com—a commercial-supported streaming video site started in 2007—is currently king of the downloads. The site is a joint venture between NBC, ABC and FOX, allowing users to watch Flash video copies of films and TV series in both 480p and high-definition. Other participating networks include Comedy Central, PBS, USA, Bravo, Fuel, FX, Speed, SyFy, Style, Sundance, E!, G4, Versus, A&E and Oxygen. Rumor is the networks want to start charging for Hulu downloads one day, but that’s the surest way to kill this fine marketing tool. Hulu is the perfect model for future TV-on-the-net. The networks get us to watch their shows. Sponsors get their commercials in. And it’s still free. Just as God and Philo Farnsworth intended.

 
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