Friday, July 18, 2008

The Death of Old Media: HD TV Edition

Robert Cringely, a respected (if cranky) techologist with PBS, predicts the death of television, even hi-def television, in a short 7 years.

We've been seeing increasing pressure on newspapers as the internet has claimed more of that game. The tricky thing with technology, though, is that improvements in technology are always coming faster and faster. Computing power and the power of the internet, by any measurable factor, doesn't merely improve by some set amount each year, but progress in these areas actually doubles in efficiency every year or so. So far, newspapers have been an easy target for the Internet. Movement of text is easy, and the Internet can add animated ads, and help more people to cite those stories. Also, the barriers to publishing are dropped like a rock, so the traditional costs of the newspaper industry are eliminated in that forum. It won't be startling to point out that cost is a driving force in adoption of media, just as it is for food or sneakers or any other good. As for television, Cringely points out that it won't be long before the cost to send every show currently on television to each household through the internet will be far smaller than the cost to broadcast these shows over the cable infrastructure. At that point, why should we pay a premium so some local station manager can tell us what to watch and when to watch it?

So back to today. In a few months, as congress has mandated, broadcasts will switch to an all-digital system. The digital spectrum will only have a decade before it will become commercially antiquated. If the doubling rates of technology are correct, Congress will have to move faster and faster to reallocate the commons of these broadcast spectra. Pretty soon, all those historical commons issues will have very limited application, and it might be in the FCC's best interest to simply give up, and leave the broadcast commons to the pirate radio stations. Christian Slater will probably approve.