This isn’t really an earthshaking technology point I’m making here (and those of you looking for trenchant analysis can skip down a paragraph or two), but for the first day or two up at Sundance, when thousands of Cool-Groovy-Industry-Types flooded Park City, iPhone 3G service came crashing down. People with the original iPhones could get service — phone and data — but the rest of us had trouble getting phone signals and had horribly erratic, mostly non-existent, data/web access. Blackberrys weren’t affected. Neither were old crappy AT&T phones.
I guess it took AT&T a day or two to get additional cel sites up and running, and the problem eventually was solved. But this technological hiccup once again raises the point about adoption of broadband into areas that aren’t early adopters.
We all know that a large percentage of the American population still watches television over rabbit ears (6.5 million homes) and that moving some people off of dial-up is a painful process (a recent article in Ars Technica says that 19 percent of dial-up users say that “nothing” would get them to upgrade, not even lower prices) . Yet these are exactly the audiences who watch large amounts of television. That’s why we’ve seen Comcast give free cable to these households — you can’t leave that audience behind (too many advertisting-ready households), even if they see no reason to jump ahead.
Yet, at a recent get-together, I was talking with some friends about the various web video sites and what each one offers. One of the people there made the point that no one is making any money off of video on the web — especially User Generated Content. And he is probably rights about that and it’s that reality, compounded by the large number of people who don’t know or can’t be bothered to make the switch to digital television, that will ultimately make it much harder to attain the much vaulted web-based delivery of media.
I like plugging my computer into my television and watching high quality shows from Hulu (when my DVR refused to record the second night’s worth of 24 it was no big deal — since it was on that web site the next day). I regularly download and pay for shows from the iTunes store. It’s easy and fits within my budget (the day when teachers pay moves into the area when we can actually afford to live in Los Angeles doesn’t look in sight right now). Many people, like Daisy Whitney, have dropped their cable altogether and watch everything from the Web. But the advertising is never going to come over to sites like Hulu en masse until the rabbit-ears people do.
So, how do we get that to happen?
I have to admit, I’ve got nothing when it comes to that. But it isn’t going to happen until the experience feels like our “real” televisions. That means we’re going to have to be able to switch on our Apple-TV’s and not wait at all for the program to start. We’re going to have to watch without stopping for “buffering.” And it’s going to have to be as easy as turning to a channel and hitting the POWER button. (My wife still complains about all of the remotes we’ve got lying around the house.) When all of that happens, then Mom and Grandpa might move over to Daisy Whitney’s virtual television neighborhood.
I’m not suggesting that everyone out there is going to switch to iPhones and that every town needs to figure out how to get themselves out of the Park City Problem. But I’m close. If we want to get to the goal of ubiquitous broadband the way Ken Rutkowski talks about South Korea or Alex Lindsay talks about Japan, we’re going to have to have better wireless, better wired, and better experiences than I did in Sundance.
Categories : Technology, television, The Future