The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

Why TV Loses

Posted in Rant, Software, Technology, Television, Theory, Uncategorized by Noah Harlan on May 4, 2010

Mark Cuban has another of his rants today about why TV kicks the internet’s ass when it comes to content and why TV is going to be the big winner in the long run. We must remember that this is a man who made his fortune by selling and has spent much of his fortune buying sports teams and HDNet so he has a clear vested interest in the future of TV.  But he misses the point about why people are switching:

Mark Cuban

When you buy that new TV and get it installed on your wall or wherever in your apartment or house, you want to turn that baby on and watch your favorite show, the big fight or concert or put on your favorite video. You want it to look and sound good. It doesn’t matter if you are 20 and living in a dorm or an apartment, or 65 and watching Oprah. It’s a proud moment.  You don’t want to have to figure out which 3rd party box or streaming service you can hook up via the internet and then stream to your TV and then find out the video you are streaming looks nothing like the video they had on in the store.  You don’t want to tell your buddies not to bump the mouse so it stays full screen. You don’t want to piss off  everyone because your screen saver of your dog  just came on or have to stop everything and turn your facebook alerts back off because they keep interrupting everything. You dont’ want to scream to your girlfriend/roomie/wife/kids in the other room  to stop downloading stuff so you can watch your show without it buffering. You just want it to work.

I guess Mark missed CES is this year.

I bought two TVs this year. I also bought two LG Blu-Ray players, though after CES I could have bought most any TV and skipped the players. I have, built in to the interface, Netflix streaming, Cinema Now, YouTube and room for more services as they get added. One of my TVs even let’s me plug in my iPod and watch all the videos I keep on it.  There is no bumping of the mouse – it’s controlled by the TV remote. There isn’t any screensaver. I haven’t had any quality issues with Netflix streaming. I get the sense that Mark hasn’t used true internet video in the last year or two…

Compare these use cases:

Buy TV, plug in TV to cable box, realize that cable box hasn’t been fully upgraded, call cable company, wait four days for service appointment, wait at home for four hours for service appointment, get TV box replaced and up & running, browse channels trying to figure out which one has the movies (this is Time Warner Cable in NYC, no “on demand” button!), find Channel 1000, browse screen after screen (no search function), forget what you wanted to watch (no queue or save functions), then realize there are several other channels of On Demand, browse to Channel 1001, 1002, 1003, repeat this process for each of them, give up, go to DVR, turn on GLEE from this week, discover that the first 3 minutes of the show are missing because American Idol “ran long” and the DVR couldn’t figure that out since it doesn’t record GLEE, it records whatever runs from 9:00pm to 10:00pm on channel 0004, give up on GLEE, think about watching Comedy Central (hell, it’s not 10:56pm and the daily show is coming on soon), remember the three digit channel code for “Comedy Central” (745), and now watch that.


Buy TV, plug in Airport Express to same powerstrip, plug ethernet cable into TV, launch Netflix, manage my Queue from my iPhone, play movie or TV show, wonder whether I’ll be able to get HULU next week or the week after…

If TV wants to stay relevant then the Cable operators need to do a ground-up rethink of the interface design for their systems. Just because something is better quality (which TV is) doesn’t mean it wins the war. (I’m looking at you Beta…) TV, and in particular the cable operators, are their own worst enemy at the moment. When TWC in NYC refused to continue licensing their old operating system and went with a kludgy, poorly implemented system of their own making last year they turned off tens of thousands of users who are happily jumping ship every day.

I think this part is key. Why do I need to memorize three digit numbers to find the content I want? 745 is Comedy Central. 750 is the Food Network. 714 is MSNBC. 744 is Fox News. 710 used to be CNN but they moved it to a different number a few months ago and now I don’t watch it anymore because I don’t know where it went.

The linearity of TV is insane. It runs counter to how we understand content in the modern world. Channels become ghettos based on their neighborhoods. I’ll watch a lot of stuff in the 740’s, 750’s and 760’s but I watch almost nothing in the 720’s or 730’s. Heck, I won’t even go to anything between 733 and 737 because I know there is public access around there and you never know when Robyn Byrd is on. Her presence at 735 makes that neighborhood an unwelcoming place for me at night.

If TV wants to be relevant then companies like Time Warner need to rethink their interface.  Here are a few rules:

  1. Let us browse by channel name.
  2. Let us find shows by genre or channel, not just by hen-pecking out letters in their title with the remote.
  3. And while we’re at it, give us a remote with some form of keyboard.
  4. Make your DVR record a show, not a time slot. If a show is being pushed back, you have the ability to let the DVRs know, do it.
  5. Allow us to browse movies like Netflix does. Not by going screen-by-screen through an alphabetical list. HTML has been around for nearly 20 years – why do you not have a single hyperlink in your navigational system? Why can’t I see every Paul Rudd movie available On Demand right now?
  6. Don’t give us separate sets of channels for SD & HD. Why do I need to memorize that 045 is Comedy Central but 745 is Comedy Central HD? Why can’t I just set a preference on my TV that says “Choose the HD version of a channel whenever available”? Do you think that there are some shows that I want to watch in SD? Why does my DVR record some shows SD and others HD?

Fix these things and I’ll believe in TV’s future.

Don’t fix them and you’ll be relegated to the Betamax dustbin of history.


3 Responses

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  1. pangofilms said, on May 6, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Yeah, TV sucks. I disconnected last year and I don’t even notice. The kids watch their shows from the Netflix queue. I never watched TV anyway, and living without HBO isn’t the biggest deal. I watch 30 Rock on Hulu, once in a while, at my convenience. I never watched all that crap on my DVR anyway. It just piled up.

    Optimum is my provider for internet and cable. Owned by Comcast, they haven’t gotten over the old days of their monopoly. In fact, they’re buying NBC/Uni so they’re in the process of taking their monopoly back. We’ll see how well my system works when they start choking off anything they don’t own.

  2. […] TV needs to do. It seems like someone out there was annoyed by the same things I highlighted in my post on Mark Cuban. The idea is that no longer will TV be hijacked by the tyranny of your local cable operator’s […]

  3. entertainment said, on May 23, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    I guess internet is still the best IF the connection is okay. Otherwise, TV does have the advantage of smoothness and clear images.

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