Thursday, April 26, 2001
TV schedules, who needs them? Shouldn’t I get to decide when I want to watch my favourite programmes? In the last week, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing and it’s been great.
Using the rather low-tech method of an aging VCR, I’ve been creating my own schedule, working my way through series one of ?The Sopranos?, plus all my current favourites whenever I felt like it. Need a bit of Tony S to start the day? I got your episode right here, buddy. Want to watch Simon and Jenny in the ‘Teachers’ stationery cupboard instead of Richard and Judy? Go right ahead. I don’t think I’ve watched a programme in its own timeslot all week. I feel liberated and in control of my addiction.
And this is how it should be. With the exception of live sport and news, all the good stuff is sitting around on tape at the TV stations, so wouldn’t it be great if we could gain access to a pile of shows all in one go, letting us have at them when we’re ready?
No more missing programmes because you also have a life, or because your video recorder refuses to obey orders. And if you came into a series halfway through by chance, you could go back and watch all the earlier episodes to catch up. If you can’t wait to see how Dr Green’s brain tumour works out, you can watch a dozen ?ER? episodes in one go. I dare you.
And once we’ve got beyond the idea of TV as a push medium, all sorts of opportunities open up. If it’s a pull medium instead, then you’d obviously need a menu structure to help you navigate through the options. And once you have a menu structure, then you can create collections of related shows – a season on particular actors or themes, for example.
And since this menu would be linked to the Internet, then think of the surrounding materials you could provide, with the shows embedded into a range of resources, links and interactivity. TV would become another form of media accessible from the Web, with all the flexibility and creative chaos that implies.
Of course there are moves towards this. TiVo systems allow you to dump your favourite shows onto a hard disk and watch them at your leisure. Tell it that you like Frasier, and it will record every episode on every channel without any further prompting. It also cunningly lets you pause live TV, caching the show to disk – perfect for when the phone rings during a penalty shoot out. Or if you want to take bets on whether Beckham’s going to score with the next free kick, or hoof it into row Z.
And digital TV also offers a limited range of options – movies on demand that start at a range of times during the day, for example.
Look at how Napster and CD burners are changing the way we use music. Now imagine a similar freedom with relation to TV and films. I can’t wait, but in the meanwhile I think I’ll just dash downstairs and watch half an hour of ?The West Wing?. So long as my housemate hasn’t taped over it.