Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Video To Go

There’s a lot of activity suddenly in the area of very small, portable video viewing devices, and nearly current content to play on them.

I’m referring in particular to the video iPod and the recent deals to allow network TV programs to be downloaded onto them via iTunes for 99 cents, as well as this week’s announcement that Comcast will allow on-demand viewing of network programs for the same cost.

The final major transformation of consumer content control is underway. What the big three networks will do with all that now-redundant delivery bandwidth is beyond me. Sure, you can still tape what you want and watch it when you want. And you can still get the default airwave schedule for free. But you can see the new model very clearly now. All content will become available on demand for under a buck.

The real question is what you’ll use to view it. Except for some teens and 20-somethings, I don’t think it will be your cell phone or iPod. They can technically support some programming, with special modifications, but I don’t think most people want to have to hold and view a device that small to see, say, an hour program, much less a movie. And let’s not discuss how long it takes to download even short video clips.

Many years ago, a friend bought me a Sony Watchman portable TV as a gift. Very small screen with a sharp picture. However, it was so tiny that it became tiresome to hold and view it for much more than a few minutes. I don’t see the video iPods or today’s cell phones being used for serious viewing, either, other than perhaps short music videos. Of course, you miss a lot of the action and atmosphere on those small screens.

That leaves a very attractive market for publicly-accessible viewing devices which are cabled up to the internet. Since nobody probably wants to carry a 21" viewing screen with them for idle moments of entertainment, it's logical to assume that various locations where people now wait (airports, coffee shops, etc) may have swipe-card operated viewing devices.

I have suspected for a few months, like the staff on CNBC’s SquawkBox concluded this morning in their discussion of this topic, that the end result of this will be personal content accounts accessible anywhere, anytime. But not through small personally-owned devices. Rather, think web-accessed accounts- networks, private producers, old movie library websites, etc. Or viewing a just-released movie, courtesy of Bob Iger’s new Disney plans, in your hotel room, for only a few dollars, by accessing your personal account on a website using the hotel’s high-speed connection.

It’s ironic that the same digital format that is going to take out the telephone companies is also going to remove a huge chunk of value-adding services from licensed broadcasting as well. Which do you think will implode first, Verizon and AT&T, or NBC and CBS?

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