Digital TV: A Luddite's Lament - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
2/13/2009
07:12 PM
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Digital TV: A Luddite's Lament

I know that digital television transmission is sharper, clearer, richer, and offers oodles of other benefits that lame old rabbit-eared analog sets couldn't even, er, picture. But remind me again who asked for the improvement?

I know that digital television transmission is sharper, clearer, richer, and offers oodles of other benefits that lame old rabbit-eared analog sets couldn't even, er, picture. But remind me again who asked for the improvement?As many as 500 stations will cease broadcasting analog signals next Tuesday, rendering what was once free programming into a hardware and likely subscription expense. The remaining stations will follow in June. Yet almost one-fifth of American households rely on over-the-air TV, according to one study. Another survey suggest that nearly 6 million homes aren't ready for the analog shut-down.

So why the conversion?

It seems that a good number of people are quite happy with the imperfection of analog broadcast TV. But they, just like the rest of us who've been enjoying the benefits of the 500 channel mulitverse wash of digital programming, will be required to pay for the privilege of watching the boob tube. There's no choice, really.

Did the cable operators lobby for the transition because it'll create more customers? Maybe the broadcast networks saw an opportunity to improve their distribution channels? Hardware makers perhaps sensed a new market for conversion boxes? Pay-per-view providers probably saw the opportunity to sell more content to more people?

Or maybe it's just a function of the advance of technology? I mean, people had to deal with the introduction of CD players, whether they wanted to or not. LP records eventually disappeared from stores shelves, though only when the cost of CD players had plummeted. Push-button telephones replaced rotary-dial units, also over a long stretch of time.

But watching TV isn't like those other options, is it? TV is like a member of the family, or a sole source of entertainment (or both) for folks. It's also one of the few tools that keeps people not otherwise immersed in broadband Internet surfing connected to some semblance, however ersatz, of community.

So I ask again: why the conversion?

I just don't think that consumers demanded it. It feels like it's happening to us, not because of us. The old ways kinda worked in this case, didn't they?

In another time, this situation would have called for some loom busting.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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