Pandora for TV?

At one time I thought the “Holy Grail” of music was Napster. I just typed in a song name and BAM – there were 25 different copies. So I started downloading music like a madman over my 56K dial-up connection. Dozens, then hundreds of songs. I’d set it at night, and wake up in the morning and have 8-10 new songs – compliments of Napster. Then I started burning this music to CD. And then started listening to what I had downloaded and burned. I was seriously bummed out. Turns out these “rips” were done by amateurs – people that had no idea what they were doing. Sometimes mono, sometimes only one channel, sometimes cut in the middle of a great jam. I decided pretty quickly that Napster was a huge waste of time.

About this time I went to a Cold Fusion Developers Group meeting (geeks) in Falls Church VA on December 9, 1999 where a member of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had been scheduled as the guest speaker to talk about Internet piracy – just so happens its the same day they file suit against Napster. As you can imagine there were questions from the audience (small, about 200 of us) about this and that, and the RIAA guy defended the artists and was emphatic about how Napster was giving away their product. “Digital downloads will destroy the music industry” was the mantra, which was widely believed at the time. If you didn’t manufacture the disc (CD, vinyl), put it in a case, shrink rap it, send it to a record store where someone would come to buy it – it was BAD for the industry. I raised my hand: “Sir, I love music. I have to say I downloaded some songs from Napster, and they were horrible – terrible quality. I would rather pay for the music and I think anyone that tries it would agree. We just need a way to pay you to download it so we know we’re getting quality.” He did acknowledge that quality was also a concern of the artist, but was not ready to talk about pay-to-download (high quality, guaranteed, artist-endorsed) songs that were on the horizon. At the time the artists’ contracts had been written to contemplate records – not bits and bytes. It was certainly disruptive, but the market has finally prevailed and we now have $1 (or less) digital download. But wait….

At one time I thought the “Holy Grail” of music was having all my favorite music on a thumb drive or iPod – thousands of digital songs, all my favorite albums and artists for me to enjoy. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have every song you have ever heard, and would ever want to hear, right there in the palm of your hand? In the late 90s I started ripping songs off my CDs, amassing a nice library of about 10-15,000 songs. Then a friend handed me a portable hard drive with tens of thousands. Then I uploaded all of them to Google Music, and now have a massive library of music. In the beginning I was creating song lists, or pulling up old albums from my awesome archive.

Then, I discovered Pandora. Oh man, this is cool. I make my own “channels” based on an artist, a song, or a genre, and inject preferences into the mix to get a more-and-more refined “station” that plays only what I want to hear. I have a Beatles channel, a John Hiatt channel, a Steely Dan channel, a Black Crowes channel and a Flatt And Scruggs channel. It all depends on my mood. But, throw a Beatles song into my Flatt and Scruggs channel, and I will hit the “thumbs down” button. This tells Pandora that I don’t want to hear the Beatles when I’m tying to get my bluegrass on – not that I don’t like the Beatles. Why is all of this important? Because I can turn it on and let it go – I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to build a songlist or playlist – I don’t have to worry about variety. Within two or three channels, I can hear hundreds of my favorite musicians – in a linear fashion. Segmented the way I want them – depending on my mood, the company I’m with, the time of day, and maybe the season.

So here comes a similar situation with video. When I was a kid, we had four or five channels to choose from – if you missed an episode of Happy Days – well, you missed it. No Hulu or DVRs. Then came cable with dozens of channels. Then hundreds of channels. Now, with the Internet, we have literally thousands of sources for video. Sports, movies, sit-coms, dramas – its all out there ready to consume. You can record it, watch it on “catch up TV”, Hulu, Netflix or the network websites. But are we in the same spot? Is there too much to sift through? I can’t tell you how many nights my family has poured through the cable guide and Netflix to find something to watch. If there was only some sort of Pandora for video. Linear feeds of the stuff I want to watch – maybe a sports channel that only focuses on my favorite teams. A documentary channel that focuses on my favorite rock and roll legends. A sit-com channel that only plays the shows I like. A movie channel that knows what I like, and always has something cool to watch. A technology channel that highlights the new, innovative products out there such as Google Glass and Apple’s new watch.

My guess is that VOD (video on demand) will begin to lose ground to linear feeds – hopefully managed in some sort of Pandora-like system where I can express my personal preferences and build my own library of feeds. I want to turn it on – and watch. I can’t wait for the day that the 2 minute Internet VOD is over – where I have to click and pick every couple minutes. I can’t wait for the day that we laugh about the cable guides that look like a bad Excel spreadsheet.

Posted by Chuck Ebbets   @   24 March 2013

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