McAdams On: How Broadband Saves Broadcasting
3/26/2010 2:46:54 PM
Broadcasters need to pull a flanking maneuver
with the powers that have pitched them in opposition to broadband. Such a
strategy awaits them in the marketplace now. One iteration is Roku. I had the opportunity
to hook up one of these babies last night, and it’s brilliant.
Roku is one of those ’Net-streaming peripherals for the TV. It’s less than
$100, the size of a router, and possibly the easiest digital electronic device
to set up ever invented. It took me around 20 minutes and a phone call to the
friend who gave it to me, mostly because I skipped the directions and just
plugged it in. With even minimal attention, it’s 20 minutes or so from
unpacking to watching a movie on TV.
If I owned a TV station, I’d give these things away. I’d sponsor seminars on
how to use them. Every PBS member station should throw away the mugs and
shopping bags and start shipping Rokus or one of the other similar peripherals.
How and why these things haven’t been hailed as the answer to a la carte
programming is beyond me. (As admittedly, many things are... like how the
broadcast industry expects to survive once the median age of congress equals a
few less rings on a tree trunk.)
Mine is exclusively an over-the-air TV household for a variety of reasons. Most
involve better things to do with my money than pay for a ton of TV shows that
irritate my gag reflex just to get a couple I like. I also get beautiful,
minimally compressed video over-the-air, compared to the cataracted dross offered
by the only multichannel pay provider serving this ’hood.
Now, for the one-time price of the hardware and less than $10 a month, I have
on-demand access to several thousand movies and TV episodes, music and other
stuff I’ve not yet bothered with. There is no need to pay a cable or DBS
operator a dime. I have a Terk HDTVa that brings in the big sporting events,
all the biggest TV events, local, regional and national news, as well as hard
news and analysis in the form of “Frontline” and the “NewsHour.” For what do I
It’s true that cable companies have a lot of people locked up with bundled
billing for broadband, voice and video. It’s true they’re often one of two
broadband providers available to a given household. It’s true that broadband
providers in general are skinning people and lying about connections speeds.
All these things are true, and all the more reason for broadcasters to support
localized broadband initiatives that provide reliable, competitive service. A),
they have more participatory opportunity with localized initiatives, and B)
every one that’s launched while lawmakers futz with the National Broadband Plan
attenuates its argument for spectrum reassignment.
The National Broadband Plan assumes a great deal about technology that’s not
been demonstrated. Ubiquitous wireless broadband across the country is a pipe
dream. There will be reception holes just as there are now with digital
television. There will be unserved and underserved areas because the economics just
aren’t there. There will be interference and congestion issues in
high-population areas because radio frequency signals bleed, spill and bounce.
A true National Broadband Plan would enable municipalities to launch and
support their own services on the least utilized frequencies in their markets.
Broadcasters would be partners rather than perceived as the resistant, petulant
fossils they are now being depicted as by FCC leadership.
Streaming delivery and broadcast are a very potent combination with a nearly
irresistible price point. This is competing. This is the marketplace. Not D.C.
Not Capitol Hill. The game doesn’t have to be over.