Sunday, December 11, 2005

Watching TV Across the Divide

TV is now a necessity for many people. Think about where we all turned for information during 9/11 or the images sent to us in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In today's society, even with the vast amounts of information sent over the Web, we need TV (and radio) for its immediacy in delivering information.

But when it's not feeding us necessary information the flashing box in the corner is feeding us ads. So I've been thinking how much money I hand over the TV industry just so they can feed me those ads.

Back when my wife and I were first married we bought a TV with a bit of our wedding money. It cost about $350 at the Bon Ton in Binghamton, N.Y. and has lasted about 10 years now. It still sits in my living room, hooked up to a small stereo system that includes a bit of surroundsound, a DVD player that cost us about $100 and a now-hardly-used VCR. We also have DirecTV with one of the more basic packages, costing us about $50 a month--I have DirecTV just so I can get the New York Jets games up here in New England. I debate about that expense every year.

Now the FCC has announced that in a few years we'll all need to switch to HDTV systems in order to watch even broadcast TV. Any HDTV that you would put in your living room will probably run you about $800 on the low end. Most people are spending more than $1000 on these things. That's a lot of money when you consider that you can buy a traditional TV set, no matter how small, for less than $100.

And this is just for the transmissions pulled from the air.

Then there is the DVR, the revolution started by TiVo and ReplayTV that basically makes it easier to watch TV when you want instead of when it's scheduled.

My wife and I haven't yet invested in TiVo. Frankly, we see it as just another expense to throw at our TV. Is it really such an important part of our lives that we need to have all this programming available whenever we want? I'm sure we'll get it at some point, but for now the money can go elsewhere.

Still, the DVR is a growing trend, one that Nielson has now recognized, much to the chagrin of traditional broadcast and cable properties. Nielson plans to report numbers for the day of broadcast, one day later and one over the week following the initial broadcast. For now advertisers will balk since DVR viewers are seen as less-likely to watch ads. But over time product placement people will probably embrace the numbers. In fact, you will probably hear shows touting how they're reaching a more "upscale audience" thanks to DVR. In other words, "poor people may watch us, but more rich people are watching us more because they have technology that poor people can't afford."

This isn't really new. Right now you hear how bloggers are a more "influential" or "upscale" audience. In the 50s you heard the same thing said about the viewing public, thought today we call it the "golden age of television." This notion will change over time as the price of technology falls and reaches the less affluent.

But for now it means that to gain the very basic information people need, many will need to pony up cash they may not have.

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