Television will be Asynchronous: Part 1- How We're Getting There

Television will be Asynchronous: Part 1- How We're Getting There

This will be a two part post.  Today I am going to explore what synchronous and asynchronous television means and then describe why and how synchronous television is falling out of favor.  Tomorrow I’ll be discussing what I think the implications of fully asynchronous TV might be.  If this is a topic of interest of you, you may want to read a related previous post on web tv; On Conan, The Internet and the First Webwork.

Asynchronous communication is communication that is not time specific.  When you email with a friend it is asynchronous.  You send the email and in some indeterminate amount of time, your friend responds.  When you talk to the same friend on the phone, the communication is synchronous.  Your friend waits for you to say something and then says something back.  Broadcasting is a specific type of synchronous communication in which the client (or user or viewer) receives communication from the server (or broadcaster or television network) synchronously, but can not communicate back.

This is quickly becoming unacceptable.  People want to watch television where and when they want to, not on the release schedule of the networks.  I know you’re aware of some and maybe all of the technologies that are making this possible, but I’m asking you to look at it as an inescapable trend.  Americans are finding more and more ways to make television asynchronous and eventually the networks will have to give up and provide television as a library of always available entertainment.  Think of it as a scale with one extreme being the reality that was television before the VCR, when you either watched a show when it aired or not at all.  The other extreme would be a fully indexed library of every television show ever made, all of which could be displayed instantly.  We’re somewhere in the middle of that scale, but we are making an undeniable progression from the former extreme to the latter.

Currently the technologies that are enabling this are:

  • DVR – Enables the recording of shows so that they can be watched anytime after they’ve aired.
  • TV Shows on DVD/Netflix – Enables (in the case of netflix) instant consumption of most TV shows that have been released on DVD (usually after the season is over).
  • Hulu/Boxee/iTunes – Enables the consumption of recent TV Shows anytime.  The interesting one here is Boxee, which has the capability of finding a given show across all of the websites it’s been published to as well as netflix.

The issue with all these technologies is that their hacks.  They are built on top of the current system.  Tomorrow I will look at what a new system might look like, rather then just a patch on top of the existing system.