Earlier this week, Joop Dorresteijn posted on his blog about an idea to make TV available on the iPhone. You can see my comment mixed in with everyone else's at the bottom: I'm all for making TV available on the iPhone, but only if it makes it more readily available on other devices at the same time.
Once upon a time, anyone with the know-how to set up a receiver and the necessarily electrical guts could get radio or television, all for free. You just needed to learn how the receivers worked, gather the parts, do the work, and supply the electricity (either off the grid or generate-your-own).
My parents' first TV set was like that. My dad gathered working parts from sets that their owners were junking because they were broken, wired everything together, and created what my mother called HajerVision (Hajer being our last name): a set with a Zenith screen, an RCA cabinet, Panasonic innards... I don't know what the exact mix was, but even though it was a Frankenstein's monster of an entertainment device, it worked well enough until my parents could afford to buy a new TV set like regular consumers.
How did the stations ever allow such a montrosity access to their precious channels? Easy: they didn't care, so long as my parents watched the revenue-creating ads like everyone else with a set.
Somehow, in the minds of the broadcasters and (it seems) television watchers, that has changed. It's easy enough to stream "radio" or "television" on the Net, or to make it available in individualised, downloadable chunks. Both accommodate advertisements easily enough — I watch enough video on Slate, and virtually all of it has ads.
Unless you hide behind a proxy or have a non-standard internet connection, content providers Always Know Where You Are, too. Just watch the ads change as you physically travel from place to place but keep accessing the same web sites from your new location.
So, with all this targeting and "captive-audience" infrastructure in place, what are the broadcasters doing? They're making hulu.com not available in Canada, even though the exact same shows are available over the broadcast airwaves. Somewhere along the line it wasn't good enough to be a consumer of content with attached advertising. Now you have to consume cable or sattellite as well.
As it happens, I can't get any television channels in my new apartment, even though it's only 2.6km from my old one (where I got about six channels with rabbit ears). I'm told that's probably because of the cement walls in the new place. I never watched enough television to make it worth my while to pay for cable, but it would be nice to watch some of the dramas I liked. It would be even nicer (as Joop suggests in his post) to be able to watch shows on a portable device (my N-800, in my case).
TV channels are crying that the internet is costing them revenue and attacking people who download pirated copies of TV shows to watch them on computers. So why aren't they providing the content, with targeted ads so they can make money, like they did when they were actually broadcasting?