a week in wireless

TV Times

Video is the next big thing, apparently. “But surely it’s already been around for a little while,” you might nervously venture after a telco evangelist with a challenging hair cut blurts this factoid at you as if he’s just discovered the secret of alchemy. That was old video, he will sneer, we’re now in the mobile video era!

Given the opportunity to pop his head around the door at the recent unveiling of EE TV, the Informer learned that we don’t watch telly like we did in the olden days. Apparently we now “snack”, with the inference being we previously gorged. Where we now peck at our TV content like farmyard chickens, we previously stuffed our faces until we collapsed in a panting heap.

One of the reasons we now nibble at TV is that we’re in the VOD era. While fans of the Russian spirit may argue that has been the case for some time, in this case we’re talking about Video On Demand. The reason we no longer put down roots in the living room and watch TV until the onset of deep vein thrombosis demands some token activity, is that we’re not at the mercy of the schedules of a few channels anymore.

The Informer still bears the emotional scars of a childhood when the TV choice of a given evening might be: Dallas, 3-2-1, Surprise Surprise and something inexplicably hosted by Noel Edmunds. That was it. There was only one TV so even the primitive pixels emanating from what we had the nerve to call games systems were out. So the only alternatives to the aforementioned dross were reading or, even worse, talking to each other. The dross won every time.

If someone had given the Informer the vision of a future in which we not only have hundreds of TV stations to choose from, but some of them even broadcast everything twice, one hour apart, they would have been laughed out of the room. If they nonetheless continued to insist that there would one day be a similar number of VOD services, including ones featuring videos people took of themselves, the Informer would have taken away their car keys and insisted they eat raw coffee. If they pleaded that our phones would also become remote controls as well as little tellies in their own right, that person would have been bundled into a padded cell for their own safety before they’d even finished the sentence.

But that is the reality we now live in – a utopia in which we can watch what we want, when we want, and in which the anxiety of missing a treasured broadcast that might not be repeated for years is consigned to a savage, uncivilised past. Successive cutting edge video services reassure us that we need never miss anything ever again, ever. As EE CEO Olaf Swantee knowingly joked at the EE TV unveiling: “The couch potato is cooked”.

What they don’t mention, however, is when we’re supposed to watch all this content we’re cunningly stockpiling to fit around our busy lives. Our smart devices cleverly anticipate our every content desire and accumulate digital media without us even having to ask for it. After an especially busy week we might consult our devices on a lazy Sunday afternoon only to find, like a cat proudly presenting the corpse of a mouse, they have served up a month’s worth of viewing goodness for us to consume at our leisure. The only alternative then is to either take a week’s holiday and embark upon a 24/7 video marathon, with all its attendant social, medical and psychological implications, or to junk these terabytes of content in order to free up storage space and start the whole futile cycle once more.

Regardless, within the telco industry the ‘data crunch’ brought about by our insatiable desire for on-demand video apparently requires all manner of remedial measures. On top of that telcos are presumed to be in a state of perpetual anxiety about ‘OTT players’ such as Netflix, who are presuming to hog network bandwidth without so much as a cursory memo to operators. In other words, video is either a huge opportunity or a massive headache, depending on how you look at it.

As well as the EE TV launch we had a report from Ofcom this week revealing the proportion of UK children who have their own tablet has doubled in the past year. Furthermore the proportion of those aged 3-4 who have their own tablet has tripled to 10%. This couldn’t be further from the broadcast dark age of the Informer’s youth and, of course, all those digitally native sproggs will be filming themselves and uploading the footage, thus compounding the video explosion.

HTE RE OrangeEqually symptomatic of this video-obsessed era are HTC’s recent product launches. The HTC EYE smartphone has a 13MP front-facing camera to raise the bar on the quality of selfies you might, for some reason, want to take (and, of course, share). But the big news was the RE (pictured), a handheld 16MP camera Bluetooth accessory that allows you to use your smartphone as a remote viewfinder. The thinking seems to be that, freed from the need to hold your smartphone in front of you while to shoot video, you will now keep the RE constantly clenched in your clammy grip, ready to pounce and film things at a moment’s notice.

In these televisual times, nothing is considered to have legitimately happened until it is filmed, lobbed into the cloud, shared and commented on. We must surely be close to ‘peak video’, when the combined burden of VOD and user-generated content will crash the world’s datacenters and saturate the world’s networks. This will precipitate a post-apocalyptic society in which desperate survivors scavenge for scarce video content wherever they can find it. Just like the good old days.

Take care.

The Informer

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