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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Aggregators Are the Schedule

Well into the 1980s, the broadcast networks controlled the TV industry outright; in fact, though saturation grew in leaps and bounds, cable/satellite TV was not ubiquitous in America until the late 1990s. And during this time, the networks not only set the standard cable channels emulated but lacked the money to achieve, they controlled basically every aspect of programming, from product to distributor to scheduling. But, as more channels become available, programming directors are becoming obsolete and the broadcast channels are finding their "house organ" structure less tenable.

The wider range of programming has conditioned us to on-demand expectation from our AV entertainment; when we want to see something funny, musical, animated, or related to a specific sport, we have at least two entire networks from which to choose at any moment of the day. However, most people watch only a handful of these options regularly, and never watch others, creating their own Channel and Program Playlist -- their own programming schedule. Yet, these schedules are still dictated in large part just by what is on the TV and when.
Most of us are content to watch whatever is on, as opposed to spending so much of our time surfing the channels. While this is more prevalent in older generations, as we became accustomed to it pre-cable, everyone does it. But over the course of regular viewing, we fashion our own schedules from the programs across these channels. Where a broadcast network schedules scores of variety content, cable networks remain tightly focused on one subject or aspect, such as sports, music, or comedy; by picking a variety of shows from these channel "warehouses," we are replacing the network schedule, and scheduler.

This is the essence of aggregators, including RSS readers and portals: They become our entertainment "grid," informing us of our options and allowing us to make our selections. But they are not as functional as they should be, due to a plethora of reasons (but mostly a lack of dedicated employees to oversee such processes). And though convenient to an extent, programming via aggregator becomes as tiresome as channel-surfing.

The logical extension of this is the playlist/queue, found in and on many entertainment programs and sites, which allow the user to schedule the order of his own programming and set it to run automatically. We create lists of our favorite channels and programs, set shows in order of play (schedule), and thereby perform the duties of any network programming director. Even worse (for said hypothetical programming director), we are free to adjust this schedule at the drop of a hat and choose when we watch what we want.

It's only a matter of time before the portal returns as the major entranceway to the Web, as I've said for years. The major impedance was the portals' insistence on providing all of the content, instead of aggregating it from dedicated, outside sources. TV already has a similar policy in-place, but this model is based on payment for distribution -- something the Web does not offer, generally speaking. Foregoing this revenue forces the networks and providers to focus on other strategies, such as advertising- and subscriptions- based models.

While the matter of price-points continues to be researched and debated, content providers are learning that viewers are more willing to spend small amounts on specific programming than on more expensive "package" programming deals (such as paying for access to a network's entire programming roster). In an attempt to force our collective hand, old-school network executives keep rejecting this approach with heavy-handed distribution deals they keep forcing down the throats of end-users, distributors, and portals (which would generally contract with the distributor for carriage), which is the defacto online model.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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