Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Filling the Future's 500 TV Channels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Filling the Future's 500 TV Channels

Article excerpt

LET'S pretend the electronic superhighway has already been paved. A massive deal of some kind has been struck among carriers - the phone companies, the cable systems, the satellite companies, even the electric utilities (which have lately been saying that they, too, should be allowed to carry TV signals). Programmers no longer face the danger of being shouldered out in the struggle over channels on cable TV. Viewers can sit at home with 500 or so channels at their disposal.

Then what? Where do you get material that even approaches the tolerable level to fill all that time? The real answer may lie in another question: Who said anything about tolerable? If people fret over the junk, trivia, and worse already filling the afternoons and wee hours on TV - and that's with only a handful of channels to program - they should shudder at the prospect of a technology with an almost inexhaustible capacity to deliver schlock. The potential for creating a lot of channels may exist, but filling them satisfactorily takes imagination, and that usually runs out first. Such programming needs remind me of taking a long car trip with children and having to come up with ways to entertain ("I know! Let's see who can count the most license plates from different states!").

Some of the media megamergers completed or currently being negotiated revolve around this question of production needs and program rights. The heads of broadcast and cable TV systems are keenly aware that having something worthwhile to program is perhaps the key capability, and they are willing to commit billions to gain it.

But here's another answer, though decidedly only a partial one, in response to how the new thirst for material can be slaked: Talk, talk, talk. Reconcile yourself to the fact that we're going to hear and see many more of those talking heads as TV pulls onto the electronic superhighway.

Before you throw up your hands at the idea, consider just one example of the many unpalatable alternatives: the growing porn-video market. Reports have been surfacing about its anticipated expansion into the multichannel video future. …

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