Technology has radically changed how we consume video, and how we will consume it in the future. Though much of the current landscape still reflects the cable television paradigm that became mainstream in the 80s and 90s, we are fast approaching a critical point that will establish the new paradigm going forward, as on-demand streaming of TV shows becomes more and more popular. The Internet has blown the “thousand channels” once promised by cable out of the water with a seemingly limitless selection of video, all waiting for you whenever you want. Soon, your television and cable box could be replaced by a computer that can pull up shows from the Internet, rendering any older concept of the “television” obsolete.
Yet another aspect of technology may in some ways shake up the landscape even more, if only in how it shakes up our definition of a computer itself. This is the rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, devices that connect to the same Internet as more conventional computers even if they do so in ways that present themselves differently to the end user. There may not be any distinction between TV and Internet in the future, but these devices are counting on it, because they have no way to connect to cable TV other than by using the Internet as an intermediary. And if the Internet itself changes when we consume content, mobile devices change where we consume content. Ironically, this shift could make the question of “when” less relevant by making sure you’re never unable to catch your shows when they’re on (unless perhaps you’re behind the wheel of a car). Perhaps partly because of this, for the moment the consumption of content on mobile devices reflects the current cable television paradigm even more than the general landscape, with cable companies embracing the future they call “TV Everywhere” where any channel you can watch at home you can watch on your smartphone, tablet, or computer – if you “authenticate” with your cable provider.
The notion that in the future, there will be people that get all their video off the Internet in some way should give one pause, raising the question of what the implications are on a more basic level. What sort of infrastructure are we building for the consumption of video, and is it the right tool for all the jobs we might end up asking it to do?