Image by Rev. Xanatos Satanicos Bombasticos (ClintJCL) via Flickr
While I know that the idea of “Appointment TV” is dying with the advent of Hulu (and BitTorrent), and a lot of folks don’t even have a TV anymore, just watching everything online, I still like the idea of actually watching TV. I don’t do it as often as I used to, as there’s just not a lot on that I like anymore. Pretty much just Simpsons and Family Guy reruns, along with Futurama and Adventure Time for new stuff so far — I just don’t watch as much as I used to. But I do like the idea of flipping through the channels and it’s always great when you can stumble across something.
My idea — and I realize this is completely doable with equipment; I’m just basically cheap and lazy — is to do something similar to what I’ve done with my music library. I’d like to rip all my DVDs (TV shows broken into episodes, of course, as with individual music videos from band DVDs), combine those with various shorts I’ve downloaded, and put them all into iTunes (or an equivalent that can handle more file formats) and put ‘em on shuffle. I’d, of course, be able to pull up anything in particular that I‘d want to watch, but for the most part, it’d just it’d just go on shuffle — making my own TV channel. That way, I could just let it go, and when I felt like flipping through the channels, I’d at least have a channel I’d be more likely to stop on. Not always, though — I probably wouldn’t always be in the mood for what it was serving up. But there’d be times where I just wouldn’t KNOW I was in the mood for what it was serving, too. I’m sure we’ve all landed on a movie being broadcast and stay to watch it — even if it’s one that we’ve got a copy of and could watch any time. The same deal.
With AppleTV and other devices, this is pretty much possible. It’s just a matter of ripping everything you’ve got, prepping the files and loading ‘em in. If anything, it’s a bit of a time-suck in the setup process, but with hard drives getting larger and cheaper, space isn’t an issue — and likewise with DVD drives that are getting likewise cheaper and faster. (And, with the recent ruling by the US Copyright Office that we can actually rip our own legally purchased DVDs for purposes that fall under Fair Use, that’s no longer illegal; not that that would stop anyone anyway.) Having never used an AppleTV, I’m not 100% that it allows a shuffle function, but if it doesn’t, you could always use a special media server for that purpose controlled by a cheap PC with video outputs. So, that part is no real problem.
Of course, though, if that’s all there was to it, I probably wouldn’t bother writing this. But what instead, I’d like to see is LOTS of people doing this. Not just that, but devices that’d let you share within, say, a neighborhood or apartment building — so after flipping through normal channels, you could flip over and see what your neighbors are streaming. I realize this won’t happen — or at least, never in a legitimate form. It’s copyright infringement (while it borrows the broadcast model, I’d doubt the neighborhood would chip in for licensing) and, besides, it’s awfully close to pirate broadcasting, which the government’s never been too fond of. But it’d be really cool — particularly because it would act as a channel — not like someone serving up particular media.
I suppose, at that point, though, enterprising souls would rig up some sort of Pay-Per-View analog where folks’d get in touch to make requests that’d be broadcast to everyone — which is an idea I enjoy just for its old-tmey feeling; it feels like what pirate TV broadcasters would do in the 50s, if well, any aspect of that technology existed except the telephone. It’s silly, but I think in a way it’d bring neighborhoods together.
If this technology were common enough for this to actually happen — we’d most likely be able to get EVERYONE’S streams from all across the Internet. Oddly enough, I’m torn on this. It’d be cool to see what some guy in Gloucestershire would broadcast, but there’d be SO much, I think it’d be impossible to sift through — if the entire point of this is to bring back the joy of channel flipping, too much makes it a nigh-impossible slog. By limiting it to neighborhoods (or some other subset of the population), it’d make it managable, and above all, it could foster friendships that might not otherwise exist. If you’re broadcasting something I didn’t know anyone else around liked (maybe Brass Eye or something, I don’t know), I’m probably gonna connect with you — if nothing else than to say “Hey, cool.” And that could lead to going to awesome shows or movies together… or you could turn out to be lame but with good taste, who knows. But that’s kind of the fun of seeing what’s out there. And, likewise, you might not have any idea as to what someone’s showing, but really, really like it — and not only could you ask them what it was, but you might even be able to find out a local source.
Copyright Infringment: Bringing People Together.