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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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June 03, 2005

Die Channel. Die! Die! Die!

Posted by Ernest Miller

MediaPost (reg. req.) runs an essay on how we seem to be reaching the saturation point for the number of cable channels, and it is falling far short of the mythical 500 channels we were promised (We May Have Reached the End of the 500-Channel Universe, 395 Channels Short). But why?

Noting that the average American cable TV viewer now has 105 channels available, Merrill Lynch research analyst Jessica Reif Cohen notes they actually watch only "16 to 18" of them. That suggests, she says, that "we may have reached a point of saturation with regard to start-up cable networks."
Imagine that, we only watch about 16 to 18 channels.

What that tells me is that the whole "channel" concept is an incredibly inefficient content delivery mechanism. The search costs are far too high, for one thing. It is too much trouble to search beyond a relatively small number of channels. People stick with the few channels they know are likely to have something that interests them and not spend too much time looking through the many other options.

It sort of reminds me of "bookmarks," which was a primitive means for navigating the World Wide Web back in the day. One would bookmark favorite webpages, then check them periodically to see if there were something new and interesting. Of course, doing so was quite time-consuming and often frustrating as one couldn't be sure when there would be an update. Consequently, most would only check about 16 - 18 channels webpages regularly. Thank goodness we now have RSS, which has vastly increased the number of webpages one can check on a daily basis.

Furthermore, having to structure activity around specific broadcast times is rather inconvenient. Indeed, I imagine in the future that people will think it absurd that there were schedules for the transmission of pre-recorded entertainment and people had to conform to these broadcast schedules, instead of the other way around. Yet, because we currently have to, we are further limited in our choices to what is available during a rather limited segment of time. Yes, I know there is TiVo, but that still ties us to certain broadcast times, which unfortunately often conflict with the broadcast of other shows one might be interested in.

This whole scheduling thing has also resulted in some artificial time slots for content. Everything comes in 30-min or 1-hour packages. This doesn't really make any organic sense, but was well-suited to reducing some of the content delivery problems of the "channel" concept. What this means is that these shows are most likely wasting people's time. There might be 30 minutes of good content, but most likely there is a lesser amount of good content and the rest is just filler to meet the alloted and artificial time constraints (30-Minute Television Shows to be a Thing of the Past).


And what the heck is up with organizing things simply because there is one company selling the advertising? What the heck does Fear Factor have in common with Law & Order, other than the fact that NBC sells the national advertising for both?

Clearly, the "channel" concept as delivery mechanism is a failure. There is only one solution: The Channel Must Die!

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcatching/Podcasting | Open Access


1. Ed Felten on June 3, 2005 02:59 AM writes...

Channels are we know them may be on the way out. But the term "channel" will survive. It seems almost inevitable that the RSS feeds used in podcasting will come to be called "channels".

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2. Precision Blogger on June 3, 2005 09:11 AM writes...

I use search engines to find programs I want to watch - TiVo's simple search, Google, or specialized ones (like the web site that lists a particular generic card game I like to watch on TV that this commenting software will not allow me to mention).

I agree, the rationales for having "channels" are getting weaker.
- Precision Blogger

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3. Alex Rowland on June 3, 2005 12:56 PM writes...

I agree with Ed. The mainstream like familiar terms. RSS sounds too geeky. A channel is something everyone will understand. It'll just be a channel focused on a specific topic of interest to them (not just "a cooking channel," but "my cooking channel focused on BBQ recipies"). People still like to organize content around specific subjects, it's just that broadcast is inherently mass market and cannot generate the kind of inidividual focus you find on the Web.

Media RSS grouping of content is going to define each source, text, audio and video. It's just far more efficient to find compelling content that way. You just won't see any of it delivered over proprietary closed networks. Their days are numbered.

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4. Ernest Miller on June 3, 2005 08:24 PM writes...

I'm not so sure that RSS feeds will come to be known as "channels." Many RSS feeds will essentially be playlists of content, and since that content will likely be on multiple playlists, I'm not so sure people will call these playlists "channels." Perhaps, but I'm not convinced. I don't think of the Freedom to Tinker RSS as a "channel," I think of it as a "feed."

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5. Ralph T. Gerwing on June 3, 2005 09:23 PM writes...

A Tv. channel is just bandwidth to convey information . It is narrowband or High Definition.
This content packaging is changing in the 21st
Century. VOIP, videophones, satalite phones and
deregulation make things a blur. I further have a vew that i mention now.. rtg.

The start of television and it distribution ;
via a dedicated radio frequency bandwidth allocation to viewers with roof top and rabbit ear antenna, is a great 20th Century Invention.
This mass media distribution follows ; on from the early gather
around the magic audio box, listeners of Radio.
A octogenarian told me today ( Mrs Stella McDonald )
that she was digging out of storage Al Jolson records.

So , what is common about this topic? Well simply put; it is the
conveying over space and time the channel (bandwidth) of content
to you, the individual, visual, auditory or both stimulus.
These sensations are meant to be enjoyable.

Now we come to written content , audio and video and the Internet.
21st. Century grand alignment of the space , time , continuum. gasp!!!
The Paradigm of all distilled, synthesized and reported human endeavors....
... ad infinitaum .....

This Novo collection is stored on
deep ultraviolet laser disks and vertical nanopole hard drives..
Delivered the last mile to where you are.
By Wireless radio frequencies, Broadband Copper cable,
or Glass Optical cable.
When you want it.

This blogation will be delivered by the Internet.
Wether you engage it or not, that is your of your choosing.
Just like switching off the TV.
Shutting off the Radio .
Pulling the plug on the music and
Switching off the light.

All in All this is neat stuff
and for me, " quite the ride ".

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