Tomorrow’s television? Now we’re talking vast. Start with the screenswide, flat, high-definition monsters that delineate tire treads on NASCAR rigs and zits on an anchorperson’s chinand move to the programming choices, which will expand from a lousy 200 or so channels to tens of thousands of ’em, if you figure in video-on-demand (VOD). It’ll be a cosmic video jukebox where you can fire up old episodes of “Cop Rock,” the fifth game of the 1993 World Series, a live high-school lacrosse game, a ranting video blogger and your own HD home-movie production of Junior’s first karate tournament. While it’s playing, you can engage in running voice commentary with your friends, while in a separate part of the screen you’re slamming orcs in World of Warcraft. Then you can pay your bill on screen. And if you ever manage to leave your home theater, you can monitor the whole shebang in your car, at a laptop at Starbucks or via the laundry-ticket-size screen on your cell phone. The ethos of New TV can be captured in a single sweeping mantra: anything you want to see, any time, on any device. “We are at a watershed moment in home entertainment,” says Brian Roberts, CEO of the cable giant Comcast.
To paraphrase sci-fi author William Gibson, the TV future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet. Early adopters have jumped on the new stuff because they offer two qualities traditionally lacking in the fading era of broadcast television: personalization and empowerment. All of which is worse news than a crummy Nielsen rating for the major networks, whose market share has already plummeted in the past decade.