Posted: 05.24.04
Philo Farnsworth, inventor of television, died in 1971, disappointed with how the medium had turned out. "He foresaw something a little more useful to the public," said his biographer Donald Godfrey.


You got video, we got video, all ah God's children got video—ain't life grand?

It occurred to me the other day that there are the X- and Y-gen, the Beatniks and Boomers, the Goths, grunge, hippies, and seniors. And all the market analysisters and demographicers spend inordinate amounts of time and clients' money telling us the differences between them and how to reach one segment or the other. But you know what? They share a common denominator—TV. We was all brung up with the TV and learnt real good how to talk and act. Regardless of one's tastes in or for TV, almost every human on the planet watches it, and feels they don't get to watch as much of it as they'd like to. Forget the minority who look down their noses at TV and anyone who watches it—they account for less than one one-hundredth of one percent and half of them are lying—we watch TV. Think about it, would billions and billions of dollars be spent on advertising, production, equipment, and laws if the world wasn't watching?

But if you need further proof that TV is life and life is TV, just look at the multitude of ways we can get it now. A friend of mine was making a presentation the other day and wanted to show some examples of how far technology has moved in the last 30 to 40 years—the lifetime of most people. One of his examples was TV—in 1950 it was 17-inch screens, B&W, and four channels. Today it's 27-inch (we're talking averages here), color, and hundreds of channels, plus VHS, CD, and DVD for additional sources. It comes to us over the air, through the ground, from the sky, and down our phone lines. And if we're not home to watch it, our robot will record it for us and store until we are ready. Do we like TV or what?

David Sarnoff saw the potential of the iconoscope, the proto-television patented by Vladimir Zworykin in 1923. Within five years Sarnoff had set up a special NBC station called b2xbs to experiment with what came to be known as television. It started in 1939 and David Sarnoff gave the world a look into a new life. Not only was he instrumental in creating both radio and television as we know them, he was also nearly clairvoyant in seeing how each medium would develop. He regarded black-and-white TV as only a transitional phase to color and even predicted the invention of the VCR.

Do we? We also like our mobility, and one of the most mobilizing things we ever got was the cell phone. We play games with it, flirt with cute codes, take and send pictures, and very soon, real very soon, we'll watch TV on it. Trials are running now in the U.S. and many parts of Asia. Not to be outdone, Mr. PDA is bringing TV to wherever we are, too. Our little handhelds will deliver over-the-air TV or through the cell network (using G3, of course). And, the phone provider will also offer NVOD through a DVR capability at the head end.

We've had it on our PCs for a few years and Microsoft is going to see to it we get TV even better with the media center. We've got TVs in almost every room, in the mirror in the bathroom, under the kitchen cabinets, and in the back yard.

We've had TV in our cars and boats for years, and VHS on airplanes, and even that is about to change. Soon we'll be able to do real Internet stuff on planes and guess what comes with that—live TV. We want our MTV, and the suppliers are going to make sure we get it (wasn't there something about being careful what you wish for?).

One of the things that is helping to make this possible is the content. New content is coming at us like never before. That old song about 500 channels of TV and nuthin' on wasn't a complaint about TV but a complaint that there wasn't enough of it—i.e., content. Well, guess what? That is so '90s—no wait, that is so '80s. Today, we're turning out so much content, and a whole bunch of it, maybe even a lot of it, is clever, good, interesting stuff. You just can't make stupid comments about there being noting to watch.

The transformation is taking place across the board—from creation to content. To take one example, let's look at what's happening in the workstation space. Long the last holdout for specialized high-end workstations, video production is making the move to commodity PCs and graphics. Nvidia is going after the Voodoos, Bluefins, Targas, and Matroxes and so is 3DLabs. Apple is going after the Adobes, Avids, and Pinnacles and bringing high-end capabilities to the desktop. And they're being met with welcoming arms. Today almost anyone can be a TV producer. Hell, we already were with our handicams, but now we can get our hands on low-cost, outrageously powerful video-editing and special effects software. Anyone with any talent could produce some damn cool stuff with a few thousand dollars and hours.

So we're going to get our TV, in every way possible, good and bad, but I'm thinking mostly good.

As Dick Solomon, the alien high commander in "Third Rock from the Sun," said, "God bless television," and in so doing reflected the feeling of most earthlings: that TV is the most influential medium of the 20th century.