Virtually Heaven


Check out this article at Bloomberg.com, and let me know when you’re done reading.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=avs_NrBHM18E

Okay, got the idea?  Hulu is questioning how to combine paid content alongside the free stuff.

Now, everyone seems to be very worried that adding paid content will poison the very nature of why we go to the all the free stuff in the first place.  And while companies themselves want to make money doing both, users are scared that the Web will become worse than TV, the devil that drove us here in the first place.

What’s so bad about the advertising model in the first place?  Let’s try to think about this type of stuff and how it’s progressed throughout the years.

Arts were generally sold, in some fashion or another, throughout modern history.  Books were bought and sold.  People would pay money to watch the minstrels or orchestras or actors perform.  Museums would buy art from the artists, and then allow people to view that art for a small “donation”.

I would say that news media seems to have been the first to have brought us advertising in the arts (but I have not done exhaustive research here so don’t lynch me if I’m wrong!).  That was unobtrusive – sure, you would read the ads, but under your own control – whenever you were ready.

Radio took the torch then, and added more structure around it.  After all, radio had to be time-based, on its own schedule.  So ads were scheduled for, what, every hour?  Or did they jump right in and do an ad every couple of minutes like many still do.  Again, I haven’t researched this yet – I’m just making a point.  So shut up and let me get to it.

With radio, families were mesmerized by the ability to hear an orchestra, or a live voice reading the news, or have stories performed before their very ears.  Families would huddle around their radios, and probably a short bathroom/snack break every so often was quite welcome. 

Besides, there was only so much programming on – did people really become couch potatoes in front of their radios back in the day?  Not even kids.  You could probably begin to multi-task in the age of radio – listen to the ballgame or the hot new song while you did your homework, whatever.

Of course, TV loomed as the next step.  Even on the tiny, flickering, black-and-white sets of the 50’s, people were instantly drawn to TV in a way that they may not have been drawn to anything else before.  Again, at first, there was little programming – just 3 channels reading news, performing dramas, showing the evening movie, and having a few of the old vaudeville comedians rehashing the same old gags.

But over the next 50 years, TV blossomed into a staple of almost every home around the world.  I have driven past lean-to’s in Thailand, families living between three walls.  But most of them had TV sets.

There’s cable, satellite, On-Demand, DVR, TiVo, and all sorts of other things that let TV stand on its own as the entertainment solution for most families.  Sure, many of these extras cost money, but we all invest some here, some there over the years in our system to bring us the best available content.

We do buy some as well.  DVDs can be both bought and rented.  We still buy books – electronic just hasn’t caught on (though I gotta get me a Kindle!) – and while most people under the age of 75 still download the majority of our tunage, we still pay for it on CD, or burn CDs, though that too is just about shot.  Everything’s got a USB drive now, for crying out loud.

And often, we were paying for the privacy of not having commercials.  I can’t tell you how much I hated it when video tapes started having not only movie previews, but those same cruddy commercials we were stuck watching on TV.  We pay for HBO, Showtime, and such, but are flipping around during those long commercial breaks.  Yeah, you know the ones I mean.  Ads have started to creep into the “free” On-Demand content – not just at the beginning, but right in the middle of shows!  Come to mention it, there are ads in front of the HBO stuff that I’m paying for too, but those are just ads for the HBO stuff.

So, we built the Internet.  How many of you out there scanned books in those first years, and printed them out?  How many of you traded tunes?  Movies?  Porn?

Well, why shouldn’t I bring up porn?  That’s what mainstreamed the Internet, just as it did VCRs back in the day.  The freedom to be able to buy porn with a credit card and view it in your home right away!  Better than a hotel room PPV, or renting from the video store – there are no dirty looks whatsoever.  (Except for those married men whose wives looked at the bills.  But still.)

And the variety?  Instantly, all this stuff started popping up.  I mean, really weird shit.  Like, imagine the most dingy, grody porn shop in the darkest part of town.  Imagine walking into the dimly-lit shop, seeing huddled pervs holding toys that would choke a rhino at either end.  You sidle up to the clerk, a sleezy pile of garbage crusted with a week’s worth of scum.  He sneers at you with contempt for even being seen in a place like this.  He growls at you, so you tell him what you want – what little fantasy floats your boat.

Imagine that this oozing mass of slime immediately went back into his office, crawled up in the fetal position, and started to suck his thumb.

Whatever it was you wanted, you could get it on the Internet.  And so by now, eventually, includes almost everything non-sexual too.  You can order anything to be shipped directly to your home – clothes, food, prostitutes (okay, get off the porn already!) – many with same or next day delivery.

Sure, this isn’t the Federation yet.  We still have to go out to certain things, and most of still prefer to, say, pick out strawberries from the market and hold them, rather than order them online.  That is certainly justified, but I bet that age will come to an end soon enough.   Things are only going to improve (barring the world really coming to an end in 2012).

TVs are increasingly becoming Internet-ready.  Though many of us are quite portable with our computers, we still like the huge center of attention that the large screen brings.  The two WILL be more integrated, though it’s been happening too slowly for my taste.

No longer am I stuck with watching whatever is on the meager 1000 or so channels I get, or with the scant 10,000 titles available On-Demand.  Of course I need to tire of the endless games I have available to me first, both through the TV (Playstation) or the computer (online and CD, for crying out loud).  I haven’t had the time in recent years to exhaust myself of these (although by now, after a summer of unemployment, I think I’ve caught up with all of them.  I’m done.)

Now in the online world, there is a dichotomy.  Two business models existed in the computer world, advertisement and paid content, depending on the type of service being offered.  Commercial art is really that – commercial in the sense that it needs to make money.  That is the purpose.  So the entities who own the content need to make a profit – selling that content in whatever way makes the most sense for their customer base.

This dichotomy is coming to a head in the world of entertainment.  Now.

I have had several job interviews where the discussion has been around monetizing content.  But every time I steered the conversation around to combining paid and free content, I was shot down with a fearful “people are too scared of that”.

What are they scared of?  Well, as I mentioned, viewers are scared that we’re going to lose a lot of the freedom we currently enjoy about the ‘net.  That it will become SOLELY the domain of faceless corporate entities driven only by the bottom line.

What are those faceless corporate entities afraid of?  Losing their revenue stream, of course.  They’re all advertising themselves in some way, somewhere.  Many are currently involved with both business models – advertising and paid content.  They know how it works.  Separately.

But they’re scared to combine the content.  But now let’s think back to the article I mentioned above.

Imagine a potential computer-run entertainment system of the near future.  I’ll leave out the bits about real-world imaging, voice recognition, and holographic projection to spare your withered imaginations, but those items are coming very soon too, my friends. 

So, not too far in the future, I’ll be sitting in my easy chair.  The Lazy-Boy behemoth in my family room which still smells of its yummy leather coat.  It faces the TV, but doesn’t work at our desktop, our primary computer.  I can use a laptop from the chair, and often have, but usually have the TV on in the background.  My wife then sits at the desktop, where I have sat all day (at least recently) listening to tunes and so on.

So where was I?  Oh yeah, in my chair.  Drink next to me.  Smoke at hand.  Huge remote in lap (though really it will be voice recognition, but I also don’t have time be that creative right now, sorry).  I’ll turn on the TV – surround-sound shaking the chair, and although this chair doesn’t have built-in speakers, you know my next one will.

I fiddle with the remote and up will pop my home menu.  I have it set as follows: messages (video, of course) in one window, in others maybe different types of news highlights – virtual facebook updates, international news, local weather, sports.  A screen will automatically pop up to Sports Center (my choice – so sue me) so that I am not left without viewing decadence for a single, solitary moment.

While I watch the highlights and lowlights, I’ll think about what it is I want to do.  I need to do some shopping, I need to reply to a couple of messages, and I can then screw around.  Five minutes later I’m looking for something to occupy my last gelatinous brain cells, and see the highlights from yesterday’s game – one I hadn’t watched.  Wow.  Yeah, I want to see more!

Follow the link from my easy-chair to be surrounded by the stadium – huge screen and speakers daring to wake my kids and have them compete for the system.  (They’d just have to make do with their wrist-versions under the covers anyway.  It’s way past bedtime.)  Check off the highlights I want to see and sit down with my beer.

While watching, I can hover my controller (hah!) over a player to see his current or lifetime stats.  I can easily buy tickets to a game either at the stadium (you can’t beat that yet) or for a PPV of the game.  Sure, I could watch it on TV for free, but I choose to pay the extra $3 to avoid the commercials.  Besides, they’re not only showing exclusive interviews with the manager during those breaks when other suckers have to watch some nonsense about “this is your mind on drugs”, but today they’re giving away a copy of A-Rod’s new book for printing right on your home printer.  Free!  (Of course, that’s for those of you poor folks still without a Kindle.)

What else?  Oh cool, an interview with Drew Carey about his plan to become the Cleveland Indians all-time leading base-stealer!  Gotta see that.  Oh, cool, episodes of his old show.  Yeah, I don’t want to pay for that – just show me the damned commercials with it.  I can ignore them easily enough.

Log onto my porn subscription, and get that going in the background.  At least, once Drew Carey is done.  But this is nice – I’ve got a long queue ahead of me and it looks like this will be a good game. 

Huh?  What’s that?  “What about my wife and kids?”

Don’t worry about that.  She will have left me long before then.  Unless I can hook in a whole lot more Korean programming.  Yeah.  And games, gotta have more games.  Oh yeah, she’ll want to see …

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