I'm totally with you man! A la carte programming is the way of the future, Arrested Development is an awesome show, and channel changing speeds are ridiculous now (not sure about that bandwidth explanation).
Here's something interesting to consider (someone who knows better please correct me if I'm wrong
): With Cable TV, as I understand it, the entire channel lineup is currently "blasted" to every customer constantly, using x amount of bandwidth you could theoretically be using for something else. The amount of bandwidth used doesn't change based on what channel you're watching or anything - it's just all sent to you all the time, and your cable box sorts out the rest.
Now the difference is they can use something like multicast because everyone is basically getting the same thing, and then their cable box determines what they are actually entitled to see. So you couldn't just switch to 100% on-demand and suddenly have 10x more bandwidth for arbitrary downloads. Because the TV data (which *is* mostly data at this point, since the digital conversion) originates at the cable provider, it's not data they need to pay for or have fat pipes to other providers to transmit. So it's much cheaper. But even so, sacrifices are made to fit so many channels in, including much higher compression than would be ideal, and other issues.
One likely concern on the part of cable providers, aside from the loss of their bundling deals and other things, is that it would increase upstream (cable provider side) system load to have to handle a lot more dynamic streaming, with theoretically everyone watching something different at the same time. After all, even if someone is watching the same show as someone else, they're highly unlikely to have *started* it at the same time. But it's still all coming from their servers (theoretically), so it has the same in-network bandwidth and cost benefits. Ultimately the technology hurdles should be easily overcome. After all YouTube probably serves up the equivalent of your average local cable provider's simultaneous viewership in at least 720P at any given moment, so obviously the bandwidth and processing power requirements are manageable.
Where it gets more interesting is that now that you've freed up all this *in network* bandwidth, you can suddenly massively increase quality without any real penalty. Since your cable connection is no longer being fed 100Mbit/s (literally) of 500 channels of garbage, the one channel or show you do choose to watch should be able to be streamed to you at 1080P with full DTS surround sound, and even 3D if you want, and all that with minimal (say 30mbit/s) compression, blu-ray equivalent. That's an *upgrade* to the service, and one they should be able to crow about to in their marketing all day long.
Another concern however, and one which I have no answer for (nor do I want one) is the loss of revenue for less popular networks. These networks are basically subsidized now under the current scheme of bundling them in with channels people actually want. They then get a cut of revenue when, for the most part, it's other channels people are actually interested in. The end result for these "fringe" networks of such a move to on-demand would be either death, or dramatic reduction of services. But hey, I'm fine with that! If people don't want their content, they shouldn't be in business. That's how business works, right? Or at least how it should. Shocking that things don't actually work that way now - far from it. For the cable companies this should not be a big concern as far as I can tell, their costs may even go down. It's just certain content providers who might not be so happy. See here for more info:http://en.wikipedia....ed_States#A_la_carte
Now you say that cable companies should be *more* concerned at that point about people watching less commercials since they're not "forced" to by the cable system itself. But actually it's the opposite, which you demonstrate yourself when you discuss modern DVRs and whatnot. In fact on-demand TV could easily include bundled, forced ads that you *can't* skip. You don't even necessarily need to provide (or allow) DVRs anymore if everything is on-demand, because why record something when you can just watch it any time you want anyway? Or, at least from the cable company's perspective, why *let* anyone record anything? Not to mention that DRM and control of copying content in general is going to be theoretically much higher with a well-implemented on-demand system. And believe it or not I would be happier to pay for a service with mandated ads and stricter DRM *but that allowed me to watching anything I want, any time, all the time*, than to have what we have now, with DVRs, commercial skipping, and the rest. It's that worthwhile to me to watch what I want, when I want, and not have to deal with limited on-demand or Netflix selection.
So actually if you look at it all that way, far from it being a scary and uncertain thing for the TV providers, I think it makes a whole lot *more* sense, both for customer and for the service provider to go all on-demand. It's just the existing network bundling systems and the way the industry works as a whole that's preventing it. Common sense says that profit should not suffer for the cable companies (it's all about choosing a good pricing model, which cable companies are well experienced at), and customer satisfaction will go up in this scheme. Working out billing for pay-out of watches for specific shows owned by a given downstream provider might be a bit of a headache, but surely the TV provider could work out an overall deal for unlimited (or x number of) streams at a given price and then mediate that with their customers.
You're also right that this kind of setup would be the best way to fight piracy, and that the piracy experience is *currently* a lot better than almost anything else out there (aside Netflix, if you ignore the limited selection issue).
Switching gears for a moment, I agree that Arrested Development is a fantastic show and it's a shame that ratings, or *whatever* (not even sure it was "ratings"), killed it. Here's the interesting thing about "ratings". If you look at Arrested Development's popularity and respect level now, it's off the charts. 9.7/10 on the IMDB with over 40,000 votes. That's unheard of. House, one of the most popular shows on TV, has a 9.3 with 443 votes! Modern Family, a newer popular show (and also a comedy like Arrested Development), 9.1/10 with 9000 votes. Two and a Half Men, a long-running and popular comedy (why, god, why?) is 8.7/10 with only 238 votes. Neither South Park nor The Office nor even The Simpsons beats Arrested Development for total score with a high number of reivews. On Amazon, Arrested Development Season 1 has a solid 5 star rating, with 987 total customer reviews, of which 926 are 5 stars. Again, unheard of. On Amazon this is better than any season of The Office, Family Guy, South Park, Seinfeld, etc. In fact, as far as I can tell it is the single most highly rated comedy show on Amazon at this point. Now what do I draw from this data? That in determining the "ratings" of Arrested Development while it was still on, *they asked the wrong damn people*. People *love* this show. So why was it canceled? And did anyone's head roll because of it?
Now think about this: like it or not, in a system where everything is on-demand, "ratings" become a thing of the past, or at least the traditional system we now use to generate them. "Representative households" are a ridiculous thing in this day and age when you *could* be recording what *every single TV* was *actually* watching at any given moment! And with a system like that, I find it hard to believe Arrested Development would have suffered the same fate. The way it is now, none of the actual customers have any direct communication with the programming directors, so they rely on "ratings" and other mostly indirect metrics to make these major decisions about whether to keep a show or not. Sometimes "ratings" are even twisted (because, after all, it's far from an exact science, certainly not "hard" numbers) to fit the whims or personal prejudices of a given programming directory or other executive. Frankly I'd be ok with the cable company knowing what I'm watching at any given moment if it meant that great shows like Arrested Development would stay on the air longer due to my contribution to "ratings" by viewing it.
Another interesting thought on that is the possibility of actually having properly adult (and by that I don't mean porn!) shows, where people can swear, nudity can be shown, etc., but not having to get a premium channel like Showtime or HBO to have access. I grant that these kinds of shows have seen a surge in popularity since these formerly movie-focused networks have started putting them out, and that's great. But there are still places they won't go, and their focus is IMHO still largely juvenile (in the sense of maturity, e.g. T&A rather than adult themes). I'd love to see something more like European (including UK) TV often creates. And that would be a lot more possible with an all on-demand system, since you could more easily enforce who had access to watching what, and would not be tied to the confines of the "average audience" of a particular channel or network, necessarily. At the very least if someone wanted to create a show outside the networks to have more creative freedom, they could/should still be able to get it into the content distribution system (let's say the cable company has a service where they can directly publish small shows, for example).
So in the end customers benefit, company benefits, and (most) content producers (or at least the good ones) should also benefit. I don't see a lot of lose here. Just dinosaurian business models slow to change, as is always the case.
Imagine if the RIAA, instead of spending millions per year on legal fees just to earn a few 10s of 1000s of dollars in settlements, and alienating a large portion of their customer base in the process, had instead embraced the digital age and created a music store with all it's member artists and record companies signed on, charging profitable but reasonable prices. Apple is a *middle man*, they bring *ZERO* unique value to the table that the RIAA and/or record labels themselves could not have created if they simply took that leap. Take out a middle man and you can lower prices. The RIAA's theoretical music store could comfortably sell tracks at 75 or 80 cents per and still make the same money for them and their member artists (Apple's cut is rumored to be about 20 cents per track). Not to mention more music availability with everyone and their mother signed on, lots of opportunity for direct interaction with artists, easier arrangement of special pricing, etc. Now the RIAA is greedy, it would never have worked that way, but it *could* have, and we'd all be better off than we are now, including the RIAA...
Think, evolve, thrive. Why are these not the tenets of every major business?
Sorry about the extreme length of this response.
The short version is: I think it actually makes perfect business sense to go this route for TV. So it's frustrating that, despite all the talk of "the free market" and the virtues of capitalism, in the end there is actually a lot more inertia involved due to old, entrenched businesses, monopolies, etc. than any free-market capitalist would like to admit. I wish the system worked the way they think it does (or think it would if "unregulated").