Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The TV is On, But is Anyone Watching? How the Writer's Strike Could Effect the CE Industry

As any avid TV watcher would know, the first Hollywood Writer's Guild strike in 20 years has been plaguing us for months. As writers of primetime TV sitcoms, daytime talk shows, and the like flex their pen-and-paper muscles, TV crew members of every kind are suffering the consequences. But at the same time, an arguably lesser, but potentially very important, effect of the strike is happening behind the scenes: consumers are getting frustrated and turning to other means of getting their video fix.

Sure, there are still those who are watching the "tube". But people who typically aren't channel surfers find themselves clicking away trying to find something that isn't a repeat of an old episode (often ending with the "power" button); while faithful sitcom fans are visiting network Websites, anxious to find out when a new episode will air. At the same time, networks are frantically working on ways to fill empty time slots (I recently heard that CBS acquired the rights to simulcast popular Showtime program Dexter); while the Writer's Guild is keeping tabs, doing things like refusing to let the Golden Globe awards air this past weekend.

Needless to say, the boxing gloves are definitely out, and it looks like neither side is willing to go down without a fight. Many journalists have expressed the opinion that this strike will change the face of TV forever. But how will it change the consumer electronics industry?

When it comes down to it, many of the biggest advances in consumer technology are involved with video of some kind: flat-panel TVs, DVD players (of both the high-def and standard kind), satellite and cable TV set-top boxes, and so on. Without valuable TV content to consume, will such devices become of less importance to the consumer? Or will we look more to alternative ways of enjoying moving images?

Already, we're seeing the popularity of obtaining video content from the Web and watching it on a high-def monitor, or even porting it to a large-screen TV or DVD disc for playback. Apple just announced at its MacWorld Conference in California that it would begin offering movie "rentals" through its iTunes online download service. Many of the latest camcorders can record in high-def (mainly 720p) then let you watch the content in its full resolution on a compatible flat-panel TV. In fact, Samsung announced a camcorder at CES that would allow customers to wirelessly transmit video they just shot to a flat-panel TV! And let's not forget video gaming, which has grown to a billion-dollar industry.

Therefore, the question the industry, and many of my colleagues, pose is: do we even need or desire TV anymore? Of course, even those who aren't couch potatoes have a program or two they enjoy, whether it be a reality show guilty pleasure, crime time drama, or even an educational show for the kids. If we were stripped of all the cable/satellite TV goodness, would we stop watching entirely, and see CE sales go down? Or would we just fill our 60" screens with our own content (home movies, movie studio films, and the like), watch sales of devices like high-def DVD players, DVD discs, Internet streaming devices, and camcorders skyrocket, and call it a day?

Personally, I watch TV every day, and the majority of my favourite programs tend to be on subscription networks like Showtime and HBO, which aren't affected by the strike. As for the programs that are, I've somehow managed to get by without them, as I'm sure many have. Needless to say, movies have become a weekly staple in my household: we've watched more DVDs and on-demand flicks over the past two months than in the past year!

One thing's for sure: whenever this strike ends (and hopefully, for the interest of all parties involved, it will be soon), we'll all feel the aftershock of the storm.

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