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Time to catch up, people.

April 4, 2016

On Saturday, I began my annual attempt to watch the NCAA Final Four (the basketball tournament).  I’ve been watching it since 1983, and it’s always been an interesting measure of where tech is at. At first, it was all TV and you’d be able to see one game at a time (there are often several going on at once).  Then, the audio of games started to be broadcast on the Internet, and I’d watch one game while listening to another.  Then, they started streaming games, and I’d watch one on TV while streaming others, and there’d be screens all over the place.  Then, I got rid of TV and started watching it only on the Internet and that improved.  Then, I still didn’t have TV and the people streaming the games started getting dumber and it became harder and harder to watch the games.  Then, CBS started streaming the games themselves and for a few years I could watch games streaming high quality.  Then, CBS started farming off games to other networks, and I could watch some streaming from their site, but others required that I prove that I subscribed to the network before I could watch them on the web.  That year, clearly, we started moving backwards.

In my usual way, I thought a lot about this and cursed a fair bit in the process.  I now was watching the games that CBS streamed in high quality and loved that.  Then, a game would be streaming in high-quality but I was forbidden to watch it because I didn’t subscribe through conventional TV systems to that network.  So, I’d go to a “streaming site” where other naughty people were streaming the games.  The absolutely insane part of this is that the bad people were just re-streaming exactly the stream that I would have seen should I be allowed to on CBS, but in lower quality.  So, I was watching the same commercials but giving money to someone else, and CBS (or others) couldn’t count me as a viewer because I was getting the stream from elsewhere since I had been driven there by weird limitations.

If you think too much about it (like I do), it is clear that the limitations are extremely weird.  Essentially, my ability to watch the games in any reasonable way on the Internet is being governed by the model of TV in which I subscribe to a third-party who runs a wire into my house and controls what I watch and when. The weird part is that TV hasn’t worked like that for me in a very long time, but for some reason I can’t shake that model even  when I don’t own a TV or have an appropriate cable coming into my house. Even weirder, I know very well that I can watch other smaller events like surfing contests, professional skateboarding, or rugby through really great systems that work perfectly and don’t have ridiculous walls placed in your path.  It seems really odd to me that small events broadcast really well (and massively increase their exposure) while bigger events try to limit who can watch them, and make it ever more difficult to actually see the darn things. I think that it’s safe to say that CBS spends way more time and effort trying to keep people from watching events than they do trying to allow people to watch, which has totally reversed their business model.

Fact is, there is a lot of money to be made by actually making use of the Internet instead of hobbling your viewers by trying to make the new technology fit the limitations of the old.  This lesson has already been painfully learned by the music and film industries who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making vast amounts of money in new modes like Netflix and iTunes. (and many other platforms)  For Pete’s sake CBS, would you stream the damn games in a watchable way, put in all of the ads and bill advertisers for that, and even charge me if you wish for the use of this service (I WANT to pay!)  Ditch all of the ridiculous  license agreements that cause you to make the Internet not work, and collect money like there’s no tomorrow.  Is that an unreasonable request?  Apparently.

For, you see, this is not about allowing viewers to view events.  It is about preserving revenue streams that were invented in very different days.  The business is about limiting access, and the viewers are just trying to view.  And the limits aren’t working. CBS is very slowly shooting itself in the foot to save its old ways.  Give them what they want, get the old models out of the damn way, and monetize it.  You don’t even need to invent this … others have already showed how it’s done.  (look to surfing … they went from having events in far off inaccessible places where nobody could watch to having 50,000 viewers watch entire events on YouTube in glorious high-definition for free … their only problem is dealing with a massive rise in popularity and ad revenue that they never used to have).

Oh, I should mention (for all two of my readers) that this all begins with having to pretend to not be Canadian.  Yes, the first step in this insane process is to fire up a VPN and hope that this year it works.  This is because in addition to all of the other ludicrous limitations put in my way, the providers of this event also pretend that there are borders on the Internet.  Of course, there aren’t any borders, just artificial obstacles played in the way to pretend that it is still 1978and to make sure that everything isn’t quite convenient.

Can we get over this soon?  Just charge me, please, and don’t make me jump through these hoops.  Soon, you will completely lose me to the people who can actually figure this stuff out, and you can horde your media all to yourself while repeating over and over that one day everything will be just like it was in the “old days”.

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