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The History Of Television Through A Series Of Tubes (SeanCon 2014)

Ellen Shapiro
July 26, 2014

The History Of Television Through A Series Of Tubes (SeanCon 2014)

A brief history of television, as delivered via cables and the internets.

Special thanks to Keynote for making the deck super-legible with my presenter notes.

Talk from SeanCon, 2014: A conference of Thought Leadership™ and tacos. http://seancon.biz

Ellen Shapiro

July 26, 2014

More Decks by Ellen Shapiro


  1. The History Of Television Through A Series Of Tubes Or:

    Why You Can’t Just Pay For HBO Go And Be Done With It
  2. A Little Personal History: AKA, Why Am I Talking About

    This? • My father is George Shapiro, a cable lawyer from 1964-1999, and a member of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association’s Cable TV Pioneers. • I worked in television production in LA for 7 years before I rage-quit to become a software engineer. • I still watch a metric fuckton of television. Dad’s oral history (and he rambles worse than I do): http://www.cablecenter.org/barco-library-hauser-oral-history/item/shapiro-george.html
  3. I’ve almost maxed out my six(!) tuner TiVo. I have

    to make a spreadsheet just to keep track of it all.
  4. The First Tubes Of Television: 1948 • Tons of television

    stations existed, but you needed line- of-sight to be able to receive a signal. • Entrepreneurs stuck towers on top of mountains to get signals from cities over the mountains, then ran coaxial cable back down to towns that didn’t get signal, selling access.
  5. By 1952, 70 “cable” systems served 14,000 subscribers. The only

    thing missing in this diagram is the mountain the antenna should be sitting on top of. http://leightronix.com/blog/the-evolution-of-television-delivery/
  6. The 50’s: Wiring Bumblefuck • These small CATV systems proliferated

    throughout rural and remote areas of the country, or places with a lot of mountains. • This led to my favorite tick of my dad’s, “Oh! I used to represent a cable system there!”
  7. 50’s era descriptions of the utopia of subscription TV Nominal

    fees, you guys! http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/06/09/the-forgotten-firsts-10-vintage-versions-of-modern-technology/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-view_bistable_storage_tube#Skiatron
  8. The 60’s: There’s Money In Them There Hills! • As

    these cable systems began to proliferate, larger companies began to realize that there was profit to be had, and began buying up chains of these stations. • Companies began to push to get cable into major cities, so that you could get a consistent signal without having to futz with your antenna all the time. • Some areas were able to use microwave transmissions to get television broadcasts from even further away, and route them into the same system as the local stations, and charge additional money for them.
  9. A microwave tower built in 1961 in the Catskills It

    probably looked a little better than this when it was first built. http://dftscript.blogspot.com/2014/06/balsam-lake-mountain-and-graham.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balsam_Lake_Mountain
  10. The 70’s: Superstations and Cable-Exclusive Channels • As cable subscriptions

    grew, particularly in urban areas, cable system owners began to realize they had both room and demand for more than just carrying more reliable signals of local channels. • “Superstations” of local stations getting on satellite like WGN and TBS arose, giving access to more programming from distant cities.
  11. Small networks designed to be delivered exclusively via Cable like

    HBO and ESPN started up. This is the original HBO logo used from 1972-1975.
  12. The 80’s and early 90’s: MOAR CHANNELZ • As cable

    companies became able to send digital signals instead of just analog, they were able to carry hundreds of channels. • They also figured out they could charge you more for digital channels, because while they actually took up less bandwidth, they came through more clearly.
  13. This was when you started seeing cable boxes, instead of

    just a coax cable you could plug into your TV. You had to be able to decode the digital encoding of the signal.
  14. The Arrival of the Internets: DOCSIS 1.0 • Stands for

    Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification, v1.0 was adopted in 1997 (though some modems were manufactured earlier) • Allowed the same line to carry television and data signals, and have the data easily separated out by the modem.
  15. From a 1997 Berkeley report: “Modems compliant with the specification

    will be able to deliver data to users at a minimum rate of 27 Mbps.” Only marginally less ugly and slightly slower than what we use today!
  16. The Telecommunications Act Of 1996 • Among other spectacularly bad

    ideas, basically took away all limits on ownership of cable systems and studios. • The same company could now own the studio that made a show, the network that aired it, and the cable system that delivered that network to a viewer’s home. • This led to a giant wave of consolidation in the media industry, which continues to this day…
  17. ..when Comcast trying to buy out Time Warner Cable. This

    would be the resulting map. And Comcast also has a large stake in Midcontinent, the largest cable provider in the Dakotas. http://www.webpagefx.com/blog/internet/who-controls-the-internet-a-state-by-state-look/
  18. The 2000’s: Torrents of Information • As internet speeds increased,

    people were able to transfer more and more data. While initial concerns were about the pirating of music, they quickly grew to pirating of video. • TVTorrents.net and its successor, EZTV.it allowed easy searching of torrents of episodes and even entire seasons of television.
  19. The industry’s initial response was predictably stupid, like this ad

    from Australia. Extra irony points: The producers of this ad were accused of pirating the song used in it. http://www.webpagefx.com/blog/internet/who-controls-the-internet-a-state-by-state-look/
  20. The Better Response: Hulu • NBCUniversal Television Group, Fox Broadcasting

    Company, Disney-ABC Television Group, and a bunch of venture capitalists decided to start Hulu in 1997 to take the clear interest in TV on the Internets and try to make *some* profit out of it. • Hulu’s been a mixed bag of success financially, partly because some content partners have been trying to keep their most valuable shows on their own websites so they can keep all of the ad revenue.
  21. The Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-8 • Writers, actors, and

    directors are all paid “residuals” for whatever they’ve worked on, recognizing that their work continues to have value for the company which made it • The percentages differ based on what the medium is showing your work. Super high rates for Network TV, lower for cable, and sliding lower and lower and lower until you got to the lowly internet.
  22. The Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-8 • The Writer’s guild

    saw clearly that people wanted to get their programming through the Internet, and decided to try and get the residuals rate for programs transmitted via means like Hulu increased. • The studios and networks also saw that people wanted to get their programming through the Internet, but wanted to keep their insanely favorable deal.
  23. So the writers struck for about three and a half

    months. Myself and pretty much everyone I worked with were out of work during the strike. http://www.webpagefx.com/blog/internet/who-controls-the-internet-a-state-by-state-look/
  24. The Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-8 • This strike is

    generally regarded as a pretty spectacular failure - it was widely anticipated, so production wasn’t actually shut down for all that long, and the stockpiling studios did before the strike kept writers on the bench for some time. • Because the strike locked in the idea that residuals for streams or downloads of a show should be very low, it basically had the opposite effect of its intention.
  25. Recent Innovations: Netflix Streams and Gets Original • As more

    and more people signed up for faster and faster internet through both cable companies and fiber-optic providers like Verizon FiOS, Netflix realized it could start streaming anything it could get the rights to. • As companies caught onto how much money Netflix was making, they started jacking up renewal agreement fees and/or refusing to renew at all, which is why the quality of available movies and TV shows kind of went through the floor. http://documents.latimes.com/abc-vs-aereo/
  26. Netflix figured out to keep subscribers interested, they needed original

    content. (I’ve only seen through episode 2 of this season, NO SPOILERS PLZ!!!!) http://www.webpagefx.com/blog/internet/who-controls-the-internet-a-state-by-state-look/
  27. Recent Innovations: ABC vs. Aereo, 2014 • Cable companies now

    have to pay retransmission fees in order to carry broadcast content, since that content is copyrighted. • Aereo was a startup whose idea was to put a bunch of tiny antennas on buildings in large cities, then stream the content received over the air to individuals paying them for this service. • Aereo’s argument was that each individual was “renting” each antenna, so they didn’t have to pay any retransmission fees - each person was individually receiving the broadcast, they totally weren’t retransmitting it! http://documents.latimes.com/abc-vs-aereo/
  28. Recent Innovations: ABC vs. Aereo, 2014 • This argument failed

    hard. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Steven Breyer essentially called bullshit on Aereo’s argument, but in a more Supreme Court-y fashion. • [Quoting the Copyright act of 1976]: ’The concept of public performance covers not only the initial public rendition or showing, but also any further act by which that rendition or showing is transmitted or communicated to the public.’ http://documents.latimes.com/abc-vs-aereo/

    GET HBO GO • Since everyone who “retransmits” a program in any way, shape or form has to have purchased a license to do so, content owners can only license to groups that have enough money to buy that license. • Because cable companies have a monopoly on this type of distribution due to industry consolidation, they can basically dictate terms to content owners who are not part of their corporate conglomerate. • With Time Warner Cable being bought out by Comcast, HBO (which is owned by Time Warner) is even more at the mercy of the cable companies.

    GET HBO GO • Basically, HBO is afraid that if they sell HBO Go separately from a cable subscription, every cable company in America will drop them like a hot rock. • There just aren’t enough cord-cutters who are able/willing to pay enough for HBO Go alone to make it worth taking that risk… • …YET.