Turn on, tune in and drop out

The revolution, when it comes, won't be televised, it'll be on YouTube

I had lunch this week with Microsoft’s new director of innovation, Brett Roberts. Brett’s been thinking, as is his wont, about the industry.

We both agreed that the next IT revolution will be so powerful it will make the IT in the office revolution look like a picnic.

We were talking about home entertainment and the emerging era of IT in the lounge.

There were a couple of things that set us off on this train of thought. Firstly, as ever, the changes in the telco environment.

Currently, the biggest bottleneck in the IT industry is bandwidth. Once the lid comes off the market, as it will in the next 18 months I’m sure, we’ll see some big changes to the way consumers use the internet. When we stop worrying about traffic caps, we can expect to see a surge in uptake of things like online radio, file sharing and so on. All those things that today would be cost-prohibitive to get involved with.

The second thing that gave us pause for thought is the phenomenon that is MySpace.

MySpace has destroyed the music industry business model without batting an eyelid. The industry doesn’t seem to know it yet, which is as good a way of saying it’s a dinosaur.

MySpace is to offer songs for sale on its site. As you well know, MySpace allows users to post music and photos to their own particular sub-site and to view other users’ collections as well. As a place for unsigned bands to show off their wares, MySpace is unparalleled in its scope. Around three million bands are currently playing on MySpace and soon you’ll be able to buy a song from any one of them, and the countless “real” bands that are there, without giving the record labels a penny.

The benefit for the bands is twofold: they get access to a huge market and they get a larger percentage of the money made from the songs they sell. Tell me again, why does anyone need to sign up to a record label?

Now consider the movement of IT hardware into the living room. Hard drives, DVD burners and wi-fi. Couple that with the realisation that TV sets are really just big monitors and that it doesn’t matter whether they’re hooked up to aerials, cable TV or the internet. It’s the beginning of a change in expectation from the consumer. You can access any TV show from anywhere in the world and watch it in your lounge on your wall-sized television set. No waiting for local networks to show it, no cutting for content or length. No ads, unless you really want to watch them. Tell me again why does anyone need to watch a particular network?

Users aren’t waiting for the government to decide on a platform, or for the TV networks to get their acts together and deliver the content they want. They’re voting with their thumbs and, to borrow a phrase, turning on, tuning in and dropping out but in a whole new way. The revolution, when it comes, won’t be televised, it’ll be on YouTube.

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