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TV or movies, America wants it on demand

Easy-to-use devises, media ready when you are will rule marketplace
/ Source: The Associated Press

Appointments, like promises and hearts, are destined to be broken — unless they're never made in the first place.

Oh, sure, much has been said about "American Idol" and its new season's magnetic pull on viewers. And this weekend, the TV nation will congregate to observe the rite of Super Bowl Sunday.

But those are grand exceptions. The phenomenon of appointment TV, where viewers in vast numbers mold their personal schedules to a network's, is pretty rare these days. It's mostly a relic of an era before home VCRs gave the audience a measure of scheduling control.

Now, a quarter-century later, the trusty VCR has run its course. An explosion of newly liberating innovations (like streaming video and mobisodes; podcasts, vlogs and TiVo) gives you ever more power over what you see and hear — and better access to it, as it spreads everywhere.

Even to cemeteries. Gravestones are now available custom-installed with a video "serenity panel" — a multimedia memorial to the dearly departed.

But other media breakthroughs promise broader appeal.

"The world is changing and the Internet is about to become the next broadcast network," producer Mark Burnett declared only this week in announcing a reality treasure hunt called "Gold Rush!" that he will create exclusively for the Web site.

It's a gold rush, all right, across the digital universe, with bazillions of dollars riding on which gadgetry and content strike the public's fancy.

Is there a future for pay-for-view programs on cell phones? Does the audience really want to watch classic TV streamed on a Web site? What about the smash success of TV reruns downloaded to video iPods at $1.99 a pop — will that prove to be more than a passing novelty?

Let the oddsmakers place their bets. As a viewer who barely knows Blue Tooth from Blu-ray, I have one basic interest: getting what I want when I want it.

Mind you, I'm a member of the baby boomer generation, so "on demand" has been my lifelong mantra. And these days, once I move past my initial "wow" response to each new media marvel, what I really care about is how it satisfies my "on demand" demand.

With a post-TV revolution just beginning, here are some of my early thoughts:

  • With cable TV and my TiVo-like digital video recorder, I never miss a show I want to see, and then I see it when I want to. I am unshackled from the strategically, painstakingly devised program schedules of the networks. I'm in boomer nirvana. And I wonder: Who would choose otherwise?
  • Though the recently announced fusion of two networks (UPN and the WB) into one (the CW) made big news and shook up the industry, for viewers it's largely a nonissue. The main impact, if any, on someone like me: Maybe a single stronger network will be able to offer better shows than a pair of weak networks. Or maybe not. And maybe the local stations that, thanks to this merger, are stripped of network programming will fill their freed-up airtime with great new syndicated shows. Or maybe not.
  • In the emerging new order, movie theaters are obsolete. The latest clue to their borderline irrelevance: Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh's "Bubble," a film available for sale on DVD and shown on cable TV last week — the same time it opened in theaters.

Moviegoing is an exercise in regimented inconvenience, imposed at premium prices. But you could ditch the multiplex and save enough to buy yourself a home theater that rivals it, minus the sticky floor. You say you like the communal experience? Invite the neighbors over to watch with you.

In any case, there's not a rocking-chair seat in any theater in the world that's as comfy as when you veg out on your own couch. And most important of all: At home, the show doesn't start until you say it starts.

So that's what it comes down to: basic human nature. Everybody wants what they want when they want it, digital content included. Good programs aren't enough. Nor are dazzling devices that deliver them. What really matters is ease of use (no complicated steps, annoying lags or rebooting). That's how winners will be chosen in the media marketplace.

Of course, from time to time the audience will still rally round a show worth making an appointment for — like the Super Bowl.

But I'll be skipping it this year. Instead, I've got a hankering to download a little peace-and-quiet to my video iPod. Two bucks for on-demand nothingness? Don't bet against that happening someday.

Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at .