Customizing Content for New TV Devices In the second of a three-part series on the future of television, Rick Karr looks at how new technologies are influencing what television viewers are more likely to watch -- shorter, more immediate clips of longer shows.
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Customizing Content for New TV Devices

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Customizing Content for New TV Devices

Customizing Content for New TV Devices

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

If you missed that spectacular Rose Bowl game last night that we spoke about earlier, no problem. You can download a 15-minute highlight reel from Apple's iTunes online store to watch on your video iPod, just another example of how technology is causing unprecedented change in the world of television. Yesterday reporter Rick Karr began a three-part series on the future of TV with a look at the ways in which technology is likely to affect how we watch. Today, part two, he looks into what we're likely to watch.

RICK KARR reporting:

The word that sums it up is `more.' As more TV comes into our homes over what we now call the Internet, we'll essentially be able to choose from a nearly infinite number of channels. The new technology lets viewers catch just a glimpse of a show on cell phones, computers or video iPods without watching the whole thing. Think of it as TV's version of the extras that come on DVDs--different cuts, alternate takes and the ability to jump straight to your favorite scene.

(Soundbite of "The Office")

Unidentified Man #1: Could you put these on the board? First one is inclusion, new attitudes, color-blind, expectations, sharing and tolerance.

Unidentified Woman #1: Um, that spells `incest.'

Unidentified Man #1: Well, it's not ideal, but you have to give me some credit because I made it into a word.

KARR: Benjamin Silverman runs the production company that makes the US version of the comedy "The Office."

Mr. BENJAMIN SILVERMAN ("The Office"): There are great comedic sketches that you can lift out and have a really enjoyable experience with.

KARR: Silverman says some of that additional material doesn't even have to end up in the actual show.

Mr. SILVERMAN: I might do something where I create another scene that's just for the online user that you're not dependent on having seen to get a specific story beat. There's so much editing we do and there are so many scenes that get cut out of shows that this could be a new outlet for those scenes.

KARR: Silverman's firm also producer the weight-loss reality show "The Biggest Loser." He says he's already talking with NBC about making the workout segments from that show available as downloads to iPods and cell phones.

(Soundbite of "The Biggest Loser")

Unidentified Man #2: I'm going to start you off with some push-ups, traveling push-ups. Up and over. Let's go.

KARR: The second thing we're more likely to see more of is programming that's like nothing we've seen before as technology makes it easier and cheaper than ever to make professional-looking programs at home. Last December, the Los Angeles Convention Center hosted the West Coast DV, or Digital Video, Expo, a trade show where you could take a look at that new technology. The floor featured lights and cameras, but a lot of the action surrounded software vendors whose sales pitches were heavy on nerdy jargon.

(Soundbite of West Coast DV Expo)

Unidentified Man #3: It captures to the M2T format, the standard MPEG-2 clips that you use with HDV, so you can drag and drop this right into your editor...

KARR: Bob Bolt(ph) was at the expo representing a company called Other World Computing. He said the revolution in video is just a few years behind the one that's already swept music and radio and allowed home computers to do everything that used to require quarter-million-dollar recording studios.

Mr. BOB BOLT (Other World Computing): I mean, it's out there a little bit already, and it's just going to get easier and easier. As the price of the hardware comes down, the demand gets greater for it.

KARR: A few feet away Daniel Martone was manning a booth for the LA Indie Film Group, an organization of a few thousand independent producers. He said the new technology lets unknown auteurs make shows as good as the ones producer Ben Silverman makes and get them to viewers over the Internet without having to convince network executives that they're worthy of air time.

Mr. DANIEL MARTONE (LA Indie Film Group): I think it's opened up and leveled the playing field with the big boys. Doesn't mean everyone's going to be making good films with it, but you're going to be seeing things that look like they could have been shot with a studio but was done independently.

KARR: But not everyone thinks that guerrilla producers will take over our screens. Charles Slocum monitors new technology for the union the Writers Guild of America, West. He says those unknown auteurs may be able to create one-off hits, but they'll be hard-pressed to produce full-fledge series.

Mr. CHARLES SLOCUM (Writers Guild of America, West): It takes the machine that is Hollywood to generate that much content. Even if you do a homemade film of your friends on weekends, it's still a huge effort to make, and to do episode after episode, which is what the viewers expect in television, takes a huge machine to do.

KARR: The third type of programming we're likely to see more is old programming.

(Soundbite "Felix the Cat")

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Felix the Cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat. Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks...

KARR: "Felix the Cat" is now the property of a firm called Classic Media, which also owns "The Lone Ranger," "Lassie," "Rocky & Bullwinkle," "Underdog" and a lot of other Saturday morning greats. Chief executive Eric Ellenbogen says that each of those shows has a dedicated following, but not necessarily one that's large enough to garner a regular broadcast or cable slot. And so, he says, his firm's making some of those shows available to viewers over the Internet.

Mr. ERIC ELLENBOGEN (Classic Media): We then don't have to sell it to a network. There isn't a channel operator who we have to convince of the merits of carrying "Felix the Cat," but that instead we can go to consumers directly. And they might actually be willing to pay for that as well.

KARR: Ellenbogen says he's excited by Internet television, but he's also a little worried because with all of that new and old and experimental material that's going to be online...

Mr. ELLENBOGEN: It'll be very difficult to find things.

KARR: In the old version of TV, what you watched helped you find things. Broadcasters used one show to promote another and build audiences. But in the new version of TV, once everything's available for download on demand, Ellenbogen says he's not quite sure how it'll happen.

Mr. ELLENBOGEN: There's a very important editorial function when we're talking about new properties. And I think in that respect, whether it is a critic or a Web site or a place to go to learn about new things, somebody to sort that material and make sense of it becomes ever more valuable.

KARR: Ellenbogen and a lot of other television executives think that Google and Yahoo! may end up filling that role as they allow users to search for shows which they might like.

There's one kind of TV programming that we haven't considered so far--local programming. A lot of people who are thinking about the future of television are worried that it might disappear.

(Soundbite of WRAL-TV broadcast)

Unidentified Man #4: All right. Stand by. Four, three, two...

KARR: It's midmorning and the news team at CBS affiliate WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, is getting ready for its noon broadcast.

(Soundbite of WRAL-TV broadcast)

Unidentified Woman #3: Breaking news in Wake County this morning as shots were fired near a school, leading to a chase. We'll have the very latest in a live report.

KARR: Down the hall from the studio, station president Jim Goodman says that as networks begin to cut local stations out of the loop by offering shows directly to viewers, the industry needs to remember that viewers still want programming that originates close to home.

Mr. JIM GOODMAN (President, WRAL-TV): You know, you can have 500 cable channels and there won't be anything local on it. Local broadcasting is a really important part of this mix, and that is because we're free and over the air, which means under any circumstances people ought to be able to pick us up, you know, when you have disasters or when things are going on and storms and weather.

KARR: Goodman says news is one way that local broadcasters will stay relevant. He's also a big fan of digital broadcasting, that transition that's taking place over the next few years as local over-the-air stations start transmitting signals that allow them to send out as many as four shows at once. WRAL was the first local station in the country to make the switch eight years ago. Goodman says the station fills one of its four signals with a 24-hour local news channel. Goodman says digital broadcasting and all of the other technological changes are reshaping the business of television. He says network executives see dollar signs when they think about selling shows directly to viewers. He hopes that they don't forget the six decades of mutually beneficial business with local affiliates that built their audiences.

Mr. GOODMAN: Don't forget who brung you to the dance. You're liable to go home by yourself.

KARR: Tomorrow we'll look into TV's new financial landscape, how it's likely to affect broadcasters, advertisers and viewers. For NPR news, I'm Rick Karr.

CHADWICK: We've got more about the future of TV, plus catch the first part of this three-part series at our Web site, And stay tuned; in a few moments big plans for TV from Google and Microsoft.

You're listening to DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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