Disintegrating Prime Time: Hopping Into TV Somewhere
“You can watch that episode of "Modern Family" we recorded the other night on your iPhone if you like,” I tell my wife as she watches me dance around the Dish iPad app.
“Cool. Um, why would I want to do that?”
We’re still working on the whole digital lifestyle thing in our house. Still, I had to confess that at first I myself wasn’t sure why I wanted access to my DVR contents, let alone my live stream of TV via Dish’s Hopper with Sling setup. I have been testing the arrangement for a couple of weeks and trying to see how I might weave it into a video-ubiquitous media habit. What happens when virtually all of your video content (not just piecemeal chunks you assemble, but the same experience) is available anywhere?
The Dish+Hopper+Sling arrangement essentially Appifies your living room TV. The main DVR/Tuner/Sling unit is usually housed at the main family TV. The other TVs on site can order recordings to the main DVR and access any recording. The look and feel are the same on each set.
The mobility piece of this is in the apps. Dish suffers from some app bloat here. There are several iOS apps available to me that seem to overlap in functionality. I gather that each app is really intended for Dish customers at different installation levels. But the Dish anywhere app allows me to explore the grid, access videos on my DVR for streaming and run the live TV stream from any of my channels. That seems to be the one targeting the new Sling technology. And yet it doesn’t act as a remote control -- another Dish app does that. Odd.
The other day, Steve McClellan reported in Media Daily News that a panel on TV at the 4As conference insisted that the TV Everywhere initiative had not worked well thus far. One panelist complained that the user experience to date is “awful.” I wouldn’t say that at all about the Dish setup. It solves one of the problems of the so-called TV Everywhere models in that it just makes pretty much everything accessible, even if the interfaces still are kludgy. When I was using Comcast’s remote access apps, it was always a tough road into the on-demand content. And the content that was available for immediate use anywhere was haphazard. The rights issues are getting in the way. Finding myself thwarted and frustrated from seeing the things I wanted in the Comcast apps, I just gave up after a while.
Granted, Dish is being hauled into court over both its ad-skipping and live streaming features. From a consumer perspective, knowing that all the video -- live and recorded -- is truly available from any access point goes a long way in clarifying the confusion that seems to stymie usage. If the user doesn’t have to second-guess whether and where each piece of content resides, then TV Everywhere has a shot at becoming a reflex.
Only two weeks into having the system, I can’t say that I am there yet. But there are a few observations I can make about use.
First I am starting to treat TV the way I have treated podcasting for the last seven or eight years. Knowing that I can access the media on the Stairmaster or on the road, I think of multiple contexts that allow for different types of content viewing. My wife is not eager to sit through evenings of my fuil noir obsession, and so I rarely get to see my treasured late 40s hard-boiled dramas any more. Now I have, via apps, "me time" where those viewings can be squeezed into other times. And so I can scour the grid in the evenings for obscure films that Dish's mountains of movie channels are running in the wee hours. I stock up the DVR more eagerly than I might if the living room TV were the only available viewing context.
My point is that TV Everywhere not only divorces video from context, it allows the user to imagine consumption in a larger range of contexts. I find myself doing with TV what I used to do with various audio and video podcasts -- mix and match them to fits different situations. What kind of program do I want to watch when exercising or when in bed or on a plane/train? Which is also to say that TV Everywhere mobilizes TV in that deepest sense that we have been discussing over the past year. It makes the video subject to a much wider range of moods, use cases, and modes of use. The living room is fully re-contextualized.