Ashley Norris’s article in the Guardian about the potential merger of NTL and Telewest in the UK and their plans to offer video on demand has Toby Hack head of OMDtvi enthusiastically suggesting “This is the start of the next phase in the evolution of TV: viewer choice TV.” Excuse the pun, but that’s a media hack’s interpretation by any standards.

Far from being the killer app for cable companies, it’s the attempt to fulfill an empty promise that broadband, RSS and BitTorrent have been filling for the last year or more. Media centre PCs (or a shiny new Mac mini) are becoming a piece of the living room set-up and the rise of personal media services via broadband, BitTorrent and RSS feeds have all but made video on demand from cable companies obsolete. Why bother subscribing when you can download High-Def streams (which is what they’ll broadcast anyway) for free (nearly).

Norris suggest this at the end of the article, but the cable guys just don’t want to hear it:

“The cable companies, with their huge bandwidth, could be in a strong position to offer IP video on demand services. ‘Of course we are considering video on demand via IP,’ says Telewest spokesman John Moorwood. ‘But for now the key is video on demand via TV, and probably will be for some time to come.’”

They should just concentrate on selling their bandwidth and make deals for IP-based content that make it cheap and easier than stealing it. It sounds to me like the cable guys are still running to catch up with their train that has already been the station, sadly unaware that they’re about to be mown down by the one piling in behind them.

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