Over the top TV, the next big addiction?

June 1, 2012
Over the top TV explained and commented upon.

Do you have over the top TV yet?  Do you even know what over the top (OTT) TV is?  I suspect that you have heard of it and even some of you already have it.  Maybe you know it as Internet protocol TV (IPTV).  In any case, it is a bunch of video services that are gradually stealing a share of TV viewers from the traditional TV suppliers like the cable and satellite companies.  Basically OTT is video you get on top of any subscription service related to your broadband connection.

OTT TV is that bunch of movies, older TV shows and special videos that you get via your Internet connection whether it is cable, DSL or wireless.  Some of the OTT TV service providers are like Netflix, HuluPlus, Pandora, and a host of others.  The service comes to you via a special box like that from Apple or Roku.  I have a Roku box that connects to the Internet via my home Wi-Fi router.  It then streams the video through an HDMI port on my big screen Sony TV set.  It works great.  For now I only have a Netflix subscription but the access to movies is spectacular.  I will never be able to watch all that is available in my life time.  There are also lots of older TV series like Downton Abby, Mad Men, and endless episodes of Lost just to name a few.

Most of these services are for-pay but the rates are very reasonable if you are a real dedicated TV viewer.  I am not.  I do not watch that much but when I do it is news and movies.  The only series I accidentally got hooked on was AMC’s wonderfully trashy Mad Men. 

Some of the other sources of Internet video are the usual providers like Amazon, Apple, Google and their YouTube, HBO, WSJ, Fox News, CNBC, MLB, NBA, NHL, and so on.  That ought to keep you entertained on those boring rainy weekends.  Pandora of course is Internet radio, mostly music, but very popular when you cannot or will not sit still for a TV show.

At one time over 80% of our TV came to us by cable.  That has declined over the years to just over about 60%.  Much of that went to the two key satellite providers, DirectTV and Dish TV.  Now the OTT vendors are gradually making inroads.  I doubt that it will ever completely replace regular cable or satellite TV services but it will highjack some of that business. 

All that TV has made us a nation of couch potatoes.  Of the 114 million homes in the U.S, surveys show that the average person sees 5 hours of TV per day.  An amazing stat.  Parks Associates, a research firm in Dallas says that roughly one third of U.S. broadband households now watch Internet video on a TV set or PC.  They estimate that approximately 25% view the video on a tablet or cell phone.  Who would have thought? 

I keep thinking some of that video viewing may have taken time away from Web surfing, email, texting or similar activities on a smart phone, tablet, or laptop.  Guess not.  Another stat I heard recently is that kids put in an average of about 7.5 hours a day on some kind of screen TV set, computer, or game at home or school. I could not confirm this but it sounds high to me. I guess I would not be that surprised if it were true.  Why don’t those kids go outside and play? 

Technically, once the OTT video service reaches your cable modem it goes through a Wi-Fi link to your OTT box.  These Roku and similar units are tiny and cheap.  It’s the service that costs you.  A downside is the Wi-Fi link if it is not fast enough or reliable enough.  It can fail and not keep up in some instances so you need the fastest Wi-Fi you can afford.  One of the new super fast 802.11ac 5 GHz boxes with MIMO is perfect and very reliable.

Another newer option is a connection through your cable TV coax wiring.  Entropic Communications makes a chip based on the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) standard that transmits the video using OFDM over the coax cable TV wiring in your home.  Most of the major cable suppliers include it in their set top boxes to send video from box to TV or TV to DVR or whatever.  It is extremely reliable and very fast and does not miss a beat like Wi-Fi if it has to buffer or recover from a drop out.  Entropic makes a consumer set of adapters you can buy to work around the wireless problems you may have assuming you have internal coax cable wiring.  Although I have not tried them, the newer fastest power line communications boxes based on HomePlug or G.hn probably work OK too.

If you are a TV fan and especially love the movies, OTT may be for you.  It is probably more affordable than cable subscriptions depending on what you watch but worth a look.  I still read more than watch TV in my leisure time but it is a great option when you cannot find something you want to watch.  I often wonder what we have become as a country with so much TV watching and its subtle and not so subtle brainwashing.  What would it be like if we all read in that 5 hours per day or did some other more productive endeavor?   Like exercise maybe. 

If you worry about this like I do, maybe we should restrict ourselves to just the available over the air (OTA) TV.  That is still available and all you need is a set of rabbit ears or one of the hot new TV antennas available from Radio Shack.  The only basic choices with OTA TV are the main networks like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC as well as PBS.  With limited choices unlike cable or satellite services, then perhaps your viewing time will drop.  Then maybe we will get back to thinking for ourselves rather than being force fed instructions on what to buy, what do and how to act.

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