Tiny TV Tried 20 Years Ago

You may use this content (better still, argue with me!), but please cite my ideas as (c) 2005, Dr. Bruce Klopfenstein.


One of my favorite Monty Python quips (and no, it's not limited to their cast) is "What's all this then?" That summarizes my reaction to the recent announcements about cell phones that will display streaming video. Let me reiterate my two guiding principles for understanding the future of electronic media:

1. Compression technologies continue to improve, and improve beyond what experts in the past would have deemed "physics-ly" possible.

2. The cost of broadband continues to fall even as the pipes keep getting bigger and bigger. The ultimate end is, as I read elsewhere, infinite bandwidth at no cost (or at least subsidized by advertising so the consumer pays nothing).

I can throw in a third guiding principle:

3. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it (with apologies to the original author and the precise quote that differs from this).

My dad had a Casio portable TV somewhere around the early to mid 1980s. The image is reportedly the CASIO TV-30 that was available around 1986. You watched the TV as it was reflected onto a mirror about one inch square (the mirror is parallel to the table in the pic). It was neat! Because of the small screen size, the resolution was outrageously great. Here's the thing: I never saw him use it once. I never asked if I could have it, I wasn't interested. But it sure was slick!

Peers and colleagues who have yet to share a beer with me often don't realize I am a new media SKEPTIC. Although 'new media' has a better success rate in introducing new forms than does, say, the restaurant industry (most fail in their first year), new media, including a video phone that sounds just as neat as the Casio TV, have a very steep hill to climb. Think TiVo: the highest consumer satisfaction scores in history and it still has been rolling out slowly. Ask TiVo's marketing department how difficult it is to persuade consumers to try TiVo (once they do, they are truly hooked).

OK, so what's all this, then, about video phones? In my career, I have developed an approach to understand the possible future for an new medium and that is the scenario approach (much more popular in forecasting than when I applied it to communication technologies in 1985 (font size="-1">Klopfenstein, Bruce Carl. (1985). Forecasting the market for home video players: A retrospective analysis. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. The Ohio State University.

I advocate three scenarios: optimistic, pessimistic, and neutral. On the pessimistic side, the Casio phone demonstrated no demand for small, portable video devices. There is no evidence that I am aware of that demonstrates a demand for video on such a small screen (clearly portable DVD players and mobile [car] DVD players DO have a demonstrated market). On the positive side, right now there is a "bandwagon effect" in which (not unlike the much larger dot com bubble) nearly everyone is behind the concept and the potential for new revenues for the mobile phone market will drive advocates for now. In a scenario that is neither optimistic or pessimistic, this technology will roll out more slowly that the optimists claim but will succeed in some form over time.

More thoughts are coming.


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