Going digital

My column today, April 12, 2015.

We finally gave in to Sarah Geronimo.  We believed her claim, done through caterwauling and lots of gyra-ting, that buying that darned magic black box would improve our lives dramatically.  As it turned out, we were not the only gullible people in this country.  The first two stores in the Mall of Asia that we went to had already sold all their stock.  We got ours from a computer store.  As promised, the contraption did improve the quality of the images and the sound emanating from the TV set; we are now able to examine closely the intricate patterns of Kabayan Noli de Castro’s tie or appreciate the sophisticated lighting designs of the soap operas of ABS-CBN. 
Television in this country has gone digital. 
The black box came with its own antennae and, not surprisingly, its own ABS-CBN cellular SIM card.  We understood why when we switched on the black box and got connected.  Certain services can be had by texting a specific number and keying in a specific number that appeared on the television set. In short, it’s just a matter of time before other services become available on demand or by request.
Does this mean we will finally be able to let go of cable television?  Not immediately, but I hope eventually.  Not that it will really make a lot of difference in terms of choice of service provider since the number one cable TV provider also happens to be a sister company of the media network that has pioneered digital TV, so it will just be like changing the pocket to which we deposit our money into. But hopefully, we get better choices and better value for money.
There was a time when cable TV delivered all – as in all – the available television channels as part of the basic subscription.  Two decades ago, cable TV offered anyone with a subscription (or a hacked account which could be done so easily by connecting a splitter to someone’s valid cable connection) a window to a hundred television channels from all over the world.  It was admittedly wasteful.  I know there are people out there who think heaven is having the option to watch an Indian or Thai soap opera, assuming they could work through the language barrier, but we humans have unfortunately been wired to have only one processor and could only watch one show at a time.   
My problem, however, with the cable TV provider is that they have shifted to bundling cable channels.  The basic bundle, unfortunately, does not include the channels that I happen to watch more often so we ended up paying more for the additional channels such as certain sports and lifestyle channels.  In short, they’ve found ways to squeeze more money from subscribers.  The marketing strategy is ingenious but quite basic.  First, entice people to buy by offering the whole package and once people are hooked, slowly shift to a system where people pay more for services that are customized to their needs.  This is pretty much how the telecom companies fleeced people.  They initially offered unlimited broadband and then forced people to upgrade to gain more speed or go for customized packages that have different pricing schemes.  Thus, when a certain telecom company announced that it was offering free Internet with their SIM cards, I knew there was going to be a catch eventually.
The inescapable conclusion is that there really is no such thing as a free lunch.  Digital TV is being offered for free now (we just have to pay for the gadget), but we all know it’s not going to stay that way forever.
We can all take consolation, however, from the fact that we’re not really totally at the mercy of big business.  If one is not in a hurry, all the television shows are eventually made available for free in the Internet anyway.  Or if one so wishes, one can buy the DVD and watch the shows at one’s leisure.  The discs can be bought from legitimate or not-so-legitimate sources, but that’s another column altogether. And then there’s this whole new frontier in the Internet– Apple, Netflix, and others are working on apps that will make TV freely available through the Internet.  Television sets will no longer be needed to watch TV shows.  So eventually, even the magic box will be rendered obsolete, unless of course it evolves into something else... and I’m sure ABS-CBN has already that part fully covered.  I am sure they have thought through the various options even before they launched the product.
There’s just one headache though.  Internet connectivity will be critical.  Unfortunately, we do have one of the slowest and most expensive Internet connectivity in the world.  The world is advancing by leaps and bounds and everyone is moving at hyperspeed.  We run the risk of being left behind simply because our leaders are not as proactive or strategic, and big business is just focused on making quick money.


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