Remembering back to the eighties always brings a flood of contrasting imagery. From a B-Grade actor playing his biggest role as POTUS through to an Australian Prime Minister making world headlines for wearing a terrible jacket whilst celebrating an Australian yacht breaking a 132-year drought. MTV created pop stars that had to sing and act with Michael Jackson and Madonna leading the way. Quotes from eighties movies Rain Man and Chariots of Fire are still thrown around in general conversation today and Pat Cash will always be remembered for climbing into the stands at Wimbledon. Between two boycotted Olympics Australia hosted a Commonwealth Games and Captain Grumpy led the “worst Australian team ever” to an historic Ashes victory. Parramatta dominated in Rugby League and Hawthorn ruled the VFL world. You wouldn’t be seen dead without your Swatch watch and you just had to be able to solve the Rubik’s Cube. The Commodore 64 and the Macintosh 128K were big hits and video games launched with memorable titles such as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

What I really want to talk about though is TV. The decade may have been ruled by Cheers; Magnum PI; Knight Rider and The A-Team but there was one show that I used to make sure I had time to watch each week. On Monday nights at 8pm I would make sure I had an hour to spare to watch a guy with a blond mullet solve problems with ingenuity and without violence. Having a focus on science in my studies, I would marvel at the scientific principles that were employed to resolve impossible situations (over twenty years later Adam and Jamie showed that some of the solutions were impossible as well). MacGyver ran for 139 episodes and I would estimate that I re-arranged my studies and work so that I watched just about every single one.

And that last sentence is the point of my article this week. Show that sentence to the next generation of TV watchers and they will give you a bemused look. “I don’t understand why you had to rearrange your schedule to watch a TV Show,” they will say. The entire concept of letting a TV executive decide for you when you should sit down in front of a TV and watch your favourite show will be a completely foreign concept. The whole idea of the unidirectional flow of information seems so, well, stuck in the eighties. A decision was made by a TV executive back in the fifties that the first viewing of TV would happen at 7pm on 16 September 1956 when Bruce Gyngell first popped onto screens across the nation and decisions have been made for us since then.

Until now.

The world of television is currently undergoing its largest change since the introduction of colour TV. Two major technological changes have occurred to allow this revolution to occur. Firstly, data storage is available in numbers never before seen. It is estimated that there are over 18,000 hectares of data centre space across the world with over 400 billion Gigabytes of total storage. And that is growing exponentially. This availability of massive storage at reasonable prices results in the ability of streaming services to store thousands of shows for you to watch at your leisure. Netflix alone stores 2.75 million Gigabytes of video consisting of 13,300 titles. The second change that has occurred is the availability of true fast broadband. In many countries around the world, this is in the order of 1,000Mbps speeds. Australia’s NBN has speeds as high as 100Mbps.

When you combine large storage capacities with fast download speeds, you suddenly have a paradigm shift in the way you consume your TV. It is almost at the point in Australia where you can sit down in front of the box – at a time convenient to you – and turn on your TV and watch your favourite show without ads. Pause if necessary for drinks or toilet breaks.

The legacy television broadcasters have seen the writing on the wall and have already created services for ‘Catch-Up’ or ‘On Demand’ viewing. I am sure you have seen SBS OnDemand; ABC; iView; Plus7 and more. These are all free but they have limited choices to view traditional TV shows that have recently aired and are mainstream. Even Foxtel, the largest broadcaster of them all with over one hundred simultaneous channels, now offers Foxtel On Demand.

There are many aggregators of content also appearing. Many of these names will soon be as common as the TV channels. Stan; Presto; Amazon Video; Crackle; Vudu and even YouTube are all common streaming services. Netflix is currently the biggest and oldest of them all. Netflix started as a DVD-by-mail service in 1998. They only started streaming 9 years ago but the company now serves over 190 countries with 81 million paying subscribers. Across the world, Netflix subscribers are streaming 10 billion hours of content every month. If you aren’t sure about the financial viability of streaming services, consider that Netflix has annual revenue of US$6.8 billion which is approximately four times the revenue of all the TV networks in Australia put together.

The future of TV watching is streaming. Make sure you have the bandwidth and an appropriate device and then the only decision left is to find the service that has all seven seasons of MacGyver!

Mathew Dickerson

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