Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Blog and TiVo convention coverage

The Democratic convention starts next week. For the first time ever, some bloggers have been given journalist credentials by the two major political parties and will be blogging the conventions. It should be interesting. Alex Jones of the LA times writes snootily (and somewhat unrealistically) that bloggers are not real journalists even if they have a huge reader base and press credentials. I'd say that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it looks like a journalist and acts like a journalist, it's a journalist. These bloggers, some of whom are getting paid to write their pieces (and some who ultimately write for traditional, "real" media outlets), are de-facto journalists and are finally being recognized as such. By all except the LA times, it seems.

We won't be covering the convention first-hand (DFW started too late to apply for credentials for the convention), not that we would be going if we had been in time. It's a huge staged political ritual --- difficult for me to justify heading over there to write about when I can probably cover it just as well from here (minus, perhaps, juicy gossip picked up at parties.)

The staged political ritual of the conventions would be a good use for a TiVo (aka PVR/DVR). This is basically a computer with a hard-drive and TV tuner disguised as a VCR-like device, although it is much better than a VCR. A TiVO can normally store several hundred hours of TV programming. Because it is uses a computer hard drive, it can pause live T.V.

People that have a TiVo say they never watch live T.V. anymore. The computer can automatically figure out which shows are your favorites, and pre-record them. Rather than watching a live program, you let the TiVo/PVR/DVR device build up about 20 minutes of record time (to buffer commercials) while you watch one of your favorite programs that it has pre-recorded. Once it has built up the record time, then you start watching, skipping over the commercials. It's an enormous time saver, which is why it's popular with busy people.

It's been controversial in Hollywood, where executives have accused TiVo users of stealing TV shows (since they are no longer watching commericals.) That's one reason many shows now have "product placements" (which used to violate FCC rules requiring strict distinctions between T.V. shows and commericlas) as well as Internet-style banner ads appearing on TVs during shows --- T.V. executives fear the traditional commercial will eventually go the way of the dinosaur thanks to these devices.

I also understand that, if one is technically inclinded, one can sometimes obtain better functionality by simply purchasing a TV PCI tuner card or two for a home PC with a huge hard-drive. This reportedly eliminates the high monthly fees that come with some boxes, like the TiVo Series II (although the TiVo has its own advantages, such as its programming guide and automatic ability to record shows it thinks the owners will like.)

The reason a TiVo/PVR/DVR would be great for the political conventions should be obvious. While your TiVo records the latest convention happenings, you can start watching earlier coverage, fast-forwarding until you get to your favorite speakers. Of course, you can also pause a live speaker while you take a break, and resume uninterrupted from where the speaker left off when you return (you can close the time lag during the commericals.) Some of these units can record from two channels at the same time, so you can watch another networks's (recorded) analysis or exclusive while your main channel is doing a commerical.

I recall an article in "The Talk of the Town" section of The New Yorker magazine about a year ago about how TiVo had changed lives in Hollywood (where people are extraordinary busy and can certainly afford the units). TiVo had sent around a marketing letter encouraging people to use TiVo for the Academy Awards, and, at least according to The New Yorker, everyone in Hollywood apparently did. Supposedly, guests at Hollywood parties were being offered seconds of dessert, told not to worry, TiVo would handle the Academy Awards -- they could start watching the beginning anytime they wanted to. That was the year the Academy Awards went something like three hours over (even though the letter had warned TiVo owners to program in extra time in case the Awards went over, no one though they would go over by three hours. So no one asked their TiVo to record quite that much extra time.) This is still a problem with the TiVo -- it can't sense when programs that have gone over-time end. So a lot of people in Hollywood missed the ending of the Awards that year. And were crying as a result (hey, the Academy Awards are a big deal in Hollywood). But they did have total control over the part of the program that the TiVo had recorded.

But TiVo/DVR/PVRs are good for conventions for the same reason that they are good for the Academy Awards --- both are very long, staged rituals with many commercial breaks. The speaches usually don't start on time, and the programs themselves often run overtime.

Since the convention is just a big staged show, it makes sense for busy people to use technology to skip over the ritual and drag out the content.

That means using a TiVo/DVR/PVR type device to remove the commercials and give you control over when your favorite speaches start and stop (at least in your own living room.)

And that means scanning blogs to get the post possible analyst coverage of what was said.

Previous DFW articles on media coverage and alleged bias:
Non-profit sues Media Giant over alleged censorship
Record traffic due to gory video resurfacing
Documentary to document Fox News bias
An uncensorsed, free press, here and overseas, is the key to a sunnier future [very first DFW post]