Shoot your TV! Nifty services will tune you in


POSTED: Monday, February 23, 2009

Whenever someone assaults some inanimate object with a firearm, clever commentators often try to turn it into some sort of significant social metaphor.

But that's getting old.

After all, it's not like Walter Hoover, a well-armed Missouri man who unloaded two rounds into his suddenly useless analog television last week after his local stations switched to digital, invented the whole concept of TV mercy killings (hat tip: Elvis, circa 1972).

Sure, as KTVL.com reported, he might've upped the ante when he subsequently drew a SWAT team into a two-hour standoff, but my point is this: In the realm of irrational violence triggered by interrupted media routines, there is plenty of prior art.

Remember Mona “;The Hammer”; Shaw, who nearly destroyed a Comcast office in 2007 for bludgeon-worthy customer service? She's got plenty of company that's just as easy to Google.

The fact is, viewing habits are comforting—mess with them at your own risk. And though many broadcasters have already gone digital, Congress delayed the mandated transition deadline from this month to June 12 for one simple reason: because June 12 is not now, and “;now”; is always the least attractive option for these sorts of things.

But perpetual legislative punts might no longer be enough to keep couch potatoes simmering in their familiar if uninformed stew. New technologies (still on the fringe of public awareness) threaten to invade the mainstream and vow to make $100-plus monthly cable bills feel more and more like sucker bets.

With this in mind, here are some dispatches from the encroaching front lines of alt-TV you might want to investigate:

Netflix: CNet.com reports that the DVD deliverer might offer a DVD-less, streaming-only option next year. When combined with a Roku set-top box, this could put HBO out of business.

Boxee/Hulu: The Hollywood-Cable Industrial Complex struck a blow for the status quo last week when the popular online streaming service Hulu.com was forced to pull its content (shows like “;The Office”; and “;Saturday Night Live”;) from Boxee. Boxee is Net-powered software early adopters are using, often with AppleTVs, to free their living rooms from the traditional cable pipes. Of course, Lifehacker.com reported that these same industrious early adopters expressed their outrage with a smirk and a work-around that brought it all back on the down-low approximately 13 minutes later.

Ted.nu: When compared with the ease of DVRs, BitTorrenting can often devolve into time-consuming fishing expeditions. This application, however, lets viewers automatically locate and pull in specific show episodes as they become available, TiVo style, onto their computers. It's not perfect—still the Wright brothers when the world demands JetBlue—but it's a start.

Sadly, while promising, none of these developments can resurrect an old TV set after it swallows two slugs of hot lead from a Midwesterner's high-powered firearm.

So move on, Mr. Hoover—your dutiful, hard-working analog television, if not a nation of metaphor-makers, would've wanted you to move on.


Subscribe to columnist Curt Brandao's Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/digitalslob.