Television's Brave New World

Nov. 15, 2005— -- It's a brave new world of television viewing -- so much so that many people are wondering if watching regularly scheduled programs will soon become a thing of the past.

On Monday, AOL announced a deal to allow subscribers to watch thousands of episodes of dozens of vintage shows, including "Welcome Back Kotter," "Who's the Boss?" and "Growing Pains," free of charge and online. The shows will contain two minutes of advertising per half hour.

AOL and Warner Brothers' In2TV will be launched in early 2006. The shows will be delivered through AOL Video on Demand, AOL Video Search and AOL Television. The programs will be available exclusively through AOL and will not be in syndication on TV, AOL said.

There are questions as to whether people have the patience to watch longer form programming on their computers. Most successful Internet programming is only several minutes long.

In2TV will also include games, polls and other interactive features.

Entertainment is moving quickly into the future. Long gone are the days when the family gathered around the one television set. In fact, 110 million homes have televisions and the average American home has 2.4 TVs.

"The tipping point has occurred," said "Good Morning America" Technology Correspondent Becky Worley. There are "35 million homes with Internet broadband access ... folks are doing what they want. A lot of these networks are nervous that we are going to have a file sharing situation."

This means that networks want to get ahead of the curve, Worley said.

"There is going to have to be some way of monetizing this for companies," she said.

According to Worley, networks do not want to find themselves in a situation like the music industry faced in the late 1990s when file sharing caused record labels to lose money when people began downloading individual songs -- often for free -- rather than buying CDs

Last week, CBS and NBC announced that they would start selling episodes of their most popular shows for 99 cents an episode through cable and satellite TV. CBS made its deal with Comcast and it will offer four of its shows, including "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Survivor." NBC's deal is with DirecTV and it will sell six shows, including "Law & Order: SVU" and "The Office."

Last month, ABC made a groundbreaking deal with Apple that allows fans to download popular shows like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" onto a video iPod the day after they air on television.

On demand is not just for TV shows either. Wal-Mart is reportedly talking to Hollywood studios about setting up a kiosk where shoppers will be able to download their movie choices directly onto a disc.

"We're exploring all different types of distribution mechanism to the customer," David Porter, vice president of Wal-Mart, told the Financial Times.

According to Worley, on demand helps companies like Wal-Mart save money on shipping and extra DVDs that people do not buy while allowing to consumer more freedom of choice.

"This is a win-win for consumers and businesses," she said.