Appointment with broadband

The Überpretentious Canadian “arts” network, Bravo, operates on the conceit of appointments: Appointment with cinema, with music, etc. The idea is you’re just too damn busy to watch TV, which is usually too tawdry for your artistique impulses anyway, but you will schedule an “appointment” to watch For Whom the Bell Tolls, or whatever highbrow program you think separates you from the lower orders.

(At least Camille Paglia is honest: The trashier TV is, the more she likes it. And trash is the essential nature of television, she holds. Accurately, we think.)

Anyway, Dale Dougherty has the same idea for broadband content. (Deploy quotation marks around those words as desired.) Instead of downloading the whole thing, twiddling your thumbs, or streaming it in real time, why not tell a system that you want to watch or listen to an item at a certain time, leaving the system to download it during off hours?


  1. Setting an appointment is only trivially different from watching Ally McBeal at 9:00. True enough, VCRs can “time-shift” Ally McBeal for you, but if 9:00 is convenient for you, you won’t bother. An appointment that somebody else sets (in this case, a TV network) that is nonetheless convenient for you is no different from an appointment you yourself set.
  2. In reality, most people find the schedules of TV networks just fine. The minority who find the schedules inconvenient use VCRs, which, despite the conventional wisdom, are not hard to program. A super-elite use “personal digital recorders,” like TiVos. There is no overwhelming need to rearrange existing TV networks’ schedules.
  3. It is also rare to find someone who wants to watch “streaming media” who doesn’t want to watch it right now. The whole point of on-demand multimedia is just that: Demand, i.e., impulse or convenience. Not many people are going to want to pre-schedule their impulses.
  4. Broadband files are big, but they amount to very little elapsed program time. This, indeed, is one of the annoyances of today’s Web. So if you schedule an “appointment” in advance, you may have saved a tedious three-hour download, but the resulting video is still only 10 minutes long (and too small compared to your nice TV set, and inaccessible).
  5. Deferred reception (a better term?) works well within the Akamai-style distributed server technique, where files are served from a vast network of mirrored machines. If you need your download at midnight, there’s probably a server free at that time. So there is a benefit here: Conservation of global bandwidth, or at least intelligent use of it. The problem? One person’s midnight is another person’s noontime. The Web is World Wide. The actual bandwidth savings may be minimal.

Good idea, but hardly a killer app. Don’t give us another glorified push technology – something technically possible but with no undeniable advantage.

Posted on 2001-01-16