Prime Time Is My Time14

Signals with a Sense of Themselves

The best way to deal with a massive amount of available television is not to deal with it at all. Let an agent do that.

Although future computing machines will be as capable of understanding video narrative as you or me, for the next thirty years or so, machine understanding of video content will be limited to very specific domains, like face recognition at ATM machines. This is a far cry from having a computer understand from the video that Seinfeld has just lost another girlfriend. Therefore, we need those bits that describe the narrative with key words, data about the content, and forward and backward references.

In the next few decades, bits that describe the other bits, tables of contents, indexes, and summaries will proliferate in digital broadcasting. These will be inserted by humans aided by machines, at the time of release (like closed captions today) or later (by viewers and commentators). The result will be a bit stream with so much header information that your computer really can help you deal with the massive amount of content.

My VCR of the future will say to me when I come home, "Nicholas, I looked at five thousand hours of television while you were out and recorded six segments for you which total forty minutes. Your high school classmate was on the 'Today' show, there was a documentary on the Dodecanese Islands, etc. . . ." It will do this by looking at the headers.

These same header bits work very well for advertising, too. If you are in the market for a new car, you can have nothing but car ads on your screen this week. Furthermore, the car companies can embed local, regional, and national information in the headers so that your neighborhood dealer's clearance sale is dutifully included. This can be expanded into an entire shopping channel, which, unlike QVC, sells only things you really want, instead of zirconium rings.

The bits about the bits change broadcasting totally. They give you a handle by which to grab what interests you and provide the network with a means to ship them into any nook or cranny that wants them. The networks will finally learn what networking is about.

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Updated on April 15, 1996