Changing Television

When I was a boy, we had a lot of different TVs. A black & white mono one in NYC in the early-to-mid 1960s, another one in Switzerland & Holland in the late 60s & early 70s, a colour one in London for a couple of years. When we got to Australia, they were transitioning between B&W and colour, so we had one of both. By the time I moved in with my then-girlfriend (now my wife), we got a second-hand colour TV from a pawn shop for about $200. TVs were commodity items.

Then things changed – video, cable, digital, DVD, Blu-ray, HiDef. Many people seemed to spend a lot of money on TV hardware and associated accessories. We bought a nice German TV in 1985 with a nice German VCR for about $3000. We rented a lot of videos, but didn’t buy any more hardware. We got an analog cable set-top box in 1996 and a digital one in 2001, but no new TV. We spend a lot on content – over $1000/year.

We recently upgraded to a Full HD TV, a Blu-ray player and a Full HD set-top box. It’s great! Total cost was $1600. The set-top box plugs simultaneously into the cable network and the Internet. The TV can also accept other inputs, like some of the other Internet content provider’s boxes. Those boxes usually cost about $100.

Our first TV cost about $1000 new in 1980. In current dollars that’s over $3000. Our second TV & video cost twice that in current dollars for much more technology a couple of years later. Our latest TV is half as much for much, much more technology and an infinitely better experience.

But that’s not the end of the story. A 1980 TV breaks down frequently. It also needs a sophisticated roof-top antenna with a diplexer to defeat ghosting in the inner city. By the time you cost in all the repair and the antenna, it’s closer to $4000 in current dollars.

If you repeat the exercise with the 1985 TV and factor in the video player, all the video rentals over 10 years and the servicing and repair, you get closer to $16,000.

If you do the numbers for the set-top boxes on the old TV for about ten years, you get about $12,000 in current dollars.

My expectation is that we’ll consume about $20K (2010 dollars) worth in digital content over the next ten years. I expect to update the hardware twice in that time, at a cost of about $1-2K.

Seems like the big thing that’s changed about television is how much you spend on it. Free-to-air TV is still the one-and-only norm for 70% of households in Australia. Otherwise, it seems like we’re going to a pay-as-you-go model for content and a fiercely competitive global commodity consumer electronics model for hardware.

Looks like TV-in-the cloud needs to get commoditised. That’s the real change that’s needed.

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About Fred Pugsley

Digital guy. Foodie, skier, voracious reader.
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