Could the ‘space jump’ signal the end of TV’s dominance?

Published 8:22 am Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On Sunday, more than 8 million people watched on the Internet website, YouTube, as Felix Baumgartner successfully completed a sky dive from 24 miles in the air.

While Baumgartner’s feat of cheating death was impressive enough, I am equally impressed by the number of viewers on YouTube. It set a new record for the number of viewers watching a live broadcast online, shattering the previous mark of 500,000 people who watched the London Olympics’ opening ceremony.

Eight million. Just let that number sink in. According to Nielsen’s TV ratings, the highest rated television program that same Sunday was the NFL game pitting Green Bay against Houston. It drew 17.7 million viewers.

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It’s certainly not a stretch to think that the NFL, which considers itself a global entertainment organization, might look at an Internet medium like YouTube as a way to increase its viewership on a global scale. Sure, foreign viewers can purchase satellite feeds to watch American TV at home, but it’s much easier to simply open their computer, hook up with a wireless connection, and start viewing anything they want on YouTube.

Websites like Hulu and Netflix, and “streaming players” like Roku have already started to eat into the entertainment monopoly that was previously held by TV. There is no doubt that share will start to get smaller and smaller, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see some major entity (perhaps the NFL, perhaps another sport or popular TV program) eventually sign an internet-only contract to broadcast its entertainment exclusively online.

For the longest time, online broadcasts were un-realistic because of a variety of issues. The primary issue was buffering, where a video would slow down or become unwatchable due to too many people trying to watch at once. However, increases in technology have all-but-eliminated buffering. Reportedly, even though 8 million viewers were watching Baumgartner’s leap, and many of them were watching a high-definition feed, there was no discernable slowdown.

Personally, I like to watch rebroadcasts of football games on my computer. I can pause the action, quickly fast forward to the scoring plays, and view the game on my high-definition 18-inch computer monitor. In some cases, the streaming video looks even sharper and more defined on my computer screen than on my TV. And it’s apparent that technology is just going to get better and better every year.

In the history of technology, it’s hard to believe that any one invention — the Internet — could have made so many others obsolete. After all, who uses printed encyclopedias anymore when you can just browse Wikipedia? Who uses printed atlases when Google Maps will give you the most up-to-date routes? Could television be headed for a free fall just as great as Baumgartner’s leap?