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True Blood Vampires Sink their Fangs into Connected TVs

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The deliciously devilish HBO series True Blood isn’t exactly where you expect to have light shed upon the latest developments in technology. Vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, and fairies, sure— and the latest season ups the ante by adding witches and panthers to the menagerie—but the fictional Bon Temps, La., has always barely seemed up-to-speed with the end of the 20th century, much less in thrall with the cord-cutting online video revolution of 2011. Heck, I’d bet most of the residents only have basic cable.

Still, there it was in the third episode of the fourth season, the hilarious “If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin’?”: a YouTube video posted by an anti-vampire organization, being watched by Bill Compton, newly crowned vampire king of Louisiana. But he’s not watching it on his computer. He’s not even watching it on an iPhone. He’s watching it on a wall-mounted flat-screen TV (looks to be about a 32" Sony), with nary a set-top box or cable in sight.

Obviously, this is fiction; the video quality was way too good to be believable. But it says something about the state of connected television that the producers and network behind one of the nation’s most popular cable shows (and the only premium cable show in the Top 10 this summer) would present a YouTube video on a television, with or without a set-top box or visible wires, and not worry that audiences would have to suspend disbelief. If you still harbor any doubt that the era of connected television has arrived, you’d best dispense of it now.

Don’t get me wrong. I still think that cord-cutting is mostly hype. Until consumers are convinced that they can get most of the video content they want without subscribing to cable—or at least enough of if that they don’t view what they’ll have to give up as too much of a sacrifice—the vast majority of the populace will still view TV as TV, the internet as the internet, and never the twain shall meet.

When Netflix, Inc. announced its new pricing structure—one that charges $7.99 each for streaming and DVD plans, as opposed to the $9.99 plan that gave users one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming—subscribers were none too timid in expressing their frustration. Unlimited Netflix streaming is awesome, as long as you still have the option to order Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I on DVD. Not all of Netflix’s catalog is available for streaming, and what’s missing tends to be new blockbuster movies and TV shows. Many subscribers decided that, when faced with the choice between DVD and streaming, they’d take the DVDs—whether via Netflix, Redbox kiosks, or (for those lucky enough to still have access to one) the video store.

So the old has not yet given way to the new. But it’s worth considering a few points. Broadcast television had been around for 50 years before cable programming came into the picture, but it only took 20 years for DVDs to supplant videotape as the medium of choice for on-demand video viewing. And while the DVD isn’t dead—and the permanence and convenience it offers means it’s likely to stick around longer than VHS—it’s taken only 15 years for web video to present a serious challenge to the optical disc.

It’s far too early to tell whether online video will overtake physical media, broadcast, or cable—or all three—but clearly we’re in a world where it’s now, finally, a real contest. And even if it’s foolish to bet on a single winner, it’s almost as fun as watching vampires look at YouTube videos on their televisions, whether you’re using your TV, PC, or the HBO GO app on an iDevice to do it. 

This was originally published in the August/September issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "New Blood."

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