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It's Everywhere

The cable industry calls its online video initiative TV Everywhere, which is about the size of it these days. TV is indeed everywhere, from the gas pump to the seat-back to the cellphone to the laptop, and yes, even to those HDTVs that cost us big bucks. And where it'll stop, nobody knows.

The TV Everywhere name represents both the promise and the challenge of trying to cope with a TV future that is moving in several directions at once, though with some big, flashing signs pointing toward the Internet.

The “promise” is that mobile on-demand is increasingly where the eyeballs will be, and online will be a big player. But whether it will be additive or a threat to the future of traditional media is not yet clear. Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts says there is still a vibrant future for traditional TV, though he concedes that the smart money is on a migration to smart technology like interactivity that can be part of both cable—on-demand—and online media.

Apple's announcement last week of its vaunted iPad (a prescription for less eye strain) was more hat than cattle, essentially providing a bigger screen for iTunes videos. But it was another move toward the wedding of TV and the computer, which is getting a big push from Washington as well.

Microsoft's effort a decade ago to promote Web TV may have fizzled, but it was clearly the right idea at the wrong time. YouTube and cable's high-speed Internet rollout, the iPhone, and the government's increasing push for a world lived online have all conspired to make the move of video to the Web seem not only cool, but a public-interest panacea.

Wedding the cable or satellite set-top with the Web has been given a public-interest imprimatur by the FCC, whose media bureau chief has touted it as a way to boost broadband adoption. It is a tide that seems unlikely to be turned.

The challenge, then, is how to be part of the revolution and not up against the wall with a smoke and a blindfold. That means making money off all this choice. The sobering reality is that not everybody can, or will, succeed. In this economy, and given the changes to the industry, that is a gamble on the future that has to be made, but also has to look pretty scary.

Broadcasters have a particularly frightening view. They are faced with threats to their spectrum from government, and to their business model from all this TV Everywhere.

The answer to staying relevant, of course, is content—though that is like saying playing the trumpet is easy, you just blow and move your fingers. But it's true. TV may be everywhere, but you have to want to watch it.