Televisionaries is a well written, fascinating chronicle of TV’s digital transformation. Marc Tayer captures the politics, business drivers and perspectives of all the players and is factually on the mark.
—BOB ZITTER, former HBO executive vice president and chief technology officer
“Marc Tayer has woven a rich tapestry of a remarkably dynamic scene, combining large corporate interests with the evolution of sophisticated technology.”
—ANDREW VITERBI, co-founder and former CTO of Qualcomm
“Colorfully written and meticulously researched, Televisionaries is a masterful compilation of the ‘inside baseball’ maneuvers that shaped digital television — told from a vantage point few can claim. Two thumbs way up!”
— LESLIE ELLIS, technology writer, editor, and author of “Translation Please,” a weekly column in Multichannel News
We sit at the crossroads, where the wide-open Web meets the walled gardens of the media gatekeepers. It harks back to 1989, when a team of MIT engineers at General Instrument Corporation in San Diego achieved a monumental breakthrough in digital television technology. During the next decade, digital TV became a reality for consumers throughout the United States and the world. The media business was forever changed.
The North American cable dynasty was challenged with its first real competitive threats as new video service providers—DirecTV, Dish Network, Verizon, and AT&T—employed digital technology to enter the pay TV business. Yet the cable operators also embraced the digital future, matching and sometimes surpassing the offerings of the newcomers. A cascade of innovations was unleashed: from the proliferation of TV channels and genres to the spectacular pictures of HDTV; from the game-changing convenience of DVRs and on-demand video to the freedom of the Internet. And with multiscreen mobility, digital video is now at the fingertips of users of every connected device.
In 1989, analysts and pundits assumed that “Japan Inc.,” with its MUSE HDTV system, would own the global standard for the next generation of television, further cementing its dominance of the consumer electronics industry. Defending its borders, the European techno-bureaucracy erected HD-MAC, a billion-dollar, government-subsidized HDTV standardization effort designed to keep the Japanese at bay. The United States appeared to be in a distant third place, as an FCC committee was tasked with recommending a new over-the-air broadcast television standard for the country.
But the fatal weakness of the imposing HDTV systems of Japan and Europe was that they were based on analog technology. With the world’s eyes diverted overseas, General Instrument (GI), a Fortune 500 communications equipment company, harbored a secret research project in its San Diego labs. The notion of transforming television from its analog roots to the zeros and ones of computers was deemed impossible at the time. Undaunted, GI boldly developed the world’s first digital television communications system, overcoming skeptics and upsetting the status quo on three continents. Before long, competitors realized GI was onto something big, and the race was on.
A revolving door of star CEOs stood at the helm of GI: Donald Rumsfeld, former and future Secretary of Defense; Dan Akerson, former president of MCI and future CEO of General Motors; Rick Friedland, financial operations whiz and consummate company man; and Ed Breen, the charismatic salesman who sold the company to Motorola for $17 billion.
An even more colorful cast of characters, the media tycoons of the late twentieth century, tapped into the digital gold mine. John Malone, Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, Chuck Dolan, Brian Roberts, and Charlie Ergen brilliantly harnessed the power of digital TV technology to propel their empires into the modern age. With the advent of the broadband Internet, a new breed entered the picture, exemplified by Netflix, Amazon, and Google/YouTube, collectively aspiring to usurp video’s future.
Digital video is now rippling in many directions—TV Everywhere, Social TV, and Ultra HD—and bringing new issues to the fore, notably sports rights, cord cutting, and net neutrality. Beyond entertainment, digital video is permeating society—in education, culture, security, recreation, and medicine—posing new challenges and raising profound questions regarding privacy and social interaction.