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Does This Sound Familiar? 1

Well, Walker's gone right off the deep end again, without even bothering to fill the pool this time? Smart cards, CD-ROMs, expiration of programs, blah, blah, blah. He's made up a whole fairy castle industry out of thin air without the slightest proof that it could even be viable.

And yet, there is something about it that seems oddly familiar.... Let's see.... Aha!!!

Programs are programs. So let's start by looking at what's on the television. No, not the pap on the screen, what's on the television--not the bloody penguin but the little black box the penguin's standing on. Today, not far out in the distant 1997 I was talking about, more than a hundred million people in Europe and North America buy programs--television programs--on a monthly basis. They buy them from a cable television operator or, if they live outside an area with cable service or wish a wider selection, by subscription to a satellite broadcasting system. (Satellite broadcasting still seems a little exotic in the U.S., though that is rapidly changing with the Hughes-Thomson-RCA DirecTV system; In Europe it's everywhere--it's hard to find a home in Britain without an Astra dish--satellites work better in Europe and Japan because they aren't as big as the U.S.--a 2 foot dish works just fine, and you can buy the whole rig for about US$300). If you use a satellite dish, your receiver has a little slot where you put in a smart card. If you decide, for example, to subscribe to Turner All-Colourised Movies, just pick up the phone, call the toll-free number, give your subscriber ID from the smartcard, and zap-flash in 30 seconds you're watching Bogey in living -- well -- pasty colour. This technology is off-the-shelf stuff available in every Radio Shack in the U.S. and any T.V. store in Europe.

Most cable television subscribers pay US$5 to US$10 per month for Basic and monthly fees for Premium services like:

Low rent cable channels (A&E, BRAVO, etc.) US$0.79 - 1.00/month
Network packages (Denver 5 or Primetime 24) US$4.00 - 5.00/month
Premium Channels (Disney, HBO, TMC, etc.) US$7.00 - 10.00/month

and the typical satellite user (who receives all the channels included in Basic cable for free) pays between US$150 and US$300 per year for premium services. Of course there are ultra-premium niche services such as real-time stock and commodity quotes, etc., for which one may pay up to US$100 per month.

You do not buy your television programs, you subscribe to them, and the revenue flows back through the chain to those who manufacture them (have you noticed how often you see ``An HBO Picture'' in the titles in the theatres?). And if folks pay $150 a year or more for television programs, is it absurd to suppose they will pay $120 a year for computer programs, especially when the cost is in little monthly nibbles rather than $495 up-front the way we do it today, and when you can always rationalise a purchase by saying, ``Well, I can always cancel it if I don't like it''?

I believe that soon we're not going to buy computer programs either, we're going to subscribe to them. Programs are programs.

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Editor: John Walker