Two months ago, my family moved house. Our satellite dish was left on the roof of the old house. Since the move, we’ve been living without a dish, resulting in a purely video-on-demand lifestyle.
So how important is TV for you and your kids? And what happens when conventional satellite TV is absent?
Every family is different, of course. And no two family members are alike. When it come to TV, I am the wrong person to talk to. For almost a decade now, my average TV time has not exceed an hour a month, if not less. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch DVDs or other video content on YouTube, Ikbis, Facebook and so on. It’s just I don’t watch conventional TV.
Things are different for my wife. She too is not a TV freak. But she watches more TV than me.
As for the kids, well, it’s different. They do watch a good amount of TV programming, although video games and online games have been part of their entertainment for years.
So what happened when the dish disappeared.
A few month ago, I got the family an Apple TV. I hooked it up to our aging (non LCD) TV. With an account provided by my brother who lives in Germany, I downloaded a couple of seasons of old TV shows (from the 1970s actually, one of them is what we know in Arabia as Zeina wa Nahhoul) and also subscribed to a couple of video podcasts: a science/invention show targeted at kids and another science/discovery/common interest show targeted at general audiences (our family is Arab/German bilingual, so these shows where in German).
Another key thing I did was to hack the Apple TV to run an amazing media center application called Boxee. This application not only brings a wealth of web video content to the living room, but also streams videos from the computers hooked up to the home network (preferably over a wired ethernet network and not over wifi, which also works but is less reliable).
Needless to say, we have a pretty large collection of children DVDs (and you know that kids watch their favorite movies a hundred times!).
What happened was quite remarkable.
My kids enjoy watching the science and learning podcast daily. They watch some of the downloaded episodes several times. They do that unassisted (lead by my 11 year old son). In the evening they come and tell us all kinds of stories: How knives are manufactured. How pizza was invented. Hygiene measures in swimming pools and on and on it goes.
My eldest son even watches some TED Talks with me, which I watch on Boxee. (If you don’t know TED Talks, it’s just the most inspiring content on the planet!)
For myself, I have a small library of high quality TV shows downloaded on my harddisk (Grand Design, an AMAZING show about people who build extraordinary houses. Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares) as well as some movies. Streaming them from my laptop to the TV screen with ease, via Boxee, is just a great experience.
My wife and I follow the news via the daily newspapers and the web of course.
YouTube is also a source of entertainment and information for the whole family. Recently my kids got into making folded paper airplanes and they’ve watched a lot of videos telling them how to make them
The bottom line: no one really missed satellite TV. The quality of video content my kids have been consuming is enriching their knowledge. I’ve been using the TV set more than before to watch my favorite content (and not the arguing heads on Al Jazeera!).
I even watched the Michael Jackson memorial thing.. Live! On the New York Times’ website!
The only downside was that we ran out of internet bandwidth as we consumed the 20GB cap on our 8Mbit Orange connection.
After reading about this experiment, you might be surprised when you know that three new satellite dishes are being installed on our roof as I write this! My father in law decided to get them installed for us as a gift And I think my wife doesn’t mind. I too foresee the need to have satellite TV for following major sporting events (World Cup, Olympics, Uefa Cup basically) and the occasional news broadcast.
Once I get a flat screen TV and an HD receiver some time in the future, the dish on the roof would also make some sense.
Nonetheless, this experiment was an eye opener. Once satellite TV is back, I really want to make sure that my kids continue to watch useful content on the Apple TV. And Boxee will remain my best friends for the months and years to come.