Analog television, which we used to call just "television" before all this digital stuff landed on our doorsteps, is nearing extinction. In fact, the exact day of its demise has already been announced: 17 February 2009, after which all the old-style transmitters will be shut down and the spectrum space reallocated. (In the digital TV world, only channels 7 to 51 will still be in use; low-band VHF — channels 2 through 6 — and the upper section of the UHF band will be designated for non-TV use.) I have two television sets, one of which is capable of handling the digital signals on its own. What happens to the other one depends on what the cable company decides to do.

What's unusual about this, of course, is that official death date. Elsewhere, a lot of technologies and business models hang on despite being pretty much dead in the water. Just to name a few:

Long-distance telephone service.
Robert X. Cringely called this one six years ago: "Long distance, which inspired not only the Telecom Reform Act of 1996 but also the AT&T breakup of 1983, is today a business with almost no profit." Your wireless service doesn't care about long distance: you give it ten digits and it will connect you to anyone in the country without jumping through the LD hoop. Likewise with VoIP. But if you still have a landline, you're expected to sign up with not only your local telco but also with a long-distance carrier, or dial one of those 10-10 codes before each call outside your designated local-calling area, a designation which may or may not make sense. (My ex-wife reported that when she was a teenager working at Penn Square, it was a long-distance call to her home in Midwest City. Things have improved in central Oklahoma since then.) I pay $1 a month for access to LD I never use: I can always use the cell. The whole long-distance business is an anachronism, but still it hangs on.

Detroit's plethora of dealers.
In a nutshell, from the Detroit News:

The average Chevrolet dealer sells 583 cars a year. Ford dealers sell 631 vehicles a year on average, while Dodge dealers sell 375 on average, according to J.D. Power and Associates Power Information Network. All three are sharply down from previous years. By contrast, the average Toyota dealer sold 1,685 vehicles, while Honda dealers closed 1,289 sales on average last year.

While foreign automakers sell nearly half of all cars and trucks in the United States each year, they have far fewer dealers. Ford, GM and Chrysler dealerships outnumber Toyota and Honda dealers nearly 5 to 1.

This problem is not easily solved. State franchise laws make it nearly impossible for an automaker to dismiss a dealer: when GM shelved the Oldsmobile name, they had to pay off the Olds dealers to the tune of about $1 billion, erasing much of the savings from killing Olds in the first place. (Disclosure: Both my children drive Oldsmobiles.) The Chrysler Group has made noises about terminating the franchises of lower-performing dealerships, but it seems unlikely that they'll be able to do so without paying the dealers to go away. The fact is, though, the dealers don't make money on new cars: their income stream comes from service and used-car sales. Maybe the solution lies in reducing the dealerships to service depots, but how many people do you know who'll buy a car without actually driving it? (I did, once, although admittedly I had that day driven another one of the same model with the same powertrain, so it's not like I was flying blind.)

What's left of the record industry.
CD sales continue to slump, and while legal downloads are picking up steam, the profit margins are decidedly smaller. It doesn't help that the RIAA continues to believe, despite an amazing lack of actual evidence, that everything would be hunky-dory if it weren't for all those pirates out there, and that it continues to seek legal judgments against people who never pirated a thing. Add to this the insistence on clunky and inconvenient "digital-rights" management schemes and you're looking at a lemming who denies there's such a thing as a cliff. Happy landing.

The Vent

  25 July 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill