Forget about the intricacies of a 500-channel interactive future; we're facing the problem of an 80-TV-channel universe today! Let's talk about what we have now and how to deal with some 10,000 program selections to choose from each week.
In many regions of the world, people are learning to live with a minimum of 30 TV channels, and not only in cable TV areas: in Italy, for example, where cable is nonexistent, it isn't unusual to receive 20 different channels over the air. With satellite dishes, TV program reception in Italy can reach 40 channels including those in Foreign languages. In Germany a viewer can receive 29 channels, all in the German language, and in Venezuela a TV dish can bring in more than 40 channels, all in Spanish.
Imagine zapping through some 40-odd TV channels in search of something suitable to view. You see, when one can receive so many channels, one rarely settles for the first acceptable TV offering that appears on the screen.
Considering that it takes at least 30 seconds to evaluate each program, viewers might need 20 minutes just to decide what to watch, And this assumes that the viewers can remember the channel number or call letters of their first choice; otherwise they could spend another five minutes searching for it.
As you can see, we don't have to wait to be overwhelmed by a 500-channel universe. The challenge is already here! However, I have come up with a better solution than is currently available.
Suppose each program were identified by a digital code placed in the vertical blanking interval (or VBI, the black bar we see when the picture rolls): for example, 01256, where "0" (or any other number) on the VBI space identified the network; "1" the type of program (movie, sitcom, etc.); "2" the genre (Western, musical, etc.); "5" the starting time; and "6" the title.
The receiving set itself could be made to display in detail how to program the TV selection. And, to simplify the commands, the TV screen could be set up like that of a bank ATM (Automated Teller Machine). Touch the screen and a menu would appear: Movie, Sitcom, Documentary, Children's Show, Soap Opera, Talk Show, Sports, etc. Touch "Movie" and, pronto, another menu with genres would fill the screen (e.g., Western, Musical, Contemporary Drama, Costume Drama, Cartoon, Action-Adventure). Touch the preferred genre on the screen and, voila, a list of the movies being broadcast at that exact time would appear.
Finally, touch the particular title and...