The Last Western Roundup

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Western Shows, more than National Shows or any other kind of shows, a friend said recently, mark the passage of time.

Another year closer to death, I believe is how she put it. Something about it being December and around the holidays, and that requirement to fly across the country barely before the big meal is digested.

(By the way, if you're really feeling nostalgic, don't miss colleague Leslie Ellis's special extended-version column of Western Show memories, on page 92.)

As with all such rites of passage — funerals, weddings — getting together with old friends and family is an important part of the mix.

With Western such a tech-driven show — and with some coincidental encounters with long-time ITV developers — my thoughts drift back to interactive-TV experiments past. Not the experiments so much as the optimism around them and the later complete dismissal of the category.

Along those lines, the discontinuation of Time Warner Inc.'s MystroTV project, at least as it had functioned for the last two and a half years, brought back memories of the Full Service Network. The hype for and, later, against that high-profile experiment clearly has influenced Time Warner's decision to keep MystroTV under wraps, and one wonders how the FSN experience will influence how Time Warner Cable proceeds with it. It sounds to me like the ultimate ITV project: whatever's on TV, whenever you want to watch it, or something close to it.

Here's hoping Time Warner Cable keeps it going, copyright and storage issues notwithstanding.

At least don't duplicate the mistake of years past, when powers that be decided not to keep the Orlando FSN system going as a test bed. That was a mistake, in my opinion, and that of another smart friend I ran into recently, a former operator now in programming.

Maybe ITV really does have a chance to get back in the game. Matt Stump has a front-page article about Rupert Murdoch's impending takeover of DirecTV possibly focusing some MSO attention on ITV. It reflects hopeful sounds I've heard of late.

Using the two-way part of the pipe to jazz up the core video product: sounds like that's worth at least some attention.

Operators always have some other priority, though, like cable modems followed soon by Internet-protocol telephony.

I think it's clear IP telephony will be a huge part of the business in short order, like high-speed data. The regional Bells don't have the bundle to steal cable customers, and will lose phone customers.

But it's important to remember more people get cable for the video than for the modem, so that needs to keep improving, too. And not just with interactivity: Murdoch is pretty smart about making linear video channels, and will have an eye out for exclusive programming.

As ITV longtimer Gary Lauder says, in a phrase he used during a CableLabs presentation a year ago: "Chicken said the sky is falling, the sky is falling. I would say: the Sky is coming, the Sky is coming."

The Western Show is going, but it's as good a time as any to think ahead.

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