Get Rid of TV Channel Numbers

Time to rant about technology again. Do we really need the numbers in the TV channel listings?

It is time to get rid of the channel numbers in your TV. It used to be that the number of a TV channel meant something, but today with 400+ channels, the number is meaningless. Furthermore, it is confusing, since the number is tied more to the cable/satellite service provider and not the actually network being broadcasted. So, lets give up on it. Lets get rid of them. They should go the way of the twisty cable that used to connect your old phone to the wall and the telescopic antenna in some of those early wireless home phones.

Let me elaborate, these are just a few of the problems with channel numbers.

  • A week doesn't go by that a family member calls me and says "hey, there is a cool show on channel 215." Which is meaningless to me. I have DirecTV and they have some form of cable. Without channel numbers they would say "Put ABC on, there is a cool show on right now."
  • Commercials for local TV channels is confusing as they often say "Join us the News 11 Team at 6" yet the channel for the News 11 team at 6 is on channel 289. You have a better chance of winning the lotto with those numbers than to find the right place for the local news.
  • The ordering imposed by channel numbers is totally arbitrary. A channel in the 300s has no relationship to a channel in the 200s. In the early days of cable the low channel numbers were reserved for the equivalent of the local over the air channels. But that is hardly the case anymore.
  • Better yet, browsing for a particular channel when you don't know the number (something that happens in hotels, and in relative and friends home when you are visiting) becomes a sequential search. Can we build interfaces that are a bit more optimized?
  • The "page jump" on TV listings is useless. If you know the channel number you are looking for, then you can go to it directly by entering the number, so the page feature is useless. If you don't know the channel number, the jumping one page at a time only reduces the number of times you have to press the up/down button but it gives you no new advantage since you have to scan all the channels in the page anyway.
  • Searching for "themes" (mystery, sports, drama, etc.) is also useless as these categories are often mislabeled or don't quit match my interpretation of a show. As an example, is Lost a "mystery" show? a drama? an action? a comedy? Yeah, I know, Lost is a pretty weird example, but TV is full of those today. And I happen to like them. How would you classify Eureka (SciFi) and Robin Hood (BBC)? I bet that we can come up with many different classifications.

So, the best way to browse for channels is by the station name. Let me browse by name in alphabetical order. I can jump by page and skip several pages quickly if I am looking for the SciFi channel, for example.

It will also be the same in all TVs. If I want to know if the TV in the hotel has the Disney channel, I can just scroll or jump to the D and see if it is listed there. If not, then I am done.

Oh, yeah, you are thinking: "But how would I change the channel on the remote?" Well that presumes that your remote has only 10 keys for the traditional keypad. But it doesn't, it has upwards of 30 buttons, so put a freaking QUERTY keypad on it.

But even if I don't have a full QUERTY in my remote, then just let me use it like I use my cell phone. I type words with my cell phone to lookup people in my address book. I would do the same thing, sort the channels by name, let me jump around by letters, and use auto-completion to directly go to a channel.

Posted on 06/26/2008



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