I love hard disk video recorders because they surprised me by being much more than super-fancy VCRs. They changed the nature of the way people watched TV in ways I didn't expect.
Now I've been working with MythTV which is an open source PVR. I have a new program in development, and if any of the readers out there are using MythTV I wouldn't mind some folks to test it out before I announce it to the Myth community.
This program does many things, including two things that I think could change the nature of how TV is chosen.
The system, called TVWish is in general a wishlist program. It lets you build large lists of TV you're looking to see. If the shows you want come on anywhere on your TV schedule, even years later, it will record them.
For example, I have gathered a list of hundreds of top movies, trimmed to what I have not seen and put it in my wishlist. Now if one of those movies shows up, I will see it. Reminds one of netflix perhaps.
The two big changes however are not this, though it's handy.
First, you can import your wishlist from a web URL. That lets you trust somebody else to program what TV your box will record. I call this a "critic" function because you could name the URL of a TV critic who recommends shows. I anticpate one day the same critics who get advanced tapes of shows and write newspaper columns about tonight's TV might create a list so that your box records it.
But it can mean much more than this. A "critic" can be a friend who recommends shows to you. It can be people on the east coast telling west coasters what was good in the lineup. It can be thousands of fans watching shows and rating them on their remote control, causing people to record and not record shows that night or in reruns. It can be people amalgamating the opinions of viewers and professional critics to redirect how you hear about TV.
The second element reflects something I wrote about before in my essays on the future of TV. I now call it Abridging a TV Series
Here, you take a series that is in reruns or syndication. You get a list of the episodes, ranked in order of quality. You put this list into my program and set a quality level. And you only watch the best. You skip the turkeys. Life is too short to watch bad TV. Already many TV show fan sites have episode lists with ratings, either critical or based on fan votes. I've been using these lists to manually abridge series and it's amazingly producitve. A mediocre series turns into a shorter, excellent one.In the full vision, this changes the nature of series TV. Series TV has alwyas been based on the person who becomes a fan of the series, and thus a regular viewer. They could greenlight terrible scripts because they still made money, people still tuned in. This is unlike books or movies where we make our choices based on reviews and friends' opinions and other sources first. My program changes TV to the latter form.
Eventually, this will also be live. Your machine will record a current (non-rerun) show. People who watch it early will rate it. If the trend shows the episode is clearly a turkey, your machine deletes it, perhaps leaving a text plot summary behind for you to read, if plot continuity was essential.
There's more detail on these ideas and more in the web page for the program, along with the source. If you are a MythTV user, try it out.