What do you want to watch?

answer used to depend on limits — what day it was, what time it was,
what channels you got. A handy little thing called TV Guide laid it all
out. Television was a one-way medium – big broadcasters pushing content
into our living rooms at a specific time and place.

Not anymore.
Online video has arrived, unleashed from the networks, cable companies,
and media giants. Thanks to growing bandwidth, easy access to the means
of production, and cheap storage, it’s exploding all around us and
becoming a very real, very different way to experience news and

Even the old guard gets it (sort of). From
Desperate Housewives on your iPod to MTV Overdrive, the networks are
racing one another to get their broadcast programs online, while also
creating Web-only content.

But don’t let them fool you. What’s
happening here isn’t just TV online. Gone are the rigid 30- and
60-minute blocks; now the clip is it – be it 30 seconds or eight
minutes, we’re watching only the money shots. Gone is top-down
broadcasting; instead, the network has been, well, networked, with
thousands of creators and places to watch, from single-serving sites
like Rocketboom to slick aggregators like iTunes and blinx. And gone,
too, is the at-this-time, at-this-channel programming; now we’re not
only time-shifting with DVRs, we’re space-shifting as well, watching
stuff on our laptops, iPods, and cell phones – even loading it back
onto our TVs.

Missed Oprah squashing James Frey? No matter – you
could catch the choice bits of the gotcha episode on YouTube later that
afternoon. Want to see the best shorts by SNL’s “Lazy Sunday” guys? You
won’t find them on NBC – try The ‘Bu on channel101.com. Still watching
Must See TV on Thursday nights? How quaint.

Sure, a lot of the
material is junk: dorm pranks, nip slips, America’s silliest home
videos. But some of it is brilliant: House of Cosbys, Kevin Sites’s hot
zone at Yahoo! News, archives of cold war propaganda films. Some people
look at the sheer amount of material and see a mess. But we see, amid
the flood of content and competing delivery services, a new medium
emerging, one with fewer gatekeepers, more producers, and – somewhere –
something for everyone. And that’s the point: The mess is the message.