As of 1999, a full 99 percent of American households contained at least one television [source: Federal Communications Commission]. Just over a decade later, in December of 2010, 46.5 percent of the 128.5 million households on a cable line were receiving basic services: That's almost 60 million homes. Nearly 75 percent of those homes, more than 44 million households, subscribed to digital video service, and 93 percent of all American homes were capable of getting high-speed Internet [source: Webster].
All those numbers mean that we're getting closer every day to a fully global network. Television, the Internet and other media gadgets are coming together quickly to create always-on, 360-degree availability for the programs and other content we enjoy. In the near future, simultaneous release of programming will make for a financially viable system, but in the meantime, we must contend with business practices that are already in place, as well as the wait for technology to catch up with these exciting ideas.
When cable services were first offered, it made financial sense to concentrate on large, urban centers. The wires weren't capable of carrying as much data, especially before the advent of fiber optics and more recent data-streaming infrastructure, so there weren't as many channels as we have now. That meant that different stations, networks and premium channels were available to different markets, which grew as the business paid for itself.
Now, we've gone from three or four channels -- with their mix of national and local content -- to thousands of options. Niche programming concepts, like Syfy or the Cartoon Network, are able to survive based on numbers that simply wouldn't have been possible in the recent past. Shows that wouldn't even have been approved to pilot can last for years, depending on whether they service a channel's preferred demographic.
All this choice and availability means that soon, we'll all have access to the same stations and programs not only at the time they air, but also at any convenient time after that. For the time being, however, there are still some programs and stations you probably can't view with your cable box, no matter how many channels you get. Let's look at what causes these complications, and how they vary in different locations.