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Making TV jump through hoops

New technology lets you dictate when and where you watch your favorite shows.

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"There are actually three different platforms right now," says Cyriac Roeding, vice president for CBS Digital Media, referring to the Internet; devices that stream live video, such as cellphones and PDAs; and iPods and MP3 players. "The future is to combine these media and bring them together in a well-functioning way," he says, noting for example that CBS has just announced plans for a soap opera designed to run exclusively on a cellphone. Fox has already tried something similar - the network recently ran a series of "mobisodes," short episodes of the thriller "24," tailored to the cellphone. Mr. Roeding acknowledges Fox's effort by adding, "It's about creating something like '24' in the future that is so engaging that someone will want to do it on all four platforms at once."

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Dinner with Brian Williams

News programs top my list on Days 2 through 5. If I want to stick with the packaged newscasts, the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" is now available on the Internet on demand after 10 p.m. EST/7 PT. I watch it on my wireless laptop while I'm preparing dinner.

On Day 5, I decide to check in on the iTunes offerings. Many people (including me) have been disappointed at how slim the iTunes menu of TV offerings is. Even so, I am happy to see that I can catch up on the USA Network show, "Monk." I pay $1.99 and download the episode, which I watch that night on my iPod.

While I'm sitting in the living room, my son (who used his Christmas money to buy an iPod Video) comes in holding the sleek, black unit connected to white cords. He plugs his iPod into the TV on the other side of the room. In a flash, he catches up on his favorite TV show, "The Office," which he has also purchased from iTunes. I watch his show for a while, then turn back to my own. Some shows actually benefit from the tight focus of headphones and a close screen.

By Day 6 I'm scanning my menu of shows on TiVo to see if there's anything I won't mind seeing on a small screen. I have an episode of the new NBC show "E-Ring" which I haven't watched yet. I transfer it to my cellphone and head out for some errands. I can catch up on Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper while waiting to buy stamps and make a bank deposit.

I'm certainly not the only "wired" person at the bank or the post office. But the use of such portable TV devices is largely youth-driven, says Brad Adgate, research director for Horizon Media, an independent media company. "It's a generational issue right now," he says, pointing out that most under-30s can't imagine life without being mobile and connected. As costs go down and connection speeds increase, others will follow their lead, Mr. Adgate says. He points out that mobile and broadband video are commonplace in Japan and Korea, where downloading is faster and cheaper.

Master of the TV, or slave to it?

As my week concludes, I suddenly realize that if I'm not careful I'll watch shows simply because I can now do it anywhere, any time. Plus, I've recorded them and something inside me says, "You have to catch up!" But do I really? Or does all that extra time I thought I'd gain get soaked up with more viewing?

"Our culture is really good at creating wants," says Nancy Snow, assistant professor of communication at California State University at Fullerton. "But you have to ask, 'If everyone is wired up to their own needs, what are the consequences for communication? What about the simple ability to be quiet with your own thoughts for a moment?' "

Day 7 winds down, and I notice that I'm late for "60 Minutes." It's also time for dinner. Not to worry, TiVo is recording it. Will I watch it later? Maybe. Maybe not.

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