Why Can’t We Speak The Same TV Language?

A simple database of TV episode names is the key to unlocking the power of a worldwide television community.

I had just watched FX’s animated comedy “Archer.” The show was fantastic. I wanted my buddy Marc to check it out. But how?

Marc doesn’t live in LA. I have no idea what cable system he has in Manhattan. I couldn’t tell him what channel to watch it on. Because I recorded it on my DVR, I didn’t even know what day or time the show appeared. So I never called Marc. That’s a shame for Marc, a shame for me, and a bigger shame for FX.

I want to be a megaphone, promoting great TV shows. I don’t expect to get paid. I do it because I love the shows I love. I have a big mouth, and I’m ready to put it to work.

But I need the tools to do the job. Easily.

There needs to be some open standard so that TiVo’s, cable DVRs, computers, etc. can all talk to each other.

I’m not a programmer. I’m not smart enough to deal with all the issues. But I’ll throw out an idea to get the smart people started.

A “Universal Episode Code.”

A Universal Episode Code would be like the bar code number on the back of every product we buy at the supermarket, only for every episode of TV. (These aren’t cutting edge technologies.)

Here’s how it might work:

  • I’m watching Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show,” Season 4, Episode 2 on my Time Warner DVR. (The show really is awesome.”) The episode has a unique ID assigned to it by the studio.

  • I want Marc in NY to check out the episode, so I send the code to him.

  • Any device he has (such as TiVo, cable DVRs, smart TV’s, Apple TV) has the ability to receive and search for the code in its program listings.

  • If it finds that code, the device asks Marc if he wants to record that episode.

  • Done.
How does the code get from my TIVO to his DVR? Doesn’t matter. Email, text message, IR blaster, Facebook widget, iPhone, whatever. There’s no end to the possibilities, because it’s an open standard.

Okay. Now imagine you’re reading this article on your computer and you also wanted to check out “Tim and Eric Awesome Show.” You cut and paste the Universal Episode Code to a web interface, and your TiVo instantly tells you if it’s on and asks if you want to record it. At the same time, you could check iTunes to see if it’s available for download. Or Netflix Stream Instantly. You could check Best Buy to see if that particular episode is on a DVD box set on their shelves. Somehow, some way, you're experiencing "Awesome," and you didn't even have to get up.

Message to the program executives at Adult Swim: You’re welcome.

The Universal Episode Code gives me the fans we need to promote (translation:"market") TV’s best shows, without the entertainment community paying. If I was at a broadcast or cable channel, I’d work very hard to make this a reality.

If no one wants to step up, maybe I can start the database myself. I'll be the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) of television. "I-CANN-TV." I like the sound of that.