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And the Web TV wars go on, and on, and on

When will we be able to pick which channels we want to pay for? Recent shakeups in the business of streaming TV shows have indicated such a day isn't as close as many of us hope.

Wow. With all the drama and in-fighting among cable companies, TV content creators, and Web video companies this week, you'd think the whole industry was one big junior-high cafeteria. Oh, wait, it kind of is.

First, Hulu--a joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp.--pulled its content from (which is owned by CBS, publisher of CNET News). Then it did the same with Boxee, a company that makes software designed for watching online video on TVs via set-top boxes. The reason for these measures appears to be either mounting pressure from the TV content owners that have licensed their video to Hulu, or mounting pressure from the cable companies, or both, or something like that.

Now, we've got a report in The Wall Street Journal indicating that cable giants Time Warner Cable and Comcast are in talks with some of the companies that operate pay-cable channels, for a plan to make some of the networks' content available online to subscribers. It'd probably be on a streaming, ad-supported basis, and probably available for free to existing subscribers.

I've been watching all this with quite a bit of curiosity and amusement. You see, I canceled my cable subscription and ditched my TV a few months ago, and have since been relying on a combination of Netflix (which may offer a streaming-only option as early as next year), iTunes, Hulu, and randomly dropping in on friends' apartments if I really, really want to watch something live. If I show up with a pizza and a nice friendly smile, most of them are OK with it.

In this Digital Age, cable subscriptions just seem a bit convoluted to me; no offense to the people who run the Game Show Channel or Boomerang, but those aren't my cup of tea and I'd prefer to not have to pay for them.

If this shadowy, in-the-works cable deal involves any kind of Web-only cable subscription where, say, you can pay by the stream or by the channel, I'd be all for it. And if the content providers finally work things out with the set-top box makers and Web video hubs, it could be terrific for me and other people who've gotten totally fed up with Stone Age TV offerings. For now, however, it's just a dramatic mess and recent signs are indicating that it's taking steps backward as opposed to forward.

Consequently, I'm riding out the storm for now. I'm holding off on purchasing any kind of set-top box--or a television, for that matter--until the future-of-television compass stops wildly spinning. In a few years, I'm sure, the solution to it all will seem like it should've been obvious the whole time.

Isn't that always how these things are?