Now we know with mathematical accuracy that the life of FTA TV will last at least another 20 years. The probability is only 50 percent, but it’s definitely better than the imminent doomsday predictions of the naysayers.

SerafiniThere is, after all, a valid way to predict how long Free-To-Air (FTA) television as we know it now will last: the Copernicus Method. This system has been used even to predict the life of a Broadway show with 90 percent accuracy. With this method, and with the assistance of my economist son, Yuri (who reviewed the Superforecasting book on page 6), I was able to calculate with 50 percent accuracy that FTA will last at least up until 2036.

This is despite the uncertainty coming from the upcoming spectrum Incentive Auction in the U.S., and the “repacking” that will follow (see World on page 4); the ever-evolving UHD (front-cover story), and the next-generation DTTV standard, in the U.S. and worldwide (page 6).

Although it was inspired by Nicolaus Copernicus (Polish mathematician, 1473-1543), this particular Copernicus Method was developed by American astrophysicist J. Richard Gott and made use of the Gaussian curve (named for German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss 1777-1855).

In 1969, when at the age of 22, Gott visited the Berlin Wall, he wondered how long it would last. In 1993, he wrote in the journal Nature that if the time from the construction of the Wall until its (eventual) removal were divided into four equal parts (the Gauss curve), there would be a 50 percent chance that he was in one of the middle two parts.

If his visit were at the beginning, or 25 percent of the Gaussian curve, then one-quarter of the Wall’s life would be passed, with three-quarters remaining. If his visit were at the end, or 75 percent of the curve, then three-quarters of the Wall’s life would have passed, with only one-quarter remaining.

Since the Wall was eight years old when he visited it, Gott estimated that there was a 50 percent chance that it would last between 24 (32 – 8 = 24) and 2.67 (10.67 – 8 = 2.67) years. In this latter case if eight years represented 75 percent of the Wall’s lifespan, its total life would have been 10.67 years. As it turned out, it was 20 more years until the Wall came down in 1989.  In effect, setting on a 50 percent probability calculation, ultimately Gott predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall with an 87.5 percent accuracy.

Now, we want to forecast the longevity of FTA television with the Gott method, and the only thing we know is that FTA TV is now in its 60th year. What are the odds that FTA TV will cease to exist in 20 years (2036)?

Let’s calculate the probability at 50 percent chance using the Gaussian curve. If the past 60 years were the beginning (25 percent of the curve) of the FTA life, then one-quarter of the FTA lifespan would have passed with three-quarters (240 – 60 = 180 years) remaining. If 60 were at the end (or 75 percent of the curve), then three-quarters of the FTA life would have passed with only one-quarter (80 – 60 = 20) remaining.

The result is that, at 50 percent probability, the life of FTA could range from 80 years (of which 60 have already gone, bringing it to 20 remaining years) to 240 years that minus the 60 passed, makes 180 remaining years.

Using this method we forecast with 50 percent accuracy that FTA TV will stay in existence at least 20 years, but not as long as 180 years. The odds of us being right are 25 percent on the near end and 25 percent in the far end of the Gaussian curve.

Dom Serafini

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