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February 16, 2007

Television and the Internet

As you know, there’s plenty of video on the Web.  You can go to YouTube and see almost anything you want, most of it dreadful but some of it pretty good.  You can also post your own videos on YouTube and you can vote on YouTube videos to try to help other people find the good ones.  But this isn’t TV, at least as we’ve known it.

Since pornography always drives technology, the porn sites have been on the web from the earliest days.  Easy enough to find if you’re interested in them.  They compete with some of the x-rated pay channels on TV.  So this is getting a little closer.

My friend Jeff Pulver (formerly a VoIP pioneer and a commodities trader) started Network2, a website which is a good example of PART of what TV on the Internet will be.  In many ways IP TV (which is what Jeff is doing) goes a step beyond traditional television; it’s most like TV Guide except that when you click on a show you actually get to see it or download it for later viewing or for watching on some kind of portable device. Network2 doesn’t own the content it points to (but the content is very glad to be pointed at).  Network2 does exercise some editorial discretion in picking content.  You can’t just upload stuff to Network2 as you can to YouTube.  Much of what Network2 points to is professionally produced.  Some is content like newsclips, old movies, and trailers for new movies which traditional providers have made available; some is video from sources like the New York Times; there are even high quality made for the Internet shows like Wallstrip.

Channels are something you make yourself on IPTV; they’re the collection of shows you like to watch.  You can share your channels with your friends just as you might share music playlists, blogrolls, or recommendations of good books.

MLB.com is an example of a step towards the future of TV.  As I blogged previously, I pay to use it to watch TV games rather than buying the baseball package from my satellite TV  provider.  The advantage is that my subscription goes where I (and my PC) go.  Any good nerd can hook a fairly modern TV to a PC so I watch baseball on the same screen I’d use if it did come through the dish on the roof.

But all of the above still isn’t TV as we know it and doesn’t replace it (yet):

  • Most of the content we can get on network and cable TV is not available on the Internet.

  • Most Internet content is low def, certainly not the high definition stuff that makes you run out and buy an expensive LCD screen.

  • With the exception of baseball, you can’t get realtime major league sports or much else in real time (except webcams).

Even if you’re lucky enough to have fiber to your home and buy a “triple play” package of Internet access, telephone service, and entertainment, the “entertainment” portion is not on the Internet in any but the most technical sense (and many would argue that, as well); you even need a settop box to view it.  The entertainment portion looks just like cable TV for the very good reason that the networks have contracts which give them distribution rights to that content and that’s the way they want it to look.  If you run a fiber network and want to provide your subscribers the shows they’re used to watching, you have to do it in on the terms that the networks dictate.  Your subscribers are still locked into channels and, unless they own DVRs, WILL watch shows including commercials when those shows are shown.

Everything in the previous paragraph is going to change; television of the future will look much more like Network2 than Comcast or DirecTV.  Stay tuned to this blog for how.

Related post: Daddy, What’s a Channel?

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