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Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Oct 5

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10/5/2010 6:00 AM  RssIcon

filmon-screengrab.jpgJust as broadcast networks conclude their upfront advertising season, two new content delivery networks are knocking on the doors of viewers’ homes. And because these new networks don’t plan on paying the content owners for their shows like cable and satellite do, the networks are up in arms.

In September, ABC, CBS and other broadcasters sued ivi.tv, an online subscription service that’s proposing to stream TV programs into viewer homes. Ivi apparently doesn’t plan on paying the content owners for that privilege.

Today, ivi.tv charges $4.99 per month for access to 27 channels of television, most from the New York and Seattle markets. The company claims to have deals pending that would bring other broadcast signals online.

In late September, a note from the American Cable Organization complained about another streaming company, Filmon.com. In this instance, the unfair competitor also offers films in addition to streaming broadcast content. The American Cable organization called Filmon.com an “Ivi[.tv] clone.”

I downloaded the Filmon.com player and checked out the menus. The site offers both broadcast and film content. In addition to its 33 broadcast channels, it appears to offer about 100 films. Don’t expect to see a copy of "Avatar" or any new film releases on the menus. The 20 or so film images I clicked out were strictly B-grade flicks.

The Filmon.com site does have an attractive, professional-looking home page. The site is working, but the video is certainly not HD and suffers from plenty of fits and starts. Most disconcerting is that many of the broadcast channels are cropped and center-cuts so viewers miss large portions of the images. (Above is a screengrab of Filmon.com)

One word of warning: If you install the site’s player, don’t expect to use the free version without signing up for a subscription. After a couple of hours, you’ll be greeted with multiple popup sign-in boxes. Once they start, the only way out is by using Alt+F4 to kill the program. The irritating sign-up or else box made me promptly uninstall the entire player. I won’t return.

While ivi.tv may be on the air, one wouldn’t know it from the company’s website. The site is a static display of Q&A. I will give the company credit for answering most questions on the home page. However, it’d be good to tease potential customers with some screen shots and some sample video. Unless you sign up for the free 30-day trial period (along with providing credit card information), the customer has no idea of what’s being made available.

When you add these new competitors to the more well-known ones like Hulu, Roku and AppleTV, they represent a business challenge to broadcast networks and other content owners.

The cable folks, of course, are up in arms because these little guys represent a new and low-cost way for viewers to access channels for which cable charges billions of dollars.

I was going to list some of the more popular broadcast television Internet streaming sites, but was quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of sites claiming to offer live streaming services. What I discovered is that many of these providers’ video suffers from limited quality (although some are adequate in small screens), buffering issues and worst of all difficulty in use. It might take 10 clicks just to get to the desired video channel. Home viewers won’t stand for that.

The content delivery industry is inexorably sliding toward a more ubiquitous distribution model. Most of the current crop of new content streamers will simply dry up and go away once the lawyers enter. Even Ivi’s claim of a legal loophole that permits it to simply pay copyright fees won’t keep the attack dogs from their doorstep. The small company will most certainly lose that battle. Anyone remember what happened to iCraveTV?

Even so, today’s viewers are demanding a new model for consuming entertainment. Restricting viewers to watching their favorite shows only on their home theatre screens will not be acceptable. Consumers want to be able to access their content on portable and multiple players. In other words, anytime, any place, on any device.

The technology isn’t the problem. Money is the problem.

Once everyone figures out how to divide the revenue pie, viewers will be able to watch "DWTS" in the restroom, in an airplane, in a car — anywhere.

Money is the solution. It always is.

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