Plug-and-play television sets

Developments in high-speed Internet and low-cost local storage, in addition to an increasing supply of companies willing to deliver video over IP, are giving viewers other ways to access content. With all the Internet-provided video, I expect to see an RJ45 on my next TV set.

Because of January's CES, my inbox was filled with press releases from companies touting their products. Several of these products were focused on moving video from the Internet directly to your TV set.

The question then becomes: Is the Internet a competitor? The answer is both yes and no. Plenty of companies claim to offer services that provide TV viewers with video through the Internet. One vendor claims to have 80 million movies for download and viewing. That's a lot of movies!

A quick examination shows that most of these firms are far from legitimate, and they probably can't deliver on their promises. One reason is that not-so-small issue of rights.

Looking through the FAQs on one company's site reveals why these guys might not be fans of the MPAA. One FAQ asked why the viewer had to pay for the movies. The corporate answer was, “The software is completely free of charge. What you pay goes towards supporting our technical team and paying for the creation of more user guides. If you're unsatisfied, you can always cancel your membership and keep the software.”

Another FAQ hinted that the vendor might not really have all those movies on its server ready for access. The FAQ asked, “What if I cannot find what I'm looking for?” The site's answer, “If you can't find your files, you should try again in an hour or two. Users are connecting and disconnecting constantly, and it's likely that a user with what you want will connect sooner or later. Just keep trying!”

Whoa, “… a user with what you want …” Why would I need a “user” to supply my movie? Does this look like an illegal BitTorrent file transfer to you?

Even so, as content developers and broadcasters, we need to remember that viewers really don't care how programs get to their display screens. They don't care if “The Tonight Show” is delivered by NBC, or the local broadcaster. Your fancy and expensive local HD newscast could fall from outer space as far as they're concerned. Consumers want choices, and they will go to where they can get them.

So, is the Internet a competitor? Yes, because content is available — both legal and otherwise. But the Internet is not yet a full competitor because connectivity and rights issues have yet to be solved.

Research shows that the first wave of video over the Internet has been focused on streaming video technology and small files. Companies like YouTube, Votigo, Flickr, Facebook and hundreds of others combined to bring Internet video into the mainstream. The U.S. market for online video will reach 157 million viewers by 2010, just two years from now.

If we think this Internet video wave was big, just wait. The second one will be a tsunami.

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