Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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Reinventing TV

April 4th, 2005 · 1 Comment

Bob Cringely writes:

Enter the Internet. Six years ago in this space, I wrote a column saying it would be at least six years before the Internet would be a viable medium for the distribution of video. I was correct. What I wasn’t thinking of back then were the dual personalities of this business, and how the Internet could be an ideal medium for serving small audiences for materials that have long been paid for. For this kind of archival video serving to succeed, most of the work still to be done is administrative. We need a way of rewarding the content creators when someone enjoys their work. It’s really just an accounting system, but of course, all parties have to agree on the rules.

Deciding what to watch wouldn’t change very much. There would still be a main broadcast or cable channel. But there would also be a second channel — a myPBS — that would be unique to every viewer. Choose a show from any of the 10,000 or so that have reached archival status in your local station’s library and download it into your DVR. Ftp, http, broadcast, unicast, multicast, BitTorrent — I’m not sure the networking technology makes much difference except that I’d try to use them all for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

The money to pay for all this would come from subscription fees. How much would you pay for unlimited access to 10,000 shows, most of which are otherwise unavailable? Have you tried to find a copy of my “Nerds 2.01: A Brief History of the Internet?” Short of finding an old VHS tape on eBay, it can’t be bought. Now multiply that experience by at least 1,000X and you can see why such a subscription would be attractive. Yeah, but what would you pay? Ten bucks a month? Ten bucks a month would not only pay for the system, it would effectively double the funds available for new productions.

What I am describing is a whole new kind of television because it offers content that is literally unavailable otherwise.

Chris Anderson adds:

There is no shortage of smart people thinking about how TV can find its way out of its corner. But it’s not easy. For starters, most of the networks are content renters, not content owners. (NBC, which bought Universal ten months ago, is now an exception). This means that the archives are often not theirs to monetize.

Rights also continue to be a total hairball, made even more complicated by exclusive geographic distribution deals (which conflict with the Internet’s global nature) and syndication options. And then there’s music, which is a nightmare. Want to know why you can’t watch old WKRP in Cincinnati episodes? It’s too hard to license the music that was used in the show.

Bottom line: TV is begging to be reinvented. Fortunately, there are a lot of new companies that have emerged to try to do just that. One of them is Brightcove (formerly Vidmark), whose CEO, Jeremy Allaire, gave me a briefing last week at PC Forum. They’ve got an open-access video publishing platform that could make it as easy to be a video publisher tomorrow as it is to be a bookseller today. Impressive.

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