Web TV

Lee Gomes discusses TV on the Internet in the WSJ:

A growing number of big content companies are putting programming from “regular” TV out on the Web. Walt Disney, which also owns ABC and ESPN, has been especially aggressive in this regard. So has the BBC, which already has most of its radio broadcasting online. It announced last week that it would be putting much of its TV up, too — though initially as a very limited test inside the United Kingdom.

Sports is another growing source of Internet TV. You can pay $14.95 a month and watch Major League Baseball games at your desk — or even pay-per-view cricket, courtesy of Ireland’s Setanta.com.

Don’t go rushing over to your PC and expect to see a high-definition picture with Dolby surround sound. Video on a personal computer, while better than the matchbook-sized images of a few years ago, is still confined to a relatively small portion of the screen, and it offers quality levels that would get booed out of most living rooms.

But it’s slowly getting better. In Asia, connection speeds are already so good that the Web can be used for full-blown, couch-potato-style TV. In Hong Kong, a new breed of Web-TV suppliers gives you a set-top box that lets you plug in an Internet cable; you then watch TV just as you would with cable or satellite. (Incidentally, you don’t have any Microsoft software controlling things, despite the strenuous efforts of that company to make its player software a part of all Internet-enabled TV viewing.)

In the future, as networks get faster and new kinds of easy-to-use Internet-aware devices are sold for the living room, the role of the Internet in TV will only grow.

And that is where the media-disintermediation business comes in. Disintermediation means getting rid of the middleman, and right now, cable and satellite companies are middlemen because TV is whatever they say it is. But what if you could connect directly to, say, “The West Wing” without Comcast? Without, even, NBC? It would be the video analogue of getting your music directly from the artist. You wouldn’t even need a TiVo, because the whole world would be your TiVo.

In the end, “watching TV” is likely to take on all sorts of new meanings, including catching a pay-per-view game on your cellphone while sitting on the bus. Kids today, who send instant messages to friends while watching music videos while doing their homework, are already tuned into this emerging multiscreen, multimedia world.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.