Nov 142005

Man and Mesquite Dunes ©Gary Hayes 2005It is starting to feel a little like one of those JFK “Everyone remembers what they were doing when…” moments. Suddenly TV is spreading across the cross-media universe like wild-fire. With TV companies moving their prized possessions onto broadband, mobile and various PVRs the Washington Post in its article “A Breakthrough Few Months for Portable TV” starts the retrospective – or alternatively a term I think coined by a BBC colleague a few years ago ‘prestalgia’.

The autumn of 2005 will doubtless be remembered as the time when all assumptions about the rules of television were thrown into the air and scattered, with no certainty about what happens when they land.
The most shocking event clearly was Apple’s deal with The Walt Disney Co. in October to make reruns of “Lost” and other programs available for downloading to iPods for $1.99. In less than three weeks, Apple said a million videos were sold.

It continues by pointing out that TV broadband sites are also starting to sprout up everywhere

That remains unanswered, but it hasn’t stopped an explosion of Internet channels or programming offerings this fall _ seemingly a new announcement every day.
Several of the MTV Networks have launched affiliated broadband sites. 50 Cent made a concert exclusively available on MTV Overdrive, VH1 started the VSpot stream, kids can watch cartoons on TurboNick and Comedy Central’s Motherload began operating Nov. 1.
NBC began offering a same-night replay of “Nightly News” online, the first network news broadcast to take that step. The Food Network starts a Web-only series with chef Dave Lieberman next week. HGTV debuted “My First Place,” a series about young people moving into their first homes, on the Web before TV. PBS made NerdTV, a series about high tech pioneers, available exclusively on the Internet.

As is usual when things get a little too ‘raucous’ there is always one party pooper and this one is Broadcasting and Cables article subtitled “Hold on—maybe the Internet giants won’t take over television”

Indeed, while the rush to air TV programs online has promotional value, it’s merely an elaborate experiment for now: Will people watch shows on their computer? Every veteran TV executive knows that any large-scale migration of a network’s best content would upset the delicate supply chain of station groups, syndicators and advertisers.
“I don’t think we’re in favor of any tool that decides to record our content, no matter what functionality,” says Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media at Disney/ABC. “There needs to be acknowledgement of copyright laws.”
Also, networks worry about handing bullets to the enemy. They risk building Yahoo!, Google or Apple’s iTunes into online gatekeepers—the same sort they face in cable and DBS companies—and diluting networks’ leverage.

The New York Times though gets the party going again and also noted the cosmological (OK just TV spreading it’s wings) event. Its article Internet Service to Put Classic TV on Home Computer on Warner Brothers latest venture shows that the tidal wave may have begun already, this writer was kind of expecting a trickle of activity off the back of the Apple, NBC and CBS announcements reported in previous posts.

Warner Brothers is preparing a major new Internet service that will let fans watch full episodes from more than 100 old television series. The service, called In2TV, will be free, supported by advertising, and will start early next year. More than 4,800 episodes will be made available online in the first year. (snip)
Full-length TV shows on the In2TV service responds to that demand, particularly as more people hook their computers up to their television sets.

And like the BBC’s new IMP initiatives Warner Bros. Are reducing distribution costs by implementing existing peer-to-peer technologies

There is a catch. To use the technology, viewers will have to agree to participate in a special file-sharing network. This approach helps AOL reduce the cost of distributing-high quality video files by passing portions of the video files from one user’s computer to another. AOL says that since it will control the network, it can protect users from the sorts of viruses and spyware that infect other peer-to-peer systems.

To add even more excitement to the mix it looks like Interactive TV is sneaking in through this particular back door in the states. They have waited in the wings long enough behind the centre stage antics of the UK’s iTV industry so…

Other programs will be accompanied by interactive features that can be displayed side by side with the video, like trivia quizzes and video games related to the shows. One feature, to accompany “Welcome Back, Kotter,” will allow users to upload a picture of themselves (or a friend) and superimpose 1970’s hair styles and fashion, and send the pictures by e-mail to friends or use as icons on AOL’s instant-message system.

So remember what you were doing at the end of 2005 because the big changes are happening now. You will be able to reminisce when you are old and grey, sitting in your rocking chair as you tell your grandkids (or someone else’s grandkids) about the days when you used to have to watch your favourite TV programmes at certain times of the day – that you were there when the big switch over to broadband TV occurred (or video rather as TV will become a term less used in a few decades of course). These are strange, or rather expected times indeed.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

Oct 182005

He and other producers are convinced that the low cost of digital production and distribution will allow Internet TV to thrive even with small audiences. “We can get by with 100,000 subscribers,” Mr. Myrick said. “Networks are cancelling shows on 3 million viewers.”

I have tried to resist posting about Apples foray into the portable video space for several days but have been a little ‘distracted ;-)’ so hopefully this will balance me a little. We all know the news and I wouldn’t like to say “I told you so” but at January’s MacWorld in San Fran I was privileged to actually see a prototype of this. An ‘Apple friend’ showed me an iPod photo running video in a ‘quiet moment’ – and I thought nothing more of it, it was sold to me as a bit of a hack. Not much of a jump but made complete sense to me in the short term. A few colleagues joked in disbelief when I mentioned that the first video iPod would probably look the same as the existing range. Anyway I shall move away from the ‘gadget’ and to the revolution. This is not about gear it is about society in transformation. If we just idly glance at the mass of video portals growing on the horizon and the plethora of portable video devices there is the potential for the largest shared rush of ‘personalized’ content to personal devices we have ever seen in history. I did this diagram to give a feel for where we are even at the moment:

Digram of portals and portable video players

The demand from the video portals will eventually take eyeballs away from scheduled TV – at first they will cross-promote each other, but the convenience and portability of personal video will drive demand for the equivalent (VOD) in the home and the ability to ‘dock’ to your large lounge screen. The same way the audio iPod is replacing, for many people, the audio hifi, CD/tape player and certainly the radio. I suggest that there will come a time when your portable video player becomes the life tool for moving visual memories and films into others homes. It will be used between families and friends, for business travellers, for creative professionals – in fact we will become far less dependent on physical media as we are able even in the early days to carry the equivalent of 10-50 DVDs inside our coat pocket. OK the quality difference is significant from DVD MPEG2 running at 7Mbs+ to a little MP4 running at 878kbs! – but strangely that MP4 on a good day is almost as good as standard def TV on a bad day – especially NeverTheSameColor US TV…trust me on that one (having lived with PAL most of my life)!

Then there is the content itself. I keep hearing from many professional broadcasters that user generated content is just not TV, not up to the exacting standards that TV viewers expect (well they could wrap it up nicely at least!). Has any one told them that those viewers, and I use this word carefully (as we all need high prod values sometimes – Desperate Housewive fans!) are OFTEN more interested in genuine, real life stories from people than ‘dumbed down’, badly written, artificially constructed narrative. But there is that great middle ground also – amateur filmmakers have already taken the lead on the web – where else could they go? But even more significantly the great filmic storytellers are giving up on TV as well – a recent NY Times article “Smaller Video Producers Seek Audiences on Net” talks about recognised producers such as ‘Blair Witch’s” Dan Myrick are now skipping the TV platform altogether

Instead of watching the show on TV, viewers will have to go to Mr. Myrick’s Web site,, where a 50-minute pilot episode is available free. Future episodes will cost 99 cents, for a 30-minute film.

Video delivered over the Internet, which has been embraced by media and Internet giants like Viacom and Yahoo, is quickly shaping up as a way for smaller producers to reach an audience without having to cut deals with movie studios and the big networks that are the traditional gatekeepers of television.

As interest in video soars (there are more than a million video clips currently available online), a host of new ventures is starting to cater to the publishing and advertising needs of smaller video creators. One new start-up called Brightcove, for example, has developed a system of online video production tools that makes it easier for small operations to distribute video programs as well as charge for them.

“With ‘Blair Witch,’ the Internet was a force in helping us in the marketing department,” Mr. Myrick said. With technology from Brightcove, he said, his video company can “take a show idea, produce it in the spirit of a network series, but keep everything in-house and publish it ourselves over broadband.”

Obviously we have a little way to go (as implied in the diagram above) before we have free movement from all portals to all devices – usage rules (controlled by DRM), licensing and a hundred other hurdles need to be overcome. Then there is everything else, getting a common metadata standard running across this sea of content and device so we can actually find stuff we want – but I have been down that road a few times already…

To finish with Apple, the effective closed portal to closed device model that has worked for Apple with MP3 may I feel start to breakdown with video – users will more feel they are locked onto a device when you have to look at it to enjoy the media and with one of the smaller screens on the market. We shall see. I shall also be waiting for the 16/9 large screen iPod scheduled for Spring 2006 – whoops, did I just start a rumour 😉

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005