Today is the semi official beginning of the new television season. This year, the networks are not just unveiling their new series, they also are unveiling their new Internet strategies. The major television networks now realize that the Net is critical to not just their short term success, but their long term survival. Television viewers increasingly are using the Net to supplement, and in some instances supplant, traditional broadcast, cable and satellite options.
Over the past several months, all of the networks announced new Internet plans. The Disney-ABC television group recently announced plans to make its top shows available on AOL; NBC and Fox have teamed up with partners such as AOL, Yahoo and Comcast on a new video site, Hulu.com; and CBS has patched together its own network, which they call CBS Interactive, utilizing established video providers, including iTunes, YouTube and AOL, but also utilizing newer entrants such as Joost and Veoh. There will be plenty of corporate jousting as content providers, content distributors, advertisers and consumers get used to these new models and methods for video distribution and viewing.
Much of the excitement in this space centers around two of the new platforms for long form video distribution, Veoh and Joost. Veoh describes itself as an “independent, Internet Television Broadcasting System that uses the Internet and peer-to-peer distribution technology to create essentially unlimited capacity for long form and broadcast quality video content”. I have had the Veoh player loaded on my laptop for the past month or so, and, so far, have found the experience interesting, but the content has been a bit underwhelming. Currently there isn’t an abundance of content I find exciting or compelling (although for those of you who missed Shark Week on cable this summer, the shark video on Veoh helps explain its cult status.) I also find the player a bit balky or slow far too often. But the open platform Veoh provides for long form video providers is an exciting development and it should be exciting to see the model evolve.
Last week I hit the Joost lottery and got a coveted invitation to join the Joost generation. Joost, which has corporate partners including Viacom and Creative Arts Agency, describes itself as “the next generation of television”. As an avid Skype user, I hope Joost can do for online video what it has done for telephony (the founders of Joost founded Skype), and I have been looking forward to trying Joost since first hearing about it. Unfortunately, even after downloading the software to the three different computers I use, I am still on the outside looking in, with my nose pressed against the video screen. So far I have not been able to access the registration page that allows me to set up a password and user name. That’s a problem. But worse is Joost’s abysmal customer service. It is impossible to reach anyone by phone and the web based assistance has been useless. These are the types of problems that are expected with beta launches, but there will have to be considerable improvements before the technology and the brand can go mainstream.
When I got frustrated trying to access Joost this weekend, I discovered wwitv.com, which is an amazing site providing access to over 2500 television sites worldwide, many of which, perhaps the majority of which, are streaming video programming. On wwitv.com you will find programming from television stations from Albania to Zimbabwe, and you just haven’t lived until you watch the US Open finals on a Vietnamese sports channel. The forces changing television in the United States are igniting changes globally. It is exciting to see how different video providers from around the world are reacting to these technological and economic changes and opportunities.
As broadband gets faster, more ubiquitous and less expensive, online video options will get more compelling. For now, however, when I want to watch television programming away from home, I rely primarily on my Slingbox, which allows me to port my home satellite, cable and Tivo content to my laptop and to my Treo. I am curious to see if any of the new players can knock Slingbox off its throne or provide me as fulfilling an experience. I am even more curious to see how the rapid increase in new programming options will affect the dynamics and the economics of the television networks and production houses.