Comment: Gideon Summerfield, MD, Pioneer Online on waiting for the Internet TV revolution

Wow, this Internet TV revolution is taking it’s time to kick off. But at least I am starting to feel I know why: most folk won’t watch longform TV shows on their PC monitor. And an obstinate industry means an easy solution may be a long way off.

Sure, monitors are getting bigger but they haven’t kept pace with what’s in the living room. And it’s not only size that counts. In my own home office, for instance, the furniture is simply not arranged to view the screen in comfort from 10ft.

People might spend hours browsing the web; chatting on instant messenger and playing games hunched at the keyboard – which they require – but not watching full-length TV it seems.

For viewing video, the desktop PC has an entrenched association with "video snacking." This has much to do with the historical limitations on Internet access. Where people had time to watch – at home – they only had bandwidth for short clips. And where they had the bandwidth – the office – they only had a short time while the boss’s back was turned.

I suspect even on Joost, say, people are snacking and the time spent watching any one TV show is less, on average, than on regular TV.

Our own is somewhat different. Because of our focus on a single niche it is not too difficult to bring science enthusiasts straight to a programme on a topic we know they have an interest in. And when people have a close affinity to the content they will jump through some hoops, such as paying for it and, perhaps, tangling with the technology.

I’m more confident than most with video, networking and computer equipment. But even for me, getting video from the PC to the TV is a challenge – sometimes impossible.

Hooking a laptop to a TV with a simple S-VHS cable often requires much tweaking of settings. I also have a networked home entertainment system that should be able to stream pretty much anything to my TV, content protected with Windows DRM included, such as that from BBC iPlayer. Setting up these devices, which have been around for years and include the Xbox 360, is not for the technically-wary. And performance is anything but robust. My first experience with an iPlayer download produced only sound.

I’m sure I’m not the first honest owner of a media player device to contemplate illegally downloading a version of content I’d acquired legally just because it’s in a format that’s much easier to use. This is a threat to the TV industry.

It is no wonder Apple saw an opportunity here to do what it does best, take a device only a geek would touch and make it easy and stylish enough for all.

But Apple TV hasn’t rocked the World. It probably is the easiest device in the field but the video offer on iTunes – to which it is tied – is not enough for consumers to splash out and hook up yet another box to their TV.

I want to be able to "save to PVR" anything I can view on my PC. I don’t believe there is any real technical barrier. Capable silicon is cheap. Windows licenses it’s DRM for embedding. Apple could too, if it wanted.

SlingCatcher from Sling Media (now owned by Echostar) sounds close but its slated summer launch passed long ago.

Instead, I expect a flood of new devices which, like Apple TV, are tied to just one outlet for premium content with manufacturers in a winner-takes-all battle.

But Apple got lucky with music. The much simpler rights situation and small number of major labels allowed it to "easily" set up a comprehensive store. This is not true for TV.

Web users have access to limitless content sources. So why would they buy a box to play video from just one? For the British TV viewer it’s like buying one set-top box for the BBC’s channels, another for ITV’s and so on. Lucky for the broadcaster they don’t have to, they all benefit from the greater appeal of the package. And how have walled-gardens benefited mobile video?

Open PC-to-TV devices are being hobbled by a fixation with business models taken from mobile phones and video consoles, where hardware is sold at a loss and revenues made from tied-in services and software. I don’t know why. Apple – the leader in digital sales of audio and video (which saw its 100 millionth TV episode sold in September) – still makes more money selling iPods than content.

Most Recent