The real point of TV over the Internet

As he tends to do, Mark Cuban has stirred the pudding; this time about issues around getting Internet-delivered HD video over the tubes and on to your HDTV set. And the folks over at PVR Wire (among others) are speculating on ways HD programming might actually be delivered over the Internet and to your shiny new TV.

But the basic premise of this discussion is wrong. The focus is on how high-bandwidth HD content can be delivered over the Internet and rendered to TV sets via a PC or other computer-like device. And the assumption being promoted is that in today”s digital world content has to be in a high-quality format to be desirable.

As Mark Cuban has pointed out who would want to watch crappy quality video on a widescreen HDTV display, no-one that”s who!
- PVR Wire

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong wrong. And wrong.

The promise of Internet-delivered video is not the quality of the content; it”s the availability of the content. Sure, if I”m watching My Name is Earl over Dish Network, I expect the picture quality to be superb, because I”ve decided to watch something coming over the limited, network-programmed channel called NBC. Likewise things being delivered to me through The History Channel, ESPN, TLC or any of the other 175 or so channels that are pushed into my home.

That”s a reasonable expectation when broadcasters are pushing content to me. They have standards we all accept. But the tradeoff is that my choices of what to watch (albeit much broader these days) are still limited by what programming is chosen by the network.

Video over the Internet is a different proposition. It”s a channel where the content is limited only by the willingness of people to produce content and for me to find it. Choice is the goal; quality is secondary.

MTV doesn”t play videos for my favorite Swedish surf band – Hawaii Mud Bombers. But they”re on YouTube:

My Mac Mini will show this content on my 44″ HDTV. How”s the quality? It sucks. But 10 years ago, I wouldn”t have been able to see this video at all. Do I start this video and say “jesus, that doesn”t look anything like My Name is Earl … I ain”t watching it”? of course not.

The ability to easily find this kind of content is another thing the Internet brings – say MTV did play Hawaii Mud Bombers … how would I find it on their network? Watch it all day and wait for it to come on? – but that”s a post for another day.

The quality that”s acceptable simply depends on the availability of the content through traditional networks. And the quality of Internet-delivered video will only improve over time. The key thing for content owners to understand is that there is (or will be soon) an audience beyond the broadcast platform.

Almost three years ago now, I wrote about video content I recorded back in the day that I wanted to see put out on DVD. Small bits of my wish list have started to appear on YouTube (Flat Duo Jets on The Cutting Edge, for instance), but these bits come from people like me who have an archive of self-recorded things they”re posting back for other fans. I”ve done a small bit of that myself.

But think about the potential now. For example, the old Showtime concert series that had R.E.M., Jason and the Scorchers, Lone Justice, etc. exists somewhere in a vault. There”s little value for Showtime to re-air these shows on their network, but any artist clearance issues aside, if the network put those shows online and monetized the traffic (or distributed them through iTunes), there”s a strong long-tail revenue upside with relatively low distribution cost. In my mind, that”s a lot more compelling than distributing their current programming through a secondary, lower-quality channel.

There is a mountain of commercial video programming locked up in vaults, from old network programming that”s never made syndication to unique local programming produced by affiliates that until now stood no chance of seeing the light of day again. Free that content through the Internet and monetize it.

I can”t see it now at all, so just being able to watch it (at any quality level) is all I”m after.

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