Does live TV over the net make sense?

Zattoo - live TV on your PCOver at NewTeeVee (a favorite blog of ours), Om Malik questions the logic of streaming live TV over the Internet. Echoing comments made by Business 2.0’s Erick Schonfeld, in reference to LiveStation, Malik writes:

In this age of hyper personalization, where DVRs are at our command, ready to playback the latest escapades of Vinnie Chase & the Boys, who needs live TV. Unless it is live sports extravaganzas, say NBA finals or SuperBowl (or Wimbeldon Tennis), television is no longer what appears on the TV Guide grid or on the hour.

Schonfeld goes even further, writing:

The Internet is the ultimate on-demand television system, where the choices of what to watch and when have no practical limits. The concept of live TV almost makes no sense in that context. Why limit your audience only to those people who can tune in at a certain time? … live TV will be a liability on the Web unless those streams are also stored for later viewing.

Having had Zattoo running on my desktop for the last couple of weeks, I’ve really enjoyed having a live TV stream playing in a small window in the corner of my laptop while at the same time: writing email, Instant Messaging, or blogging. If there is such a thing as background telly, then live TV on the Internet fits perfectly. Mostly I’ve had the BBC’s 24 hour news station playing, or on Sunday, for example, the men’s Wimbeldon tennis final. Proof, you could argue, that Schonfeld and Malik are right when they say that sports and ‘breaking’ news are the exception that proves the rule. However, I see another merit to live TV, over the net or otherwise.

From my review of Zattoo:

Another thing lost with on-demand television is the communal viewing experience that often creates those ‘water cooler’ moments the following day.

This brings me to one of Internet TV’s biggest challenges, whether live or on-demand. The water cooler is becoming increasingly virtual and global. And yet, too many Internet TV offerings are crippled by territorial rights restrictions.

A last100 reader left the following comment:

I’m waiting for border lines to become irrelevant with these services; I want to watch American cable TV, and I want my American family to be able to watch the BBC! I’m aware of the rights issues involved, but it seems so old world compared to what’s possible – hopefully someone can sort this out once and for all?

To which I replied: “Every Internet TV service I’ve tested which offers mainstream content, suffers from world rights issues. It’s a pain to say the least.” And the truth is — live or on-demand — I can’t see this changing anytime soon.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

7 Responses to “Does live TV over the net make sense?”

  1. Ryan Jarrett says:

    I think that the online TV market is still very immature and as such the availability of programs legally is limited. Its nice having a live stream of a channel for those occasions where you cannot find a legal source of the program and refuse to download it illegally. Maybe live TV would benefit more from a social networking-type application more than the likes of Joost, where people could commentate on events while watching the stream. Or imagine if you could tag segments of a live stream so that people watching a repeat of that stream could search for certain bits, or details of a song being played in the Queen Vic can be displayed next to the stream!

    As a second point, it was announced today that BBC is pushing BBC Worldwide pretty heavily in the States. I don’t think it will be long before one or more of “our” BBC channels becomes worldwide. I guess it depends on the amount overseas cable operators are willing to pay for it.

  2. Steve O'Hear says:

    Talking of BBC Worldwide, the strangest thing to me is the number of Internet TV apps I’ve tried which offer BBC Worldwide content (the overseas commercial arm of the BBC), but only to non-UK Internet users. Very odd — something to do with not allowing ad-supported BBC content to be seen by license-fee paying Brits.

  3. The idea of getting Live Streaming TV is good for people who want to create content, but it will need to be available in archives afterwards. It will also be good for talk shows. You can add calling numbers or chat and get live responses. Just like Teleseminars or Webinars.
    However for the mainstream audience I agree, there is not much to boast about Live. No one has the time to sit and commit to Live TV. There are too many other alternatives to Live and then there is always the idea of listening or watching later when time permits.

    Unless as you say, you are watching a sporting even or the News.
    I am like you, I have the news playing on the Tele in the background all day.

  4. Kate says:

    I see what you’re saying about “water cooler” moments, but I’m not sure it’s always true. Yes, “events” like the news or an awards show are time sensitive. But shows like Lost and 24, both with huge live audiences, gain more enthusiasm and later live viewers through DVD distribution and DVR recordings. This creates a new kind of water cooler moment, where people who missed the must see episode can still have that moment months later when they finally get around to clearing out the TiVo.

  5. Hashim says:

    Not every type of program is suitable for live streaming, but those that are – news and sports – represent a huge portion of television programming.

  6. I disagree that live and on-demand suffer equally from territorial rights issues. Live IPTV differs effectively only in recipient geography from live cable TV, and IP filtering can patch most of those issues. VOD is complicated by shifts in both geography and time, and for this reason is a greater licensing problem. The net effect is that the TV companies want to reproduce “regular” TV over a new network, rather than satisfy the consumer demand for content when and where they want it.

    The result of restricting content by both geography and time will be the same as every other offensive launched against the consumer: people will bypass the restrictions anyway. Like the music industry before them, the TV industry will conspire to make their customers dishonest, and suffer the consequences.

    Content owners need instead to embrace the technology and explore new business models, rather than remain entrenched in the way things may or may not have worked up to now.

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