Whither Television Programming?

As a follow up to our previous post on TV network activity on the Internet and through iTunes, we’ve further explored television programming and how it’s playing out on the web beyond the major networks.

I will steer clear of yahoo, google, youtube… all the sites that have been covered extensively on this site. Instead, I want to highlight a few of the less covered services.

It’s hard to draw a line between the sites I just mentioned and those I’ll discuss below, as they share many features (and many use Flash as the underlying technology). One difference is the sites above don’t make programming decisions for users. The sites below do offer some form of programming – there are decisions made by someone about what to present on these sites and when to present it. There’s room for both approaches online and while most eyes and venture dollars are flowing to video portals right now, I believe we’ll eventually see a similar interest from the startup community in programming.

I’m Too Old For This!!!

Not surprisingly, much online programming, like MTV Overdrive, caters to an under-25 crowd, but there’s a selection of good stuff for the rest of us: BloombergTV and MLB.tv, for example, offer relevant content and strong channel-like experiences online.

In the youth market, the influence of MTV is unmistakable. ManiaTV, Fuse.tv, MusicplusTV, and CurrentTV, while each certainly different in its own right, believe that some combination of music, reality, edginess, and/or political and social awareness, are the keys to success.


So this is what happened to Tom Green? Maybe I’m not too old for this, because I like ManiaTv. Check out Freak Show! There’s enough good stuff to watch on here that I’m actually surprised it doesn’t have a bigger audience, particularly given the explosion in video sites in the last 6 months. I think there’s room for this kind of programming and while the Alexa numbers don’t suggest a flop, it’s certainly not booming. Whether or not their audience is sufficient for profitability, I don’t know. At least they don’t have to worry about huge production costs.


Best known as the Al Gore vehicle, Current is for those a bit more politically minded and socially active. There’s a good lineup of original programming, there appears to be pretty strong community participation, and I find it to be a nice usable site, but it hasn’t taken off. Perhaps the Al Gore movie will provide it a shot in the arm, but as of yet it’s showing no signs of relinquishing its bear hug on its negligible traffic rankings. Will it heat up during the next presidential election? Who knows? I’d have already bet it would have had its day with the many significant polarizing issues in American politics. Perhaps its greatest problem is its more intellectual leanings. It’s not hard to get your friends to watch a horny donkey video, but try getting the same group to watch a video on teaching abstinence in schools.


Another interesting programming concept with a bit of a different twist is iBlue. IBlue streams several different channels from their site. It seems to range from motorcross to sci-fi to independent filmmaking. There’s some decent time-killing content here. At the very least, I can see it finding an audience with the same college students that like laser shows.

I’m NOT Too Old For This!!!

Classic television programming and old movies (which have been non-primetime TV fodder for years) have also found a home on the web. Recent deals, like Guba’s with Warner, will give added life to the retro movement. Today, AOL leads the pack with In2TV. You can watch 42 “classic” programs from Batman cartoons to Eight Is Enough (it was enough then). Programs can be either streamed in relatively low quality or you can have content pushed to you in a higher resolution format (Hi-Q), which allows a full screen view. With some of the older shows’ bad lighting, the Hi-Q format is necessary. I watched an episode of “Spencer For Hire” through the regular stream and couldn’t tell Spencer from the bad guys when night fell.

Along the same lines, if you have a soft spot for guerillas, you might want to check out Retrovision.tv and AmericafreeTV (and there are others), which offer old television programs and movies. Remember, you get what you get here – hobbyist sites that rely on advertising dollars – so don’t expect perfection.


There are also sites aggregating content and are starting to resemble traditional cable channels. While there are many free sites like MeeVee that direct you to free streams, sites like MobiTV, VDC (Windows only) or JumpTv are offer a hub through which to view many channels through subscription:


VDC basically takes the cable model and moves it to the internet (and combines it with the worst logo ever). The sound and picture quality are pretty good and it’s easy-to-use. But at 11.95/month, the channel lineup isn’t there yet. Its 20 or so channels are mostly a mix of news and shopping, although they did recently add TLC, Discover, and Animal Planet (all for mobile only right now). They make note of their interest in improving the lineup on the site, so I’m sure more is in the works. While that will increase their chance of success, I believe the bigger issue with VDC is in the model of porting cable to the web. I’ll ask you: Is there any real advantage to a second cable TV subscription, when there are options like Slingbox and Orb that can give you your home cable lineup on your computer or mobile phone? I’d love cheaper cable and I don’t mind getting it over the web, but without an equivalent lineup to my TV, I’m not adding or switching.


JumpTV aggregates hundreds of channels from around the globe. At 9.95/month per channel, it could get expensive, so Jump offers packages, like an Arab language package of 20 channels for 22.95/month. I suspect this particular niche will prove profitable for Jump in the long-term. Thought it’s not the sexiest television offer over the web, it clearly fills a need for consumers, with so many people living outside their birth country these days. While currently ranking around 13,000 in Alexa’s traffic rankings, its steady traffic uptrend suggests some demand is there. The World Cup will probably further increase it’s reach.


MobiTV may eventually have the most compelling offering in the space. They offer 50 channel, cable-like television subscriptions for mobile cellular devices and, more recently, for any device accessing AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spots. If and when their service can be accessed over the web from any ISP, the need to continue a traditional cable or satellite television subscription comes seriously into question.


The great content revolution the Internet has wrought is seen in exactly the kind of sites I said I wasn’t going to talk about earlier, like Youtube. Anyone can now inexpensively upload, share and potentially alter content in minutes. As a result, we amateurs are producing and watching video content on a scale we’d never imagined a few years ago. At least 100,000 videos are uploaded daily on sites like YouTube, and this is increasing at a rapid rate.

But this does not mean that television programming as we know it is about to disappear. In fact, I’d argue that the overall quality of programming is higher now than it was a few years ago, perhaps because of the competition for mind share from the web. And some television producers are reaping enough benefits from the web between broadcasts (e.g. Lost) that I believe the next phase will mean altered programmed content, as TV continues its migration from passive to some level of interactivity. It’s already commonplace in TV advertising, so how long before it’s commonplace in programming? Check out “In Men We Trust”. If it will work as advertised, then we’ll watch the show while watching a show within it, and we’ll determine the arc of the story. That’s programmed content adapting to its medium. Interactivity and social networking – two things the web does well — will drive it.