The death of the networks…and what is a channel anyway?

To start off, the evolution of the internet & television convergence is happening even faster than I, or most of us in the industry ever imagined. Combine the ability for anyone to be able to publish & broadcast via the internet, with the power of traditional television and anyone can now start a channel. But what is that?

The answer lies within the history (or lack thereof) of the internet itself. (If you are not interested in this, skip the next two paragraphs!) The internet experience for most of us is not that old. Maybe 10-15 years at best. Even if you go back to it’s invention as a network of computers in the late 60’s. The first node went live at UCLA on October 29, 1969 on what would be called the ARPANET, one of the “eve” networks of today’s Internet. Following on from this, the British Post Office, Western Union International and Tymnet collaborated to create the first international packet switched network, referred to as the International Packet Switched Service (IPSS), in 1978. This network grew from Europe and the US to cover Canada, Hong Kong and Australia by 1981. The network gained a public face in the 1990s. On August 6th, 1991 CERN, which straddles the border between France and Switzerland publicized the new World Wide Web project, two years after Tim Berners-Lee had begun creating HTML, HTTP and the first few Web pages at CERN.

Contrary to some common usage, the Internet and the World Wide Web are not synonymous: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks, linked by copper wires, fiber-optic cables, wireless connections, etc.; the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. The World Wide Web is accessible via the Internet, as are many other services including e-mail, file sharing, and access to countless amounts of data & services that are now common to us all.

So it all started as a way to get at information. From an evolutionary standpoint things are still young here. Web 2.0 is just now being mined and the benefits both financial & information-ally are allowing us to leave the crash of 1.0 behind us. 3.0 is already being discussed as a piece of Artificial Intelligence which may allow the connectivity of all of this connected information via the internet to be able to make decisions for us, prompted or not. Yes, your TV will know what it is you want to watch even before you do – and it will never be wrong – we are creatures of habit. Scary or not, it will happen.

So what does this have to do with the networks, the creation of channels and the old boob tube? Lots!

First off, the internet has evolved from a text based medium to one that delivers sound, images and now video. When it comes to watching video, ‘TV’, like the internet, will no longer be a linear experience. Video sites have taken off because we can now search and watch whatever we want (provided we can find what we want) whenever we want to watch it. From this point forward the concept of there never being anything to watch on TV will disappear. Search will also evolve to be something very different than it is now with new technologies that are able to tag video content automatically by scanning the content for the spoken word along with optical character recognition. Traditional broadcast platforms are scrambling to deliver a larger choice of PPV and VOD products in an attempt to compete or catch up. The bad news is, they never will and the survivors will have to figure this out soon and migrate their platforms over to web based initiatives in order to survive.

So, what is a channel? For this discussion lets define that as a destination with the predominance of video content. Basically any website has the ability to be able to serve video, and thus any web address has the ability to be a channel. I also believe that the phenomenon that started with YouTube and users posting professional, albeit stolen content is the tip of the iceberg and will actually become the norm. That’s right, the networks that are trying so hard to stop this flow of stolen content are merely sticking their finger in the hole of the dam. If you take the evolution that I so painfully described above as any indication of what is about to happen, it is also painfully clear that channels or the networks as we know them may in fact disappear. As the web evolves, we will be served content that is relevant to us on channels that are branded by and for us. In other words we will NOT go to ABC to watch Lost, Lost will come to us or our home-page for us to watch. That does not say that Lost will not be branded as being brought to us from ABC as a distribution network or that there will be no commercials…but the rules we are used to will no longer apply.

We are already seeing this, as the networks start to legally license their content out to other destinations like iTunes or MSN for download or streaming. But as I said, this is the tip of the iceberg and the start of something big…the death of the Networks as destinations…as we currently know them…has begun.

For non-believers, a few relevant articles from this weeks news:

Coming Soon via Your TiVo: Internet Video on Television
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/14/technology/14tivo.html

With a Dish, Broadband Goes Rural
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/14/technology/14satellite.html

MSNBC.com Offers Video Podcasts of News Shows
On Nov. 14, MSNBC.com will begin offering video podcasts of two of NBC’s top new shows. The site will begin offering podcasts of both NBC Nightly News along with Meet the Press at podcasts.msnbc.com. Each weekday starting at 10 p.m., Web users can access the full-length version of that day’s Nightly News broadcast at podcasts.msnbc.com. In addition, each week’s broadcast of Meet the Press will be downloadable starting on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.

ESPN.com Announces Local Podcast Net 
To bring new content to ESPN.com and broaden the audience for local programming that airs on local ESPN radio stations, ESPN Monday announced the launch of a local podcasting network. For the first time, local ESPN radio shows that air on five ESPN owned-and-operated stations in markets such as Pittsburgh and New York will now be available for downloading at the ESPN.com PodCenter and via Apple’s iTunes Music Store.

InStyle.com Unveils Parties Channel 
Time Inc.’s In Style is boosting its celebrity coverage with its launch today of a Parties channel on its Web site, Instyle.com. The channel features daily updates of Hollywood parties and events with photos and video, which will be open to advertising sponsorships. Other features on the channel include photo galleries of partying celebrities, an events calendar, a party scene blog, and party and style news feeds from various sources.

Lycos Cinema Rolls Out Classic Shows 
Web portal Lycos, which is in the midst of an attempted reinvention as an online entertainment hub, has launched a new product that combines streaming video and chat. The new Lycos Cinema allows Web users to gather virtually to watch old TV and movies online and chat in real time using a proprietary technology.

VH1 to Launch Home Purchasing Club on VSPOT 
VH1 has announced plans to launch an original series for its broadband platform VSPOT while at the same time unveiling an initiative to distribute VSPOT content across the Web. On Nov. 27, the cable network’s online video hub will begin streaming Home Purchasing Club, a short-form spoof of home shopping TV shows. The new eight-episode weekly series comes from a pair of writers/performers who have worked on several comedic TV series, such as Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Drew Carey Show.

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