Internet TV

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I am here in Japan visiting some Chinese friends that live here. We’re talking tech and I am struggling to explain American TV.

This all started over the Apple TV. As you perhaps know, Apple TV is a $100 box that lets you connect your TV to the Internet. But also, you really can’t watch TV on it. That is, none of the major networks are available on it. I am trying to explain why Apple has a box that you basically cannot use.

What befuddles my friends and makes it so difficult for me to explain is that they watch television across the Internet all the time. Right now we are watching “The Voice.” This is a hugely popular television show imported from America. It’s a Chinese production, but it follows the same formula as the original in the US. (And, it isn’t a knock off…it’s a licensed product.)

My friends are trying to get me to explain why they cannot watch US television networks in Japan. They want to know how I watch my home channels while I am in Japan, China, or elsewhere. The facts is that I cannot watch them when in Asia. And that is what is so difficult to explain.

Don’t the networks want more viewers? Don’t the networks want customers to spend their time watching their shows? Don’t they make money selling advertising based upon viewership?
How do you explain that a US network would rather cut off and strand a customer than allow them to stream programming across the network? How do you explain that you can only subscribe to television if it is delivered on decades old technology such as cable or satellite? “Why aren’t there Internet television services like Comcast or Dish Network in the US?” I have no sane sounding answer.

The US networks are complaining about reduced viewership, and they like to blame this on the Internet. They are in a declining business and they sit and complain about how business is down.

Business is down because the networks prohibit customers from subscribing to their services over the Internet. To me, and to anybody in Asia, it is just that simple. It is like the buggy-whip manufacturers complaining that their business is down while refusing to make products for automobiles.

I worry about America. We are increasingly living in a bubble. The rest of the world streams network programming on-demand to anywhere. The rest of the works has faster Internet than we do. And, the rest of the world pays less for these. Has our system become so inflexible that we operate like the former USSR? That seems like a recipe for failure.

So, my Chinese friends ask again about the Apple TV: why can you just subscribe to a package of networks from Apple instead of a cable company, and then watch using the Apple TV box from anywhere in the world? The only answer I can think of is: the networks don’t really feel having customers are important. Fine then, they will lose all of them!

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Editor’s Note: I agree with Colin on this post – Internet TV restrictions make no sense. This was particularly visible during the Olympics where many Americans were bypassing the general public walls in order to view BBC streaming. It was a big challenge for the US networks – normally queuing content until prime time isn’t a problem – but our world is becoming too connected for timeshifting live events. Despite these clearly protectionist measures, TV seems to be doing quite well. Not only as a business, but the quality seems to be improving.

Personally, I watch few shows live. Thus cliffhangers don’t have the drama that they once did. The big fight last year regarding the Tonight Show was about a time slot. I find it odd there is so much drama about this stuff in a DVR world. Timeshifting shows eliminates/reduces commercials which fund the quality shows. Thus, I would think the future of television is more cheap reality shows instead of quality dramas.  I agree with Colin that a larger audience would seem a preferred solution. But for whatever reason, these crazy Internet restrictions do seem to be extending the life of the television drama and the television industry. – DM

Colin Berkshire