About three years ago I wrote a column about the need for high speed broadband. I had just got my paws on an 8mbps ADSL connection, much to the envy of the rest of the office, and was extolling the virtue of lightning fast downloads. But even then, I could see that fast file downloading wasn’t reason enough for the ever increasing speed of home broadband connections. Even three years ago, it was clear that entertainment would become the driving factor behind broadband speeds.
Back in 2005 I was convinced that a time would come when broadcast would no longer be the default distribution medium for video based entertainment, and today, in 2008, I’m more convinced of that than ever.
Here in the UK, it’s clear that the BBC iPlayer represents a major step forward when it comes to Internet broadcasting. Although things were a little rocky at first, the iPlayer has evolved into a wonderful distribution medium for the BBC’s programming. And knowing that I can catch the latest episode of Top Gear on the BBC site if I happen to miss it, means that I won’t have to trawl YouTube and watch a low quality, illegally encoded version.
It’s probably safe to assume that YouTube has been a major factor in convincing high profile broadcasters that the Internet should be seen as a key medium for viewing their content. It’s a general rule of thumb that pretty much any halfway interesting TV programme will end up on YouTube, either as highlights or in its entirety, within a matter of hours of the initial broadcast. So the BBC has just decided to beat YouTube at its own game, and let its viewers watch its programmes online, anytime.
Unfortunately, the BBC has decided to adopt the same geographical restrictions as most of the US TV companies. The result being that while I was over in San Francisco a couple of weeks back, I couldn’t watch the live Olympics coverarge on the BBC because I wasn’t in the UK. Likewise the US TV companies like NBC and Fox are happy to post full episodes of their shows online, but once again, you’re only allowed to view them if you’re in the US.
The reason for this kind of geographical restriction is so that the TV companies can continue to sell programmes to other TV companies in different countries. After all, if you could watch, say, the new series of 24 on the Fox website before the episodes were shown by Sky in the UK, you may not bother to subscribe to Sky in the first place. It’s this intercontinental business to business commerce that is stopping the Internet from being the entertainment distribution medium that it could be. Ideally, I should be able to sign up to a US based TV company and have access to its programmes over the Internet, but that would seriously undermine the UK’s domestic broadcasters.