Saturday, May 12, 2007

Round-up of Internet TV services

So if Motorola's research is on the money and 43% of UK broadband users have watched TV on the internet, where are they getting it from? Until recently there weren't a huge number of legal options available, with BitTorrent and YouTube/Google Video offering the best chance of tracking down that nugget of TV gold. However, progress with rights frameworks and a growing acceptance of P2P distribution mean that the UK's major broadcasters are slowly starting to join the party. 4oD and Sky by Broadband are already up and running with ITV.com and the BBC iPlayer both expected soon. However, it's not just established broadcasters who spy an opportunity in this area. A new breed of aggregators is springing up with a range of technologies and business models, all hoping for a slice of the Internet TV pie. Below is a round-up of eight of the most promising.

Zattoo

Zattoo provides access to (almost) live TV via your PC (or Mac), using a proprietary P2P streaming technology and the H.264 codec. Debuted in Switzerland during the 2006 World Cup, Zattoo is now available in Denmark and the UK with a gradual roll out planned to other territories. The UK offer (currently in private beta) provides access to seven of the BBC's eight digital TV channels (not BBC Parliament) and Al Jazeera English with an impressively short time-lag (approx. 6 seconds). The interface is super simple, comprising a channel chooser and, er, that's it.



Pros: High-quality, full screen rendering of live TV with short time-lag.
Cons: No on-demand content. Offer limited by territory.

Content offer: 2 stars
Navigation: 3 stars
Features: 1 star
Overall: 3 stars

Joost

The poster-child for the new breed of P2P TV services, Joost has received the lion's share of press attention thanks largely to the pedigree of it's illustrious founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis (founders of Skype and Kazaa). An immersive, full-screen experience, Joost is currently busy signing up content partners (Warner Bros., Viacom, Sony, CBS & CNN have all inked deals) and widening it's beta test in preparation for a summer launch (not without a few teething problems it has to be said). A more detailed assessment of Joost can be found here.

Joost

Pros: Innovative and intuitive interface (not an easy combination). Web-enabled widgets.
Cons: Technical teething problems. Content offer not yet compelling enough.

Content offer: 2 stars
Navigation: 3 stars
Features: 5 stars
Overall: 4 stars

Babelgum

Currently in closed beta, P2P streaming service Babelgum has a lot in common with Joost and has been fighting to get out of the shadow of its media-friendly cousin. Unfortunately I can't help with the cause because I haven't yet received a beta test invite :-( Anyone existing beta testers care to throw me a bone/invite...?

Vuze

Vuze (ne. Zudeo) is a content service built on the back of the hugely popular Java BitTorrent client Azureus (downloaded more than 140 million times according to their blurb). The relationship between the two feels a bit awkward at times with one providing geo-restricted access to a selection of mostly paid-for content, the other providing free global access to the millions of files distributed via BitTorrent. BBC Worldwide is currently the jewel in the content crown with whole episodes of Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen and classic Doctor Who available 'to rent' for $0.99 (assuming you live in the US).



Pros: High-quality video (much of it HD). Comments/ratings.
Cons: Content offer limited by region. Mostly paid-for.

Content offer: 2 stars
Navigation: 3 stars
Features: 4 stars
Overall: 3 stars

Jalipo

Jalipo describes itself as "the first online marketplace for TV and video" and is boldly backing that claim with the creation of a new online currency, J:Credits (when will they learn?). The streamed-only proposition has five genre categories (News, Sport, Movies, Entertainment & Other) which can be filtered by On-Demand, Live Events and TV Stations. The current content offer is fairly news-heavy with partners including Al Jazeera, BBC World, Bloomberg and France 24. The $64,000 question is whether enough people will be willing to stump up the cash (£1 buys you 196 credits at the current exchange rate, enough for an hour and a half of Al Jazeera at the highest bit-rate). Embedding is apparently on the way although it's hard to see how they'll get this to work effectively what with the need for sign-in/payment.



Pros: Choice of bit-rates. Don't need to download any software.
Cons: Limited content offer. It costs.

Content offer: 1 star
Navigation: 3 stars
Features: 2 stars
Overall: 2 stars

Veoh

The Veoh offering encompasses both a web-based Flash player and a P2P desktop app for viewing downloaded content. It also spans both professionally produced and user-generated content resulting in an extremely eclectic content offer. At the time of writing the most popular videos were episodes of Japanese anime series Naruto: Shippūden and Bleach, an illegally uploaded episode of House and a clip of professional attention-seeker Paris Hilton naked. Fortunately, there are a wealth of navigation options to help you find your way through the morass of content including Most Popular, Recently Added, Top Rated, Most Discussed, Top Favourite and Run Length (perfect if you have exactly 2 mins 43 seconds to fill). You can also browse by Channels, Series and People, with options to filter by Most Subscribed, Recently Updated and Top Rated. The most subscribed channels (excluding Veoh's own promos channels) are currently MusiqTone and Prom Queen, although the subscribers numbers are low by YouTube standards.



Pros: Lots of content. High-quality video. Wide range of navigation options.
Cons: Shortage of big-hitter content partners

Content offer: 3 stars
Navigation: 5 stars
Features: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

Brightcove

Founded in 2004, Brightcove is a relative old-timer amongst the Internet TV crowd, although it wasn't until October of last year that it branched out from it's established syndication model to launch Brightcove.com as a consumer destination, aggregating video from its network of publishers. The content offer is mostly short-form (streamed using Flash) with music videos and celebrity clips dominating the 'The Top 10 Buzz'. The primary navigation device is genre, with channels acting as a second-tier filter. Sky One has a channel under TV Faves, although only the Lost recaps appear to be attracting much traffic. On the plus side, the video quality is pretty good and there's one-click integration with a few of the most popular Web 2.0 sites (Digg, Facebook and del.icio.us). As you'd expect from a company which has built its business on syndication, the link/embed/send to a friend options are all present and correct. The recommended Related Videos also seem to be almost always on the money (unlike YouTube).



Pros: Embed functionality and integration with Web 2.0 sites.
Cons: Dearth of compelling longer-form content. Limited navigation options.

Content offer: 2 stars
Navigation: 2 stars
Features: 5 stars
Overall: 3 stars

Democracy

Democracy (soon be renamed Miro) is an desktop application developed by the Participatory Culture Foundation which enables you to subscribe to over 1,000 free video channels (delivered via RSS) and view them via an integrated version of the awesome VLC media player. It's also possible to search and download from some of the main streaming video sites (e.g. YouTube, Google Video, Revver, blip.tv) without leaving the comfort of the application and they've even thrown in a fully-featured BitTorrent client for good measure. As a consequence the content offer is potentially limitless, although the most popular channels include Adult Swim, Comedy Central, NBC Nightly News and Movies in the Public Domain. The interface will be familiar to iTunes users with the added bonus of a warm and fuzzy feeling resulting from the open-source, DRM-free nature of the enterprise.



Pros: Excellent one-stop shop interface. Potentially unlimited content offer.
Cons: Most mainstream broadcasters too scared to put out DRM-free content.

Content offer: 4 stars
Navigation: 5 stars
Features: 5 stars
Overall: 5 stars

Conclusion

A quick scan of the above star-ratings reveals the key challenge for these new players: compelling content. There's no shortage of impressively implemented technology on display here but very little in the way of must-see content. Democracy and Veoh come closest by throwing their doors open to all creators of video and allowing the cream to rise to the top, although the absence of high-profile commercial content will be a stumbling block for some. The bigger question is whether these newbies can get their act together before Apple starts ramping up its television download offering in support of the launch of Apple TV in the UK. It's going to be an interesting next 12 months for Internet TV.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

New site for Online TV
http://tv.stafex.net

Komrade said...

In the matrix - what does 'Territory Restrictions' mean - for example Zattoo does have restrictions of channels available based on territory of signed-up user's country.

Dan Taylor said...

'Territory Restrictions' means that the content is in some way limited by geographic region (i.e. all content is not available in all regions)

ott said...

I recommend OnlineTVtools.com to watch free internet TV channels.


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DERICK said...

I read about this new site called viewmy.tv - there was a massive 3 page spread about them in webdesigner mag last month.. anywho.. went and had a look and its actually a really awesome site.. check it out at WWW.VIEWMY.TV

:)