Dec 02, 1999
I have seen the future of television and I am once trembling with excitement and apprehension.
Right now I am watching TV as I work - Access Hollywood from CHCH Channel 11 in Toronto, to be precise.
It is one of about a dozen choices in front of me at the moment - I could also watch FOX (Ricki Lake), CTV (Drew Carey) or Global (Global News).
For free. On my browser. On the job.
The service is called ICraveTV and it launched Tuesday in Toronto with little fanfare.
View the site and you will see current TV listings, all for channels broadcasting in the Toronto area. Click on a channel and a RealMedia box will pop up and in a few seconds - if you have decent bandwidth - your show will start playing.
And it's perfectly legal - in Canada, at least.
Under Canadian law, anybody has the right to rebroadcast signals which are distributed over the airwaves. Thus, for example, restaurants play music for patrons and bars show the football game to the assembled.
Television stations are not losing revenue because their commercials are broadcast right along with the content. Indeed, the public rebroadcastings actually increase their audiences (albeit in a murky unmeasurable way).
In the United States, the best viewers can expect is to plug a quarter per view for a cartoon from Entertaindom, a Warner Brothers site.
Of course, if Americans lie about their whereabouts and type a Canadian area code when prompted - say, perhaps, Edmonton's 780 area code - then they too can view Toronto television stations.
Now none of this is new in any practical sense. Radio stations have been broadcasting on the net for some years now (nothing like listening to the CBC on a lazy Tuesday afternoon). Get a list here or go directly to CBC and patch into the feed.
But television is a different matter entirely.
For one thing - while the ethics of listening to the radio on the job (using earphones, of course) are pretty clear (it's ok, just don't do it during meetings), the ethics of watching your favorite soap are something else altogether.
ICraveTV anticipates this trend and encourages it: " At work you can watch soaps, sports or news programs in a small picture-in-picture location during your lunch break. You can also monitor your favorite program while working from a viewer tucked into the corner of your computer screen."
Well, yeah - but how's that going to help the productivity gap?
(Actually what really bugs me is that while I'm typing this item I keep missing bits and pieces of my TV show...)
But more significant than the possibility of accountants digging the Playboy Channel while tallying columns is the possibility of watching news and other broadcasts from around the world.
I've heard about those wacky Japanese game shows, for example, but have seen only clips.
And - one wonders - what will happen when Americans can access more than just the usual news-pablum dished out on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX (we will pretend that there is no such thing as MTV News).
Unlike Americans, Canadians are already aware of the deep differences between Canadian and American news broadcasts (because while almost all Canadians receive American channels, few Americans receive their Canadian counterparts).
It's a cultural shock.
While superficially the same, the Canadian and American broadcasts emphasize different types of news stories, focus on different topics, and report the news from different points of view.
What happens when you can view reports of the same event online from TV Moscow, the BBC, Australian TV, CNN and (Canada's) Global TV? On the job. While it happens?
It's going to happen. Silly American laws (so much for the 'bastion of free trade') can slow it down, but it they cannot stop the tidal wave.
And the technology is old and easy - receive the signal with a television receiver ($300 - all figures Canadian ($1 Cdn = $0.66 U.S.)), feed it into a video capture board ($1000 - varies widely), convert it to Real Media, save it to a computer ($1000), use the Real Media server ($800) to send it through your high-speed connection ($40/month - $1500/month, depending).
Using Real's G2 formatting, you can sell parts of the video stream as advertising - ICraveTV sells a bar across the bottom. In their third day of operation, they already have sponsors (though the sponsors have a bit to learn about formatting text for a 1/2 x 5 inch box).
To receive the broadcast, you need only have a computer ($1000), a Real Player (free) and a decent internet connection (my dsl at home is $40 / month).
It is only a matter of time before similar sites spring up across Canada, around the world, and even in the United States. Joining these sites together will be ITV portals which will provide listings and links to the many stations available.
Watching TV with your TV will mean starting up WebTV and surfing the net. How ironic that the killer application which ultimately destroys TV will be - TV.
The future is here and I have seen it. I want my ITV.
I've got my ITV and the news is on.