Archives For TV Shows

The Limits of Online Video

Mari Silbey —  August 15, 2009

Dollhouse Epitaph 1

Last night I had one of those moments – scratch that, one of those hours – which illustrates exactly why TV is still the best medium for television shows. I’m a big fan of Hulu, and I love that I can catch the occasional old episode of Bones or Thirty Rock on my netbook while hitting the treadmill or cleaning the kitchen. However, by far the best TV experience for me still comes from pointing my remote at the big screen in my living room. Here’s why.

I discovered recently that an un-aired episode of Dollhouse, Epitaph 1, had made its way to iTunes (Amazon VOD, too), where the Whedon show has been exceedingly popular. I instantly plunked down the $2.99 and started downloading the HD version to my trusty Eee PC. Since the episode was a 676MB file, I left my computer running and checked in later… only to discover that my PC had done an automatic update and automatically shut itself down. Begin download take two.

The second download worked fine, and last night I set things up to watch the coveted episode on our big screen TV. I plugged the netbook in to the TV with a VGA cable and connected the audio up to some living-room speakers. Brilliant, right? Hardly. I assumed that since the show was downloaded and not streaming, and since I had successfully watched crystal-clear HD content on my Eee PC before, that porting over to the big screen would not be a problem. Unfortunately, my poor little netbook didn’t have the horsepower to carry it off. First came the stuttering, and then came the abrupt, no-warning shut-down of my computer. Continue Reading…

How much do I love Joss Whedon?

Dr Horrible's sing-along blogMore than two years ago I ran a post suggesting that it would take someone like cult-favorite Whedon to blaze the next trail in online media. Then last year Whedon launched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, a three-part production that was made available for free on the Web. Through DVD sales and paid iTunes downloads (the content was only free for a short time), Dr. Horrible grossed $2.5 million.

Now Joss Whedon is at it again, this time with a plan to create a microstudio focused exclusively on content for the Internet. From a recent Forbes article:

Whedon envisions producing series that could be shown as individual episodes and then repackaged as movies. The site would make money the same way Dr. Horrible did–via downloads and DVDs.

Given that big media is still more than a little scared of online ventures, it’s a relief to see someone with Joss Whedon’s clout experimenting with ways to make Internet media financially viable. It will be a long time before revenues from online video come close to being competitive with traditional TV, but the path has to start somewhere. I can think of no one better to start mapping the way than Joss Whedon.

Comcast NFL Network

There we were, happily channel surfing at home last night, and suddenly it appeared out of nowhere: the NFL Network. We have the Comcast digital classic plan and have never, ever had access to the NFL Network before. Surely a mistake, right? Not at all. Somehow back in May I missed the earth-shattering news that Comcast and the NFL Network had finally come to a peaceful resolution in a years-long standoff. After much “friendly” haggling, Comcast finally agreed to carry the network by August 1st with no additional fee required from digital subscribers. As with the dispute over the the Big Ten Network, it was all a matter of finding the right price. In the end, the NFL didn’t have to hand over any channel equity, but it did reduce the cost per subscriber from 70 cents to just over 50 cents on average.

In combination with the NFL Network, I also now get ESPN360 as a Comcast broadband subscriber, and I should be getting ESPNU before the start of college football season. Unlike Dave, I’m not much of a college football fan, but the ESPN360 access will certainly come in handy for those out-of-market Redskins games. Yes, I’m a Redskins fan. And I’m ready for some football!

Netflix Watch Now Abc

Netflix is on a roll. In addition to the fact that the movie rental service may be launching an iPhone/iPod app in the future, Netflix announced a deal with Disney today to add ABC shows to its list of Watch Now content. As NewTeeVee reports, the first five seasons of Lost, seasons four and five of Desperate Housewives, season five of Grey’s Anatomy, and seasons one and two of The Legend of the Seeker will all be available. That’s on top of TV shows from NBC and CBS.

The concept of “Start Over” for a TV series (minus the commercials) is something Netflix virtually pioneered. Instead of going out and buying or renting a season of a television show you want to try out, Netflix has made it easy for years now to let you sample a series with DVDs that arrive in your mailbox. Not only great for consumers and for Netflix, it’s a move that has been good for major content owners as well. Why not convert new viewers by catching them up on an entire series? The Watch Now feature only makes it easier.

It’s interesting to me that cable and telco operators haven’t followed the Netflix trend more closely with their VOD offerings. There have been occasional exceptions, like offering season one of Mad Men before season two began, but for the most part, the VOD libraries consist of recent TV episodes rather than archived content. I believe this is an issue with licensing agreements more than anything else, but it would be nice to see it rectified.


It just so happens that Discovery Communications is based here the DC region. In fact, I used to live about two blocks from their previous HQ location (Bethesda, MD), which I’ve toured, and have known several employees over the years.

In chatting with a work buddy, I learned about a wild and creative reuse of Discovery’s Deadliest Catch billboard erected in NYC (West Side Highway & 123rd St) this spring to advertise the current season. 250 laptop sleeves, conceived and produced by 2 Oceans Promotions, have been recycled from the actual billboard (vinyl?) and distributed to employees involved with Deadliest Catch. And my friend’s wife, who works for Discovery, managed to nab ZNF one as well.

Click to enlarge:

Leaving comments across the blogosphere NewTeeVee


Why Netflix Doesn’t Offer Subtitles or Closed Captions
Netflix’s Chief Product Officer, Neil Hunt, wrote an interesting blog post today about why his company doesn’t offer subtitles or closed captions on its streaming content. Evidently, adding subtitles and closed captions is harder than it looks.

Dave’s response: If Hulu could figure out how to do it, Netflix can. If they didn’t want to re-encode everything, they should have solved this earlier.

A Few Last Moments With the Sony Watchman
My little Flipcam doesn’t like to focus when it’s as up close and personal as it has to get with the tiny Watchman screen, so believe me when I say the picture is great.

Dave’s response: The competing Kodak Zi6 has a macro mode…

Vid-Biz: Zillion TV, ESPN 360, Hammertime
Zillion TV to Offer Some Movies Day-and-Date with DVD for Free; unnamed studio willing to experiment by offering consumers the choice of watching a targeted ad.

Dave’s response: Yeah, but when will ZillionTV be released and for how much?

SAG Overwhelmingly Approves Contract
The new contract also covers material created for new media, which was a sticking point that helped kick off this whole drawn-out negotiation in the first place, and includes residuals for ad-supported movies and TV shows streamed online.

Dave’s response: Wonder what it means for Hulu’s random and incomplete catalog – if anything.


Gone from Hulu “every one” isn’t a fair characterization*, but it seems FX has gotten a bit stingy in streaming full TV episodes. There was a small note in a recent GigaOM Pro report (yes, I subscribe) stating that FX removed three seasons worth of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia from Hulu in the first quarter of 2009. This struck me because of commentary I heard from a Discovery Channel exec back at The Cable Show. The Discovery Channel is not interested in streaming free episodes online, preferring instead to protect its dual-revenue business model with both advertising and carriage fees from pay TV operators. Perhaps other cable networks like FX see wisdom in this?

A quick review on Hulu found six FX shows represented, but only four shows include full episodes. Rescue Me is the standout with 55 episodes available. Canceled show The Riches has 20 episodes, and 30 Days has 18 episodes. Sunny has only seven episodes available, while Burn Notice, Nip Tuck, and Sons of Anarchy have none. The lack of Burn Notice episodes surprises me given that the popular show returns to air this week, though FX says it will stream episodes again on Hulu when the new season starts. (As a commenter points out below, Burn Notice is on the USA Network. Sorry All, I had Burn Notice on the brain, but it’s still interesting that available episodes online are limited.)

There is very little consistency in how content owners are distributing video online, but it seems likely that less and less of it will be free in the future, particularly if/when initiatives like Hulu-on-Roku become a reality. I think of this as one of the reasons it’s good to be an early adopter. With more of the mainstream jumping on the Internet video bandwagon, content owners and providers (like the cablecos) have more incentive than ever to limit what’s available for no charge.

*The title and first line of this post are a reference to the folk song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”. I am a child of a child of the sixties.