What a difference a day makes. Several outlets are reporting that Netflix (confirmed) and ABC are bringing custom iPad apps to market, while CBS has plans to make videos viewable on the iPad through the Safari browser. And, as Ryan Lawler points out, even NBC will have iPad-ready TV shows simply because it already uses HTML5 on the NBC.com site to make videos available on the iPhone.
All of these revelations are good news, except for one thing. The fact that major distribution outlets are preparing for the iPad means they’re taking Internet video as a mass-audience behavior seriously. And that means TV on the Internet is going to change. You know how we’ve already got weird viewing windows on the Web, and how a lot of shows only keep about five episodes in on-demand rotation online? Dave has expressed his irritation with Hulu several times because of this fact, and I expect we’ll see even more limitations around free Web TV on their way. Once upon a time the broadcast TV networks had a reasonable number of commercials in their shows, but over time the sitcom experience was eroded down to 22 minutes, with dramas coming in around 44 minutes. And I’ve seen something similar happening with VOD. Some of the shows I watch through cable video-on-demand now have almost as many commercials as live TV. And I can’t easily skip through them.
The point is that free Web TV isn’t likely to be so free anymore. That’s price we’ll pay for convenience and mobility. And beautiful new gadgets like the Apple iPad.