When I moved to the United States from Wales in 1984, the British Isles seemed like a world away. The only methods I had to stay on top of football news from back home were an unreliable shortwave radio, newspaper clippings mailed by friends and family members, an expensive subscription to football programmes for my favorite club and a once-a-month phone call that cost approximately $1 a minute.
Technology has changed the world so much since then. So much so, in fact, that I often know more about what’s happening in Wales before my relatives do who live there.
Thanks to the Internet, we can now read tomorrow’s news in the British newspapers the night before the Brits wake up. We can listen to British radio stations streaming on the Internet and Sirius. We can watch more Premier League football on television than the Brits can, and imported books, magazines, music and British foods no longer cost an arm and a leg.
But there remains one last bastion which has yet to be conquered. And it’s only a matter of time before the dragon is slayed. It’s television.
Give me a good reason why Americans or anyone abroad cannot watch British television networks such as the BBC, ITV or Sky Sports. And vice-versa, why can’t Brits legally watch HBO, Fox, PBS and other networks?
It’s about time that television becomes democratized so it can be viewed by people around the world. Sure, there are obstacles but it’s time for television to redefine its business model.
Take, for example, the BBC iPlayer. If you live outside the United Kingdom, you may have experienced the same frustration as I have when you click on a program to watch with the BBC iPlayer only to read the message that the program is not available in your part of the world due to rights restrictions.
Obviously, rights restrictions are a complicated matter. But if you take a look at the BBC News website, you’ll notice that the site serves up advertisements for visitors outside the United Kingdom. UK residents pay a license fee each year to the BBC, which helps pay for BBC programming and BBC News among other things. But by placing advertisements on the BBC News site for visitors outside the UK, they’ve found a way to make it economical.
Why can’t the same thing be done with the BBC iPlayer? Why can’t the television and films that are on BBC iPlayer be served up for people outside the United Kingdom and have commercials inserted on pre-roll?
For that matter, why can’t all the networks make their TV content available online for free and get paid for it through advertising? This way, everyone wins. The viewer, the TV network, and everyone involved in making the program (if they get paid a royalty).
It sounds simplistic and there obviously would need to be a paradigm shift in the way that contracts are written and how television treats the Internet. But the reality is that we’re already moving to this model with sites such as Hulu and Google’s plans to add more original programming to YouTube and Google Video.
Rather than television companies fighting against the tide, it’s time for them to open up their programming and to allow all of us — no matter where we live in the world — to access it. It democratizes the TV industry and allows the best content that’s watched the most to win (hence making even more money).
Who’s with me?