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How TV Is The Last Bastion For The Internet To Conquer

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?

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  1. Paul Mario

    September 4, 2010 at 1:22 am . I was shocked when I couldn’t watch the formula 1 on BBC iPlayer. I’ve paid my licence fee for 20 years. However, when I stayed at my place in France for a few months, I simply had to find a workaround to watch TV from abroad. I spent a week researching various methods. Anyway, upon my return to the UK, I’ve set up a website to tackle the problem for expats and holiday makers worldwide. Check out my website for a video tutorial by clicking here

  2. eplnfl

    October 2, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    A heart felt piece Chris. I too remember the days that I followed English football by listening to the BBC on shortwave. So we have come a long way since then when during my early morning workout now at the gym I will be watching the ESPN presentation of the EPL.

    Yet, being human we want more, I too have gone to the BBC or RTE sites and have been disappointed by the pop-up that tells you the requested content is for domestic users only.We talk here often about various p2p sites or streaming sites that will present the domestic content to the entire world, with limitations of course of really bad quality.

    The networks and broadcasting companies continue to fight the losing battle of shutting down the streaming sites. A few insightful companies have decided to work with the future and create free sites like Hulu. I understand the need to protect the rights holders and paying public like in the UK. My solution is a fee for out of country viewers on a site like the BBC iplayer or a fee for a EPL licensed streaming site. This should be a solution that is fair to all. Everybody gets something, for a price of course!

  3. F1Mikal

    October 2, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Yea, I am in ChelseaFan’s point of view,with Slingbox.
    I am lucky to have access to a Sky+ box, & I can watch TOO MUCH tv if I wanted.

    Slingbox ROKZ.
    Even better if you can use your iPhone.

    (and a Chelsea supporter)

  4. brn442

    October 2, 2009 at 2:30 am

    As someone who came to the States in 1988 from another part of the British Empire, I too have a basement full of newspaper clippings, boxes of shoot, match, and 90 minutes magazines, SW radios, and yes VHS tapes for my trouble keeping up with the beautiful game.
    I do not take the options I now have for granted, believe me.
    Gaffer, after trying without success to make the BBC (Radio1) iplayer, ironically on my “apple mobile device,” I realized that it has more to do with the powers that control the mode in which information is delivered than the information producers themselves. We’ve seen this script before with the record, ahem – music industry.
    Most Americans get, should I say, pay for their internet access from the same company that provides their cable channels. Everyone, even Wayne Rooney, can probably guess that their cable company has an interest in trying to stand between the providers of content and its consumers. Why are internet speeds in the US shockingly slower that those in Japan/Korea? Just a guess but in the eyes of your local provider, heaven forbid you can watch real time content on your computer with the same consistent quality as on your TV, or “worse”, connect an HDMI cable or its future wireless equivalent from an “internet source” straight to your 50” HD flat screen, then why would you need (to pay for) separate “cable channels”? Or beg them to carry the content you want – BBC America, Setanta, or FSC etc.
    If history is a guide, technology and consumer demand will eventually make content available to anyone who wants it, regardless of where they are in the world. The only question is, on whose terms? Will cable companies go the way of HMV/Tower Records or Itunes. We’ll see.

    • eplnfl

      October 4, 2009 at 1:00 pm

      The iphone has been a real useful tool for me. There are a few apps for it that give you mobile access to many BBBC national and local stations. BBC London is unblocked for their coverage of London area Prem teams. A real bonus this Sunday was the Fulham game followed by the Chelsea game. Talksports is available online with it’s great coverage on game days. The apps that I use to obtain the stations are free!

      The iphone has set me free so to speak from my TV on a Saturday or Sunday allowing me to listen in my car or at the gym or in my yard.

  5. chelsea fan

    October 1, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    If you still know someone in the UK, you need to look into a slingbox as it will give you full access to a UK cablebox.

  6. pd

    October 1, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I posted this idea on here before, but what FA/PL needs to do is license out web rights to the clubs or a 3rd party. IPTV is always one of those hot topics and there are so many start ups that flash with great hopes only to burn through the VC and fade away.

    Setanta has a nice web product, but what I’d like is a fan package. In 2009 why can’t I watch every match featuring my club? and why are they forcing me to seek out places like Justin or Iraqgoals to watch.

    I’d pay a fee ( if it was fair) to see every match with my club, and even pay more to see unlimited matches…

    Why they don’t do it is only because they don’t get it yet. And the great thing is you can have different sites for every country currency and sets of laws.

    IPTV as a set top box may be out there in the ether, but web streaming via devices like Apple TV, Windows media centers and gaming devices ( xbox, playstation) are hooked already to the family TV.

    • ovalball

      October 1, 2009 at 3:10 pm

      IPTV as a set top box may be out there in the ether….

      It sure is. As a former subscriber to ITVN I can tell you it has come and gone. 😀

  7. ovalball

    October 1, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Nice idea, but I think it will happen right after the cell phone companies open up everything for us.

    btw, Gaffer, you are to spend the next two hours locked in your room listening to Barry Manilow (or other appropriate nightmare). This is your penalty for using the term “paradigm shift”.

    There is no appeal.

    • The Gaffer

      October 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm

      Nice one ovalball. I think in more than 2.000 articles that I’ve written for EPL Talk in our four year history, this was the first time I used that term. Can I get as suspended penalty like Adebayor? Please? 🙂

      The Gaffer

      • man99utd

        October 1, 2009 at 2:38 pm

        totally unrelated, but have the rating numbers from last weekend come in yet?

        • The Gaffer

          October 1, 2009 at 2:41 pm

          Yep, good question. They’ll be released on in the morning. Thanks mate.

          The Gaffer

  8. Jon

    October 1, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    One word for why your idea is problematic from a television business perspective, Gaffer: syndication. This is why “rights restriction” is, as you rightly suggest, complicated, and it’s the major stumbling block to open internet television as you envision it.

    Local television stations in non-origin source countries pay for the right to broadcast programs to their local market and then sell local advertising to their customer base in order to make money. In effect they are television middle-men. For example, I live in Canada, but was raised by a British nanny from Southampton. She loved “Coronation Street”, which is broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (“CBC”). CBC buys the rights to air that show on license from ITV, or directly from Granada Television, its producers (I’m not sure which. I know they buy US shows directly from the network, so the point stands anyway). They, in turn, sell advertising space to local Canadian businesses, so instead of seeing adverts for Tesco and Harrod’s, I get ads for Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart. That’s big revenue for the CBC, for ITV, and for the makers of the Street.

    There is an additional legal layer to the licensing and syndication scheme that makes things even more complicated, because broadcast and copyright laws vary from country to country. So for example, I what I am allowed to do in terms of recording, altering, or re-broadcasting a program depends greatly whether I see that on a local syndicated station in Halifax (where I can do very little of those three things legally) or Shanghai (where I can do whatever the heck I want to with the program). For example, in Canada I can’t pay for a Setanta feed, record the games, compile them and sell them. I can do that if I view the program in China, legally (I think. I’m a Canadian and American trained lawyer, my knowledge of the law in China is a little hazy. But there are places in the world where this is legal, surely, if not de jure, then de facto).

    Control over syndication gives the shows producers and broadcasters control over their intellectual property and allows them to make decisions on where they want to show the program and take copyright risks.

    What you propose to do is cut out the middle-men by making it possible for me to get the program direct from its “source” television station. This does two things – it cuts out the revenue from syndication, which itself is a massive issue. Just ask the RIAA how it feels about cutting out middle-men in the music industry. Secondly, it will ruin a lot of local stations that depend on syndication for viability, and in turn, likely will kill lots of local television markets for development. Why would I ever want to watch the CBC again? I will watch Sky for football, the BBC for world news, and NBC or some other major American network for other shows. Television will become centralized in LA, New York and London (more than it already is, that is). Winnipeg will never have a television station if it only gets to broadcast locally owned and created Winnipeg shows. I mean I love an hour long television show about 20 feet of snow and a rabbit named Doug as much as the next guy, but seriously…

    Even good local programming which takes a while to develop will not survive. CBC has some popular Canadian shows which are not well known elsewhere but which are not bad. But those shows never get developed without syndication because the money from the advertising from the shows that people DO watch, like the Street, is needed to fund and develop those shows. It’s even worse in a country like the US where there is not widespread government funding for television development.

    So there is one good reason, in my opinion, for why things are the way they are and why direct television is not as easy a proposition as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to defend big television or even middle-man television. I like the open market of ideas (music, movies, and television). I probably would pay for and support open internet television. But there are consequences associated with it that I’m not sure you’ve fully addressed.

    Cheers. Love the site, by the way.

  9. Jim

    October 1, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    Absolutely agree – well said.

    I don’t think there is a real reason that couldn’t be solved somehow.

    What makes me sad is we take a huge global communication medium like the internet where everyone is a little more equal. Then start segregating and controlling peoples content again.

  10. Dave G

    October 1, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I’m with you…and while I’m at it
    What about something similar to what Sirius does with BBC Radio 1 which plays “on delay” but is squared up to eastern time…so it plays “live” for the listener
    I’d much rather have it as close to normal viewing experience as possible

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