Internet TV: forever blowing bubbles?


30 Apr 2008

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Chew on this: UK-based internet TV firm Babelgum has just done a deal with US broadcasting company PBS to bring over 100 hours of documentaries and non-fiction programming online, but the catch is that this content, save for a science series, is only available in the US.

Ireland has been sorely neglected when it comes to television and movie offerings on the web. Peer-to-peer, or otherwise, television content made available online is always welcome but if you look at what services are out there and what they offer, Ireland always comes off the loser.

Babelgum, while currently in beta-testing phase, offers professional content that satisfies what it calls the long tail of viewer’s interests, ie niche programming such as snowboarding or wine tasting documentaries, as well as channels dedicated to events like the Seattle International Film Festival.

While the PBS science series, Scientific American Frontiers, may be fronted by Alan Alda of MASH fame and the Babelgum film tie-in with director Spike Lee is encouraging, viewers are looking for content along the lines of Scrubs or Ugly Betty, which are both made by Paramount.

Paramount’s parent company Viacom has done a content deal with Babelgum, as have CBS and Time Warner, so this may be a possibility in the near future.

However, Paramount has just joined up with Hollywood studios MGM and Lionsgate to launch a US film channel, as well as a video-on-demand service that will provide both videos and TV shows.

Again, this seems to be for the US only, much like Apple CEO, Steve Jobs’ January announcement of movie- and TV-show rentals that consumers can watch or take on the go on their iPod, which was meant to revolutionise the industry.

Again, this service is not available in Ireland and only a tiny, limited selection of TV shows are available in the UK. So this begs the question: where can an Irish resident go if they want to download or watch a movie online?

Apparently, MovieStar.ie have the answer to our prayers as it is about to launch Ireland’s first movie download service this Thursday. Great! Movies galore!

Don’t get too excited though, the biggest movie they could boast in a press release on the forthcoming service was The Little Shop of Horrors.

What I’m talking about here is choice: choosing what I want to watch and when I want to watch it.

If I don’t want to rent a latest release in the form of a physical DVD from the video store, buy a DVD box set of Rome or Lost, or pay for a TV licence and cable subscription and hope that Sky is not playing a Simpsons rerun for the 50th time, I should be able to have a wired, web alternative if US residents can.

At least Microsoft Xbox is doing something with the Xbox Live service, which now offers movies for rent, including The Matrix and Ocean’s Eleven, and later this year is reportedly adding TV shows which include Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives.

In the meantime, while the BBC’s iPlayer has passed us by, we can always watch the last 30 days of Channel 4’s content including Dirty Sexy Money and My Name is Earl for free, as well as older series like Father Ted and The IT Crowd.

The problem seems to come from a combination of factors. Several content providers including MovieStar.ie have cited broadband issues in Ireland as a challenge to distributing high-definition content for download. Licensing content for use in differing geographic regions also appears to be a major problem – it was the reason why Apple rolled out its iTunes services so slowly, as Steve Jobs dealt with all the content rights negotiations himself, on a case-by-case basis.

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Babelgum p2p web TV service