The Olympics has been both fabulous and frustrating. It’s been a great games with some fascinating stories of triumph and heartbreak but NBC has once gain contrived to make it near impossible for you to watch the games real time. Sure you can watch a lot online but not everything. It’s also frustrating to know that there are other content providers such as the BBC who have the content you want but to find you simply can’t access it because of rights issues. Put another way, the content you want has been created but the ability to access it on demand doesn’t exist. Yesterday’s mens 100m final was a great example. This event wasn’t shown live, instead you had to wait until almost midnight to watch the tape delayed version. CRAZY!!!! Of course the Olympics are a rare event and the prices paid by people like NBC require them to find ways of getting their money back BUT their approach is the same as many other content owners – force people to either watch it when we want them to or access it later via tape delay or some on demand service. There appears to be no other option. You can’t even click a button that says: ‘watch live for $5’. All this got me thinking about how much other content is out there that people would like to access but they don’t because it’s just too hard to get. In these Google and youtube infused days it seems crazy to be struggling to access content but we do. Some of the problem is that searching is still too dependent on our ability to describe what we are looking for and the other part is there aren’t always systems that allow us to see the content when we find it. Madness. What we need is the technology to find the right content AND the technology to allow you to access it. Here in California I have access to a mass of TV content that I don’t consume and don’t even want to consume. I’d gladly substitute 99% of the unwanted content for another few percent of content I do want. This all reminds me a paper Theodore Levitt wrote where he mentioned that people don’t want to buy fuel for their cars, they simply want to be able to drive somewhere. In other words they would never care if they saw the fuel. Likewise I don’t care what content I am given access to, I simply want the content I want. Of the hundreds of channels on my TV I could have three or four and be perfectly happy if those channels had just the stuff I want. In other words I want someone to do to the TV what Spotify has done to music. Now Netflix is trying to get there but even that has a long way to go.
I should be clear though, my argument is not just about TV content it’s about all manner of content that currently exists on the web that is either hard to find or restricted in terms of who can access it. Hence my belief that we are now in an era where the content creators have done a great job of generating material but those responsible for enabling us to access it have a LONG way to go. But when we get there we are going to experience events in a very different and even more exciting way. Until then, I’ll just have to put up with Bob Costas and NBC for a bit longer.
Years ago I sat in while a journalist interviewed Bill Gates. A PC was on the desk with Windows running. In most of the windows there were Microsoft applications but in one there was a TV show. I was spell bound. It was like I was watching TV for the first time. My awe struck state came crashing to earth moments later when Bill said: “We’ve finally been able to turn a $3000 machine into a $200 TV set.” His point was clear. Who really needed to have a window on their computer that could show TV channels when in most homes there was already a device that did it much better at a much lower price.
This of course was before the Internet took off and people decided they liked to spend a good portion of their previously allocated TV time surfing the Internet. Web based TV has been very slow in coming but thanks to YouTube efforts to bridge the gap between web surfer and TV watcher seem to be gaining pace. Enter the latest version of Apple TV which, along with all your iTunes and iPhoto content, has a YouTube option that allows you to search and select your favorite content. In effect this turns YouTube into another channel on your TV. Right now most of the content on YouTube is pretty grainy making it a poor relation in the channel stakes. My guess is that this will change. But it also occurs to me that if Apple can effectively turn YouTube into a TV channel, couldn’t they also become a natural home for a host of other channels? I’m pretty sure someone could come up with an Internet alternative TV network. One that uses the functionality of the web as well as its obvious distribution benefits. How long before there is an Apple TV Guide?