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TR: The Week in Review

The Internet is everywhere this week – and that has television execs sweating as downloaders are doing some serious time-shifting…Google gets map happy…and VoIP gets ready for WiFi.
April 11, 2005

Desperate Downloaders

While the TV drama about digital video recording continues to play and the debate about HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray drags ahead, others are realizing that maybe – just maybe – the real future will be downloadable video services through that ubiquitous delivery pipe called the Internet.

As ZDNet Australia reports, many Aussies are turning to BitTorrent to view popular television shows such as Desperate Housewives because they don’t want to wait for the eight month lag it takes for the shows to migrate overseas.

As a matter of fact, Australians download more programs than anyone else, followed by their English counterparts – who also faced delayed programming.

American are third, but that probably has more to do with so many tech-savvy folks wanting to avoid the sky-high digital cable rates for an on-demand viewing of their favorite episode of The Sopranos.

Webcasts are catching on too. Hundreds of thousands of people tuned into their computers on Saturday to watch the wedding of Prince Charles and his former mistress.

In response to this ever increasing demand for Internet-delivered programming, content providers are beginning to offer dedicated Web channels. MTV announced last week that it will launch a free webcast – similar to ones already run by Disney and MSN – that allows viewers to play its original programming along with the music videos. The reason:  people have complained that programming and hard-to-find videos have virtually disappeared from the network..

But this is really all just the tip of the iceberg as far as the future of Internet television goes. The trick will be to raise the quality and reliability for delivery over IP networks

One of the most heartening attempts is by the telecommunications giant SBC. It’s in the process of developing a system dubbed IPTV, which would provide on-demand programming through a dedicated network of its own servers. But SBC is experiencing difficulties from content providers, who are leery of the possibility that the service might cut into other forms of revenue. By the time SBC unveils its IPTV service near the end of the year, it will look and feel more like a cable provider than an Internet service. This is also true for the planned IPTV services from Verizon and BellSouth.

So what’s a computer potato to do? Well, maybe the saving grace will come from none other than the man who “created the Internet.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that Al Gore, along with several other well-known entrepreneurs, are planning an Internet service called Current that will offer short segments of programming dubiously called “pods.” Developed for the short attention span of most chronic Web surfers, the service is due to go live on August 1.

Google Me This

Google’s new service that overlays map images onto satellite surveillance photos (through its acquisition of the already existing Keyhole) generated a lot of ruckus from privacy advocates last week.

After taking a look at the program, it’s easy to see why some would be concerned that the program would be useful if you wanted to plan a raid on someone’s apartment building. If you’re lucky enough to want to look at one of the very small portions of the world that is actually photographed (so far, only major metropolitan areas and all of Massachusetts), the service is definitely very cool. I was able to zoom into my old parking lot in Pittsfield, Ma, and actually pick out my pickup from among the cars.

But therein lies the rub. I haven’t lived in Pittsfield for nearly three years, and my pickup has been living happily in Indiana for at least two. As a matter of fact, judging from all my zoom-ins, I’d say that most of the images are at least two years old.

If you want to know why all the images are a little out of date, why not try asking Google’s new Q&A service?

VoIP Up Yours

Broadband Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which offer dramatically cheaper phone rates than traditional telephony providers, has long been held back by the simple fact that the consumers – who, for the most part, are still learning the terms MP3 and phishing – simply aren’t familiar with the technology, don’t know what the hardware would look like, and fear that it means having to do more on their computers than opening a new window.

That may be changing. Both Verizon and AOL launched new VoIP services last Thursday. The companies promise a simpler solution to the service. While this may not necessarily be true, , the simple brand-name recognition and sheer number of Americans already signed up with both companies means that Vonage may have a serious problem on its hands.

Wide WiFi

It appears as if VoIP will soon be reaching into the mobile phone market – at least in the slew of metropolitan areas planning to institute city-wide WiFi systems. Last week, Philadelphia announced the details of its plan to do so next year, and the Dayton, Ohio’s city commissioner gave the go ahead for a similar service there. Meanwhile, the Colorado legislature is working to give permission for municipalities across the state to set up their own city-wide systems.

Other cities with similar plans: San Antonio, Cleveland, Las Vegas, and New York.

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