The proliferation of digital video recorders combined with the stunning popularity of online video has laid the basic foundation for the creation of a TV network that could, conceivably, compete with stations like MTV, Bravo or even CBS.
Here's how it will work. TiVo will cut deals with online video sites that will let those sites, for a fee or a chunk of ad dollars, deliver their videos to the TV screens of TiVo subscribers. Thus, consumers wouldn't have to hunch in front of their notebook to watch clips of baby wallabies or Afghani soldiers shooting grenades into lakes or teens wrestling in their backyard. They'd come straight to the TV.
Think of it. A whole network dedicated to classic films remade with Lego people, plastic dinosaurs and household appliances. You'd never leave home.
The momentum has already begun. This week, TiVo signed a deal with video software specialist Brightcove that essentially puts Web sites like Farmers' Almanac TV (motto: Live the Tradition) and Shipwreck Central on TV. CNET Networks (publisher of CNET News.com), has a similar deal with TiVo for video delivery. Kraft and Ford are delivering infomercials through TiVo.
Perhaps the best part of what is going on is that it's being led by TiVo, a company lots of people seem to want to see fail. It's like the Anna Nicole Smith of the tech world: always in the paper, but often for the wrong reason. For years, news articles have predicted the impending demise of the company because of the rise of PCs that could record TV shows.
Similarly, satellite and cable companies threatened to put TiVo out of business with their own DVR and on-demand services. Stock analysts regularly predict they will be bought.
Then there's the fact that the company regularly loses money: TiVo lost $34.5 million in fiscal 2006. The one place the company has been successful financially recently is in court: It won a $73.9 million verdict against EchoStar in a patent infringement suit. Winning a patent suit, however, isn't a sure path to popularity: Instead, it brings out catcalls for reforming the judicial system.
Yet the company continues to plug along, gaining customers and establishing itself as a verb.
A network built on obscure and random clips would also allow America to reassert itself in a market it once dominated: pop culture. Things like bell bottoms and Rambo movies once set the global standard. Now, our lead has been eroded by India's Bollywood and Japan's anime industry. TiVo might encourage kids to get out of those after-school math and reading sessions at the Score center and start filming their friends having gladiator contests with shopping carts and other career-building activities.
Granted, creating a full-fledged TV network from Web clips will require clearing a few hurdles. First, cameras will have to improve. Luckily, companies such as Ambarella and Panasonic are going to help bring down the price of high-definition video cameras.
The economics of the entertainment and advertising industries will have to adjust, too. Big-name advertisers are going to be reluctant initially to plunk down money on My Dodge Charger or skateboarding shows. But ad spots and creating programming will be cheap: With 50 bucks, you can film a lot of shows for the BMX channel.
But ultimately the model will succeed because the public has discovered something that many suspected for years: With a little bit of enthusiasm and a few props, almost anyone can be a TV programmer.
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas. He has worked as an attorney, travel writer and sidewalk hawker for a time share resort, among other occupations.
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