Online Video Presents: The Waste, the Wacky, The Wonderful

By Leslie Walker
Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just because Apple Computer won the first round of the Internet video wars, I wouldn't count out Google's rickety video store just yet. Google's new video service is weak partly because it is attempting to do far more than most of the new wannabe Internet TV channels do.

In fact, the Internet this year is looking like the early days of television, when the broadcasting technology had just been developed and people were buying and turning on TV sets with little clue of what they might find. Over the next six to 18 months, get ready for all kinds of fare to appear on your nascent Internet video "dials" because Hollywood is finally starting to license its shows to Web sites.

Here's an early look at some of the online video channels you can expect to get a lot flashier soon:

Google ( ) -- It's easy to see why Google's video store earned terrible reviews after opening for business last week -- it includes a vast library of mediocre and crummy shows, along with some niche gems so hidden they almost require a secret code to find. The store has a chaotic user interface and lacks simple ways to browse, such as the "most popular" lists that most Web video services offer.

As for content, Google offers not only a tier of mainstream commercial TV shows and music videos for $1.99 apiece but also a second tier of niche programs and a vast third level of user-contributed fare -- much of it free. CBS is Google's first major TV show provider but is so tight with licensing that it offers only one episode of "CSI" at a time. Heck, you can find more "CSI" episodes on your regular TV dial for free.

More interesting are Google's second and third tiers of wacky and unpredictable content, where you could waste hours. I did just that after making the mistake of clicking on an interview with "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf. It led me to a bunch of addictive interviews after I searched on "Archive of American Television Interview."

Bloggers have been busy publishing other keywords that yield funky stuff. A search on "high school dance" or "high school" anything tends to cough up zany teen videos, for example. Just don't expect the video production quality to be consistent or high, because Google is one of the least controlled of the new services.

Apple ( ) -- It's no wonder 8 million videos have been downloaded on Apple's iTunes -- at $1.99 each -- in the first three months they have been offered. Next to Google Video, the iTunes store looks far more polished and Hollywood-esque. Its library contains some 3,000 music videos and TV shows, including the latest episodes of some ABC TV shows one day after they air, including "Commander in Chief" and "Monk." At $1.99 a pop, though, it's hard to imagine people buying and watching TV shows on their PCs. For that reason, Apple's service likely will be most popular with people who buy video iPods and want to take shows with them on their portable Apple media player.

Among the many lesser-known start-ups to offer online video:

YouTube ( ). Like Google, this site offers videos contributed by users, and much of it is junky. It offers easy ways to browse, by "most viewed" clips or "most discussed" and "top rated," to name a few. YouTube has an elaborate system for letting users rate and index videos with word "tags."

Blink TV ( ) -- This site is a novel type of Web video search engine that claims to have indexed over a million hours of video. ( ) -- This start-up boasts a large collection of cult and classic movie downloads. As with many Web video services (including much of Google Video) it requires downloading a special media player. (Beware: Downloading that player could infest your computer with spyware, some experts say.) It basically "rents" access to the shows for 24 hours and claims to have some 2,000 programs in inventory, including "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" and the original "The Chronicles of Narnia."

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