Video Visionaries Meld Traditional TV and the Web

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

Is TV moving onto the Internet or is the Internet moving onto TV? As the lines between the two begin to blur, it's getting harder to tell.

Fans of Comedy Central's "South Park," for example, can still watch the latest episode by tuning in on Wednesday nights. But they can also turn to Comedy Central's Web site to watch an ad-sponsored episode. If they're willing to cough up a couple of dollars, they can even download the shows for viewing through an Xbox or an iPod.

At iVillage, a Web site that caters to women, the push is toward the TV set. On Monday, the site, which was acquired by NBC Universal this year, is launching a daytime TV show called "iVillage Live," which will be broadcast on some NBC stations, the Bravo network and the Web.

It's a nontraditional approach to broadcast television that's been growing in popularity in recent months: broadcasting shows on both the Internet and traditional TV to give advertisers as many viewers as possible. At the same time, the blurred line between traditional and online video is accommodating a growing variety of viewers: those who prefer to watch on a TV, those who gravitate more toward the Web and even those who like to watch on their mobile phones or TiVo recorders.

Thanks to popular sites like YouTube and Google Video, video content has become one of the most popular offerings on the Internet. That's led to a flood of amateur sites that look more like cable TV services, complete with "channels" -- clickable icons on a Web page that bring up a lineup of shows to watch -- that accommodate different interests.

"This is definitely the Wild West in some ways," said Adam Berrey, vice president of marketing and strategy at Brightcove, an online video company. "It's in the very early stages, and people are still learning."

So far, Brightcove customers have built online video programming networks dedicated to topics as varied as pet care and Miami night life. The channels are available only on computers, but Berrey hopes to soon offer viewers a way to watch on their TV sets.

One way Brightcove is trying to get on TV screens is to work with products connected to TV sets, such as the TiVo digital video recorder. Together, Brightcove and TiVo are creating a video portal that allows TiVo subscribers to upload homemade video clips and create unique channels -- a lineup of shows from various sources on TiVo's Now Playing list -- that friends and family members can watch through their own TiVo boxes.

"It's the democratization of video content," Berrey said. "People are going to get away from Channel 9 or Channel 10.", which shows racy programming targeted at college-age men, has teamed with Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel to offer video clips for the mobile-phone crowd. It has also partnered with TiVo to get its clips on TV sets.

The movement also helps TiVo broaden its reach beyond a DVR that stores traditional television shows. By offering amateur video channels alongside shows that come in from a or a Cnet, as well as those recorded from ABC or HBO, the company offers a viewing experience that "otherwise wouldn't be able to exist due to the economics of television," said Tara Maitra, general manager of programming for TiVo.

Ultimately, the broader presence of programming on multiple formats could help traditional shows.

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