Jueves 17 de Julio de 2008, Ip nº 238

Internet TV ushers in the million-channel future
Por Dominic Wells

Somewhere in a television galaxy not so very far away, a half-naked former EastEnder wearing fox's ears is running from a hunting party of lustful posh gels; Adam Buxton, of “Adam and Joe” fame, is singing dressed as Carmen Miranda, with sausages for a headdress; and 12 separate episodes filling a whole day of interactive programming are closing a successful series in which the title character was killed off 250 episodes earlier. Welcome to internet TV.

Two years ago, it seemed impossible that the internet could ever replace the television as the hub of home entertainment. Now it's common to see groups of youths gathered round YouTube, or swapping viral clips from Big Brother rather than bothering with the whole tawdry televised affair. Cheap and easy broadband has made internet TV possible; and for those who still prefer their giant plasma screens to their PCs, new-generation televisions are coming with web browsers built in.

It's what Paul Berrow, the founder of Log.tv, calls the “million-channel universe”. To stand out, Berrow has chosen the pleasingly old-fashioned approach of quality over quantity. Hence his collaboration with comic talent such as Peter Richardson, who directed the Comic Strip's movies: it's he who has dressed the ex-EastEnder Gary Beadle as a fox for Call Mickey, the ribald but strangely charming misadventures of a male escort. So successful have the internet episodes been, that film producers have commissioned a feature treatment. Even better, Richardson and Log.tv are hammering out a deal to bring back Stella Street, original cast and all, as an internet exclusive.

TV companies in the US are beginning to take notice. The comedian Will Ferrell and his internet TV site Funnyordie.com last week announced a $10million deal with HBO. “I don't want to overstate the importance of this deal,” said Ferrell with atypical modesty, “but this is the missing link moment where TV and internet finally merge. It will change the way we as human beings perceive and interact with reality. OK, I overstated it. But it is an exciting deal.”

And two internet-only series have been picked up for big bucks: Quarterlife, by the makers of thirtysomething, was bought by NBC. Sadly, the opening episode brought record low ratings, and the series has been shuffled off to Bravo instead. But Quarterlife frankly wasn't that hot online, either, and wouldn't have been bought were it not for the writers' strike. Better things are expected of Sanctuary, which holds the Guinness world record for the most expensive internet TV show at $4.5million, and has recently been picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel.

British TV companies are less adventurous. Five bought Bebo's online drama Sofia's Diary, but only to run unaltered on digital channel Fiver as “snack TV”. BBC Three is finally showing Adam Buxton's MeeBox this week, which is based on sketches he has been trying out on his own YouTube mini-channel, but his blog betrays frustration at the long wait.

And Luke Hyams, the creator of the phenomenally successful internet drama Kate Modern, as well as Channel 4's Dubplate Drama, recently tried hard to explain the concept of interactivity to an audience of BBC Drama execs - “But they just seemed to regard it as an aggravation they didn't need, rather than an opportunity.”

The first Kate Modern “happening”, more than a year ago, invited fans to a real-life art gallery. A dozen or so showed up, and they were roped into an exciting kidnap storyline. Subsequent happenings have attracted thousands. The series finale, on June 28, will allow fans to chat to characters online between episodes, and thereby dictate the direction of the plot. Several alternatives will be filmed in advance and, in a delightfully low-tech approach, Hyams says he will be helping the actors answer in character during the web chats by holding up colour-coded Post-it notes.

In fact, the whole of internet TV is pretty hand-to-mouth at the moment. Kate Modern broke new ground by selling product placement in its “webisodes”. But on the whole, as Log.tv's Berrow puts it, “the advertisers have yet to come to the party”. When YouTube makes only $80 million profit a year, despite controlling 60 per cent of the market, you know there's precious little revenue left among the sites scrapping for that other 40 per cent. And, ironically, the more viewers they attract, the more it costs them in web-servers to support the demand.

There were even doomy predictions, at one point, that the internet itself would collapse under the strain of our growing video-watching habit. Berrow pooh-poohs this, saying that new solutions are being invented all the time. In particular, the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, which this summer will either reveal the origin of the Universe or suck the world into a black hole, required a whole new kind of internet to be invented to handle all the data. “It's about a thousand times faster,” Berrow says. “And given that it was invented by the same man who developed the original internet, I wouldn't be surprised if he just makes this one public as well.”

Hm. Much of what is currently broadcast on the net is complete manure, and a delivery mechanism that allows it to hit the fan at a thousand times the speed seems a mixed blessing. But don't let me put you off: there are some gems, if you know where to look. (see below).

MeeBox is on BBC Three on Sunday at 11.45pm. The Kate Modern finale is on www.bebo.co.uk/katemodern on June 28. See “The Web Watcher” column, times2, Mon-Fri

INTERNET TV WORTH WATCHING

BABELGUM.COM

Founded by the Italian media mogul Silvia Scaglia, this offers mainstream TV shows and more niche interests, from documentary to independent film. The inaugural Babelgum Online Film Festival was chaired by Spike Lee.

FUNNYORDIE.COM

Dire, mostly, in my opinion, but no accounting for taste in comedy. Just signed a $10 million deal that gives HBO a 10 per cent stake in the site, which helps to answer the question of where the money will come from.

HULU.COM

A joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp, this offers more than 100 movies and 400 American TV shows.

JOOST.COM

Brought to you by the people behind Skype (free phonecalls over the internet), Joost has licensing deals with Viacom, Aardman Animation, CBS, Warner Music, Endemol and others.

LOG.TV

Home of Peter Richardson's Call Mickey, this is a new, high-quality British site that works with top comedy talent. A new music channel also goes live this week.

METACAFE.COM

Popular clips site in the YouTube vein. Makers of videos that are viewed more than 20,000 times are paid $5 per 1,000 views.

MIRO.COM

Open-source application designed to guide you to more than 2,500 internet TV channels.

VBS.TV

Off-beat ragbag of slacker shows, but of a certain originality, as you might expect from the creative director being Spike Jonze.

VEOH.COM

With the former Disney chairman Michael Eisner on the board and AOL Time-Warner one of the investors, this is another major player. It has licensed more network TV shows than YouTube, and allows viewing of full 30-minute episodes.

YOUTUBE.COM

Daddy of them all, YouTube is composed entirely of short clips put up by users - sometimes without permission, hence the odd legal battle with copyright holders.

ZATTOO.COM

European-based service that delivers mainstream TV to your PC. Content varies from country to country, depending on which rights it can acquire. In England it currently offers 29 channels.

... And the major British TV channels all have their own web offerings: bbc.co.uk; itv.com; Channel4.com; Five.tv; Sky.com


  21/06/2008. Times Online.