upload: TV on the smaller screen

Online TV goes small-time

Feature by Alex Cole | 28 Aug 2009
  • hulu

The debate shouldn’t even happen. In a world where nearly all television content is available on-demand, for free, anywhere you can pick up a wi-fi signal, you would think getting content shared over something as insignificant as the Atlantic Ocean wouldn’t be such an issue.

US networks are relentless in dragging their feet about online content, and now that Hulu has risen to such prominence in archiving and distributing decades’ worth of old episodes of the A-Team, they are all the more touchy about just who gets to see those episodes in the first place. Comparable to the BBC’s iPlayer, Hulu digitizes TV episodes a few hours after they air and allows anyone willing to sit through a commercial or two watch them whenever they please, but only if their computer is connected to an IP address in the States. This means the UK and the rest of the world are barred from the third season of Burn Notice, just as no one in the US can get sucked into Eastenders.

All that may change, however, as rumours are flying that Hulu may soon be able to swap content with UK providers and at last allow both countries to see what the other was watching during the 80’s (which may not be such a good idea, in the end). Johannes Larcher, a senior vice-president at Hulu, said “The UK is our number one priority in terms of international expansion,” but The Telegraph reported recently that the original September launch date may not hold as network and British internet providers are hung up on everything from intricate licensing agreements to just how much bandwidth is taken up by iPlayer and Channel 4 OnDemand already.

All this hearkens back to the days when the BBC, Channel 4 and iTV were all negotiating Project Kangaroo, their own online content swap site, which had a metric tonne of legal bricks dropped on it by the Competition Commission. All parties concerned are being conspicuously tight-lipped recently about future plans, but whether that’s intended to make the impending launch a surprise to everyone, or to manage expectations when 30 Rock doesn’t make it over, is impossible to say.