- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

NEW YORK - “Desperate Housewives” on your IPod. Jay Leno’s monologue on your cellular phone. Brian Williams delivering the night’s news on your computer. And “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” available whenever you want to watch it — not just Thursday night.

Each of those developments became possible in the past few weeks, part of an extraordinarily tumultuous period in TV.

The autumn of 2005 will, no doubt, be remembered as the time when all assumptions about the rules of television were thrown into the air and scattered, with no certainty about what would happen when they landed.

The most shocking event clearly was Apple’s deal with Disney in October to make reruns of “Lost” and other programs available for downloading to IPods for $1.99. In less than three weeks, Apple says, a million videos were sold.

“That’s a significant amount of money,” says Rob Enderle, an analyst for Enderle Group. “I honestly believe that’s going to change a lot of minds in terms of providing programming for this medium.”

Some worry that this service will make people less likely to watch these hit shows on television, but many in the industry believe fans who may have missed an episode represent the biggest market. So far, there’s no evidence that fewer people are watching new episodes of “Desperate Housewives” or “Lost” because they can download them later on ITunes.

At the very least, preliminary results show that the idea of portable TV has some appeal.

The big question is how many people will gravitate toward watching TV on IPods, computers or cell phones when a big-screen television is waiting in front of the living room couch.

That remains unanswered, but it hasn’t stopped an explosion of Internet channels or programming offerings this fall, with seemingly a new announcement every day.

Several of the MTV Networks have launched affiliated broadband sites. Rapper 50 Cent made a concert available exclusively on MTV Overdrive; VH1 started the VSpot stream; and youngsters can watch cartoons on TurboNick and Comedy Central’s Motherload, which began operating Nov. 1.

NBC began offering a same-night online replay of “Nightly News,” making it the first network news broadcast to take that step. The Food Network starts a Web-only series with chef Dave Lieberman next week. HGTV debuted “My First Place,” a series about young people moving into their first homes, on the Web before TV. PBS made NerdTV, a series about high-tech pioneers, available exclusively on the Internet.

America Online anticipated just a few hundred applicants for “The Biz,” its online-only music talent contest. Instead, it got 9,000. On Monday, AOL announced a new initiative to show old TV programming.

AOL’s successful Webcast of last summer’s Live 8 concert opened many eyes to the possibilities of Internet TV, and so did simple demographics. About 35 million homes have broadband access (compared to 110 million homes with TVs), and about half of those online users say they have watched video online, says Josh Bernoff, principal analyst for Forrester Group.

Just as important, advertisers have warmed to the medium and realize they can effectively present online commercials not that different from what’s already on TV.

Some of the biggest early customers for Internet TV are transplants, Mr. Enderle says. They’re following sports teams from cities they departed or, if they’re immigrants, catching the latest news from their home countries.

Comedy Central is using Motherload primarily to showcase stand-up comedians and other short-form comedy that wouldn’t necessarily fit on the TV network. It shows highlights of “The Daily Show,” but you still have to watch TV to get the full Jon Stewart experience, says Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central’s general manager.

Most people don’t have the patience to watch more than four or five minutes of Internet programming at a time, she says.

“I think that will change over time,” Miss Ganeless adds. “I think right now, based on my personal experience, the computer isn’t necessarily set up in a spot in the home that is comfortable for long-term viewing.”

For the most part, Internet TV is still “like the minor leagues,” Mr. Bernoff says. “It’s stuff that wasn’t good enough to get on the air, or [was] too short to get on the air.”

Likewise, programming on cell phones is in its infancy. However, NBC’s announcement earlier this month that it is collaborating with Sprint to make Mr. Leno’s monologue and comic sketches available on the phone is a sign of recognized potential.

Sprint has been the most aggressive in providing programming, working with MobiTV to make a variety of news, sports and comedy programming available on its phones, says Phil Taylor, an analyst for Strategy Analytics Global Wireless Research. About 500,000 people subscribe to a cell-phone programming service in the United States; market penetration is more advanced overseas.

Just as on laptops, short bites of programming are most popular. So is adult fare, Mr. Taylor says. Cell-phone video is likely to spread more through convenience than any real consumer pressure, he says, because cable or cell-phone companies are likely to bundle this with other services.

Ultimately, this fall’s most far-reaching development may be last Monday’s dual announcements by CBS and NBC that they would begin selling replays of their most popular shows on an on-demand basis through Comcast and DirecTV, respectively.

It gives a tantalizing peek into a television landscape where viewers can decide when to watch their favorites. While the Internet and cell-phone choices work around the margins of television fare, these deals involve the most popular programs on television.

Telephone companies SBC and Verizon also are preparing to roll out Internet Protocol, set-top technology that could allow consumers to choose from among multiple camera angles while watching a program or search the Internet for information about the actors.

It all foreshadows a completely upended business environment in which TV networks can get revenue directly from consumers instead of the advertising time they sell. Business deals of all sorts will have to be rewritten to reflect all these new distribution methods. Expect some nasty negotiations or lawsuits.

The transition to a new television world has only just begun.

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