Monday, 25 October 2010

Changing channels

Google’s announcement this month, that its new online TV service will go live on 1 November, should be seen as an important day for the future development of television. On 4 October, the internet giant reached agreements with most major US channels - such as HBO, CBS, NBC and Cartoon Network - to broadcast their shows on Google TV. Under the agreements, NBC will provide news, HBO drama and comedy and Amazon Video on-Demand will offer access to around 75.000 movie titles.

Many experts see this move as television’s long-awaited online breakthrough. The time viewers just watched broadcasts passively could soon be over. Online channels allow viewers to interact and connect with many of their favourite web services, so it comes as no surprise that Boo-Keun Yoon, Vice President of Visual Display at Samsung, recently said that Google TV “is no doubt the future of TV".

For Google, the TV service is a new way to sell advertising, and television companies aim to capitalise on growing demand for content that combines internet features with TV programming. Selling products related to a popular show or its participants is a goldmine for advertisers.

With the global reach of the internet and behavioural advertising methods, online channels have the potential to change the TV advertising landscape forever, but it will have legal implications, too. It raises issues regarding the applicable law: is it that of the country where the server is based, where the studios are or where the shows are made? Operating from a foreign jurisdiction, for example, can have huge advantages for television businesses. What will OFCOM’s role in the UK be if most Britons watch foreign-based online TV channels?

And countries with a licence fee - such as the UK, Holland and Italy - will have to review their definitions if they wish to maintain the tax in such a new TV environment. Current UK laws require that viewers need ‘to be covered by a licence [to] watch TV online at the same time as it is being broadcast on conventional TV`. What if there is a delay of five minutes, or new online channels start broadcasting shows that are not shown on conventional (UK-based) TV stations at all?

As long as new online TV channels do not breach any copyrights, the influence of current UK legislation – such as the Digital Economy Act - is limited. Perhaps it is slowly time for the UK Government to start thinking about an ‘online TV licence regime’, with a key role for the national internet service providers who, after all, grant online viewers the access to watch. Conventional is suddenly so yesterday.

Published previously in E-Commerce Magazine, London, October 2010. Copyrights apply.