Network Television’s Ongoing Struggle with Web-based Television

by: Ray Cha / Independent Scholar



As television continues to evolve, we see changes occurring, in terms of its content, delivery and reception, and distribution. In the area of web delivered television, traditional broadcasters have been slowly figuring out ways to deliver television onto the Internet. As more people are viewing and posting video onto the web, they are finally admitting that watching television on the web is a matter of when and how, rather than if.

When discussing web delivery of television, it is easy to focus on YouTube, especially with its well publicized purchase by Google and constant demands of content providers to remove illegally posted material (most recently seen by the Oscars.) Of course, YouTube was able to show the great potential of video that does not clog email inboxes, require web authoring skills, or get lost due to unstable links. However, its success now drives the fragmentation of web-based television with competing services, which make the landscape all the more complicated.

Joost recently signed a major distribution deal with Viacom to host content from its various outlets including Comedy Central, VH1 and MTV. Ironically, the owners of Joost were also behind the often sued second generation P2P network, Kazaa. This deal shows how these once fringe services are now moving towards the center. YouTube added a BBC channel to go along with NBC, PBS, the NBA, and others. US television networks, NBC and ABC (and their cable partners) host full episodes or clips on their sites and sells them on iTunes.

Television networks continue to struggle with finding ways to deliver content without losing their tight control over their content. NBC and their relationship with Saturday Night Live clips is telling. Because they have been lagging behind the other three major US networks, they were often leaders with experimenting with several different vehicles including YouTube, iTunes and their own site with varying effectiveness and understanding.

YouTube logo

YouTube logo

In one case, Fishbowl NY, a New York focused media blog, posted about a Saturday Night Live segment parody of Hillary Clinton. By the time I tried to watch the clip, it has been removed by request from NBC, which of course, is their right. The clip has not been posted to the official NBC YouTube channel, or on the SNL video page on the NBC site. While NBC may have a strategy behind which clips they post, it does seem that they are missing the advantages of the long tail, which capitalizes on niche tastes. While many more people download their rap parodies than watch the show on tv sets, they still feel the need to be gatekeepers. They lose relevance by locking up their content. Therefore, insight from fan YouTube postings and the discussion on the blogosphere is left untapped. Appreciating remix culture is even more distant and beyond the scope of this column.

Based on the experiences of NBC as well as other television networks, three areas that they will need to grasp soon are the longtail, search, and access. Traditional television programming is the polar opposite of long tail principles, which explains their reluctance to adapt. The success of Netflix and Amazon show the benefits of making entire archives available for sharing content and gaining insight on their viewers. The long tail allows them to maintain relevancy in an era of shrinking audiences and one in which viewers are increasingly selective and expect their well- defined preferences to be satisfied.

Along with the principles of the longtail, search will become crucial for people to find their desired media. Useful video search requires conventions in tagging, which is notoriously difficult for time-based media. Quality control for large-scale crowd sourcing tagging efforts, as seen in YouTube, is especially challenging. Formats such as Quicktime, have time-based tagging functionality in place, however the conventions are still unformed. Formal systems to dictate the tagging overall themes versus specific objects on screen is one simple examplethat needs to be addressed.

On a recent trip to Asia, I was surprised to find that ABC and NBC blocked their streaming content outside the US. Further, the BBCs Creative Archive pilot program uploaded 500 clips for people in the UK to download. Granted, UK citizens pay the BBC. (The 36 clips that BBC provides on its YouTube helps, but is not a replacement.) In both cases, the lack of access highlights the complicated issue of access to knowledge and culture (both high and low) that will only becoming more important in the future.

We are now in the adolescence, and no longer the infancy, of web delivered television. There are a number of services and models, some of which are bound to fail, before we settle upon standard outlets. In the transitional period of a disruptive technology, it is important to have experimental models and methods.

As the landscape continues to evolve, we are at the point of slowing speculation. Television networks need to shed many of their older conventions in order to maintain their relevance.


Jeremy W. Peters, “Kazaa’s Creators Do Latest Venture by the
Book,” New York Times, February 27, 2007.

Joshua Chaffin and Francesco Guerrera, “NBC’s Zucker lashes
out at YouTube,” Financial Times, February 6 2007.

Image Credits:
1. Television
2. YouTube logo

Please feel free to comment.


  • Adjusting to the times

    I feel that very soon there will be a shift in the way people watch television. While Youtube has allowed the viewing of some content, the Networks hold the majority. I believe that if the networks desire a greater audience and feedback they will have to adjust to the change. They adjusted when cable television allowed access of various stations, and they adapted when Tivo and DVR technology came about. Now they simply need to adjust to internet-based culture. Much new I receive is from online sites like, or I simply do not have the time to sit and watch television as I used to. Networks need to realize that the reason why Tivo and similar programs were invented was not only to skip commercials but also to allow the viewing of the media whenever the user saw fit. A new trend has come about and Networks will have to adapt to this new media. Until very recently Networks have not been exploring and using the internets capabilities, many of which are expanding daily. It would simply be foolish for them to not address and adapt to change.

  • I feel with the rise of YouTube and viewing entire episodes online, that all the networks should lean to providing more of the content they program on television to the internet. Whether it is through their the network’s website, YouTube, or iTunes it is important for them to get their content on the internet. The internet is a fast growing technology that is only getting better. More and more users on viewing sites like YouTube where advertisements of shows on NBC, for example, are proving to have an equal importance, if not more than the ads seen on TV. Advertising on the internet is becoming more and more valuable because of the amount of people all over the world are using the internet and visiting sites like YouTube. Leading into this new age of television is the world wide web and as soon as television networks recognize that the internet is a hot bed for viewing their TV shows, they will no longer be competing for national ratings but for world ratings.

  • William AJ Lemos

    Internet as counter hegemony

    In my house we have no cable or satellite television. Instead we have a computer in our living room hooked up to a TV set and we watch the internet daily. YouTube, eBaumsWorld, CollegeHumor, and google Video provide all the entertainment a house of college students could want. The internet has ample benefits compared to television because of the dialogic communication it allows between users. Instead of being an inactive participant that consumes the commercialized content of television we are actively participating in the creation of a new mass media. Not only do we have access to almost every television show on the air we are constantly watching viewer created content. Viewer created content is a grassroots alternative to commercial entertainment. YouTube’s user friendly design has allowed it to become one of the most powerful forms of counter hegemony in the world. The rise of television on the internet is just the next stage in the evolution of popular entertainment. Ray Cha’s article about the struggle with web-based television shows how commercial entertainment is afraid of this new form of media. In the twenty-first century TV stations will have to assimilate into the internet or face a drastic loss in viewers.

  • Web T.V.

    Now a days, my friends and I almost exclusively watch programs through the internet. The web has thousands of popular programs that can be viewed at any time of day with the click of a mouse. The internet allows features, such as instant access to shows and the ability to skip commercials. Using software you can record and transfer videos. All these features and your favorite shows whenever you want and you don’t need a TV or DVR equipment. There are many mediums available on the internet to accomplish this, and despite legal interaction to stop the spread of copyrighted material, new mediums pop up every day. Networks need to stop combating the problem because it will resurface in a new form. Networks need to adapt with the web and work within it. Competitors in the industry need to recognize the change to digital distribution and the valuable viewer insight that it can offer. I agree that online fan postings and the discussion in blogs is a good resource for viewer studies. Networks need to recognize this value and the value of digital distribution, which will allow their programs to reach a greater number of viewers than ever before.

  • Ryoji Yoshimura

    Is You Tube Really Web 2.0?

    According to Wikipedia, 100 million clips are viewed daily on YouTube, with an additional 65,000 new videos uploaded per 24 hours. In terms of visual media, the Internet, especially You Tube, changed everything. Now, people have access to lots of works on You Tube.But the question is what they watch on You Tube? At least, I hardly watch amateur videos. Probably, most of us usually watch TV shows, music videos, or movies that were illegally posted.That’s not the ideal situation for You Tube. I guess You Tube originally wanted to provide the space for Web2.0. Of course, that has succeeded in some ways. There are tons of amateur movies and home videos on You Tube. But people often look for professional works on You Tube. For instance, one of my friends from Japan checks Japanese TV drama every week on You Tube because she can’t watch it on American TV. But the situation is changing. In last October, a group of Japanese media companies demanded that You Tube remove more than 29,000 videos, and the company complied. Now, more and more contents that have copyrights are disappearing from You Tube. If all TV shows, music videos, and movies were removed, how many people would go to You Tube? Probably, the number of visitors will decrease. I think You Tube is still the Web 1.0 space. People visit You Tube just because they want to see some copyrighted programs.

  • Web-based Television is Advertising

    Although the reasoning behind NBC taking down their Hilary Clinton video is understandable, it is clear that web videos are advertising in themselves. Many people agree with the notion that web-based television will take away from television viewing, but all these highlights of shows publicizes the program. Besides the fact that in is convenient to watch updates on favorite shows whenever, viewers on sites like YouTube are attracted because it’s a site where the can interact. While they consume these videos and television shows, they also produce as much being able to post their own videos and comment on others. Since sites like YouTube are easy to access and give the browser a sense of freedom, they become a great mechanism for existing programs.

  • Web Watching Increases Living Standards in America

    Internet websites like YouTube are going to take over the relavance of television, especially when major networks like NBC and ABC refuse to adjust to audiences “new” technological interests. It is so intriguing to really feel and see globalization tension between mass media conglomerates (firms) . We viewers and consumers make their cash flow possible…we have ideals and expectations that if obvisouly not fulfilled by networks will be disregarded as a network not worthy of its viewers. The web allows little censorship and is a constant network that adjusts to opinions and conversation among people from all over th world; for NBC and ABC to be at unease with their content being “stolen” and posted on YOUTube without their concent clearlyreveals stubborn ownership policies from the “past” technology age. Television networks such as NBC are trying to embrace their television content but are only punishing themselves because regulation turns consumers off…Growing up I never had a working computer let alone have the internet and software like Quicktime, television shows being viewed through websites clearly is reinforcing a digital divide betwen Internet subscribers and t.v. basic television viewers who do not have cable. Human communication is becoming more and more digitally and technologically based…I feel like we are becoming such isolated peoples and are dissuaded to communicate with each other on levels other than network and cyberspace. I feel as if we all walk around with shields over our eyes, sealed mouths, and plugs in our ears. We need to realize that we students are eachothers resources, moving away from t.v watching to web watching only lifts the standards of living and commnicating in American main stream culture.

  • Like issues with Napster a few years ago, the fine line between what is legal and what is not with copyrighted material is once again spotlighted with YouTube. As a product of the Internet generation, I have become accustomed to finding whatever I need online. After Napster was shut down, multiple new sites, such as Limewire showed up to fill the vacancy left by the music-sharing program. The Internet is such a big medium, if something is shut out in one place, someone will just figure out a way to place it somewhere else. Corporations are realizing this, but they still seem torn – while they know it is best to give in to the free publicity, they still want to be able to milk their product wherever they can for profit. The new technology of the Internet has thrown a few kinks into the system of corporate America. Now they need to accept that technology has changed the times, and they will continue to change. It is important to be able to constantly try new methods instead of being stuck to the same things that were used in the beginning.

  • Could Youtube really replace TV?

    Youtube makes the viewing of a large number of copyrighted television shows and movies easily accessable to the masses. This has lead to a major lawsuit from Viacom. What the major networks fail to recognize is the marketing potential of Youtube. I often watch shows online when they are not on TV, especially if I know that I missed a new episode. I still watch the show on TV when it is on. Watching clips on Youtibe will often spark my interest in a show, which I will then go watch on TV. I know that I do not speak for the public, as Youtube grows in popularity every day, and even as copyrighted material is removed from the website, it surfaces in various other forms. However, as popular as the viewing of online videos is becomming, the convention of watching television seems unlikely to fade too soon.

  • In response to You Tube, I feel that this new meduim can provide networks with larger fan bases. You Tube is basically free advertising for networks. If a viewer sees something that they like, then they will most likely want to watch the show that the short video is based on. Allowing viewers to see bits of shows when they are not on television, could very easily make the show more appealing. You Tube and on-line interactive sights to shows, could be seen as a way of keeping the show on the viewers mind, constantly reminding them of the program on television. As with the show Big Brother, having an on-line interactive sight allowed its shows viewers to become more enchanted by the program. Not only were they able to watch the show on tv, but they could interact and stay updated with the show when it wasn’t on. We know that their on-line sight heightened the drama and appeal of the show, because its viewers actually began to interact with the people on the show, trying to tell them their opinions about the show, and trying to in a sense become characters on the show themselves. I don’t think that networks should have anything to worry about when it comes to its numbers of viewers. If anything the internet will increase thier amount of viewers. Because, like I said earlier, the internet , and You Tube are places for free advertising, to get people interested in a show. How could that be a bad thing?

  • In examining the online outlets discussed in this article, Youtube, Google Video, and iTunes among others have become enormously popular and great ways for major media networks to promote their shows. While these networks are also asking youtube to remove videos and filing lawsuits against them for hosting illegal content, this is also drawing free publicity and attention to their programs and shows by being posted online. The most watched video today has received over 500,000 views in one day. This is showing that over half a million people in one day alone have brought exposure to this particular video. The networks see a medium like hosting their shows to view on their websites, or for sale through iTunes as ways of reaching a new generation of viewers who want everything on demand, whenever and wherever they want. These sources have also quickly become a source for many startup and independent film and television content producers to emerge and provide a venue for their content to be seen on a stage millions of people access every single day. Looking at youtube and others as forms of web 2.0, its interesting to note that videos from youtube are now embedded in other websites all across the internet through its html tags. Youtube videos can be seen on myspace, blogs, news websites and many other sources. Interestingly, at the same time HDTV’s are becoming growingly popular in homes and consumer’s are becoming growingly interested in high-definition content, the quality of content on youtube, google video, itunes, and others is very poor. What I think will be interesting for the future, is whether there will be a way that this next generation of viewers will be able to take this on demand content streaming online and send it to their expensive, high-definition television sets in their living rooms.

  • Benifits of Online Programming

    Being a decentralized, non-hierarchal medium, it is very difficult for networks to police the entire Internet. Instead of trying to eradicate every clip of their shows, networks should just embrace websites such as Youtube. By deleting clips from Youtube, the networks do not gain anything; they only lose a free form of publicity. Having clips or full episodes online help potential viewers sample programming on their own time and it also allows current viewers to fill in the gap just in case they missed an episode. Especially with the resurgence of serial dramas like Lost and 24, it is difficult to become interested in the series if the viewer missed the first few episodes. By having episodes online, networks can gain viewers by allowing people to catch up on a series rather than waiting till the series comes out on DVD. Some networks maybe scared that they will lose viewers because of the convenience of watching a show anytime on their computer. Due to technical restrictions and the social aspect of television, networks probably will not lose viewers. Technical limitations greatly reduce the quality of television shows when put online. The video usually ends up a bit fuzzy and choppy and is never as crisp as the original TV or DVD version. For this reason, viewers will still watch the television show if they have the time to. And as long as networks keep coming out with new episodes, viewers will still tune in to find the answer to last weeks cliffhanger. Watching TV can also be a social event where friends get together to watch the latest episode of Project Runway or I Love New York. Hardly anybody would want to have a party where they sit around and stare at a small fuzzy screen to watch an old rerun. Networks have very little to lose and a lot to gain by uploading television shows online.

  • Robert DiPersio

    Your TUBE Youtube is an amazing resource for all that have access to it. It allows for complete freedom of speech in video form that anyone can view. It also allows for television shows clips from films and videos to be shown to all for free in low resolution. This is putting increasing pressure on networks and large television corpoation becasue their material is being viewed for free. This is the same problem that has been going on for sometime with music sharing. People love the freedom that Youtube enables, although many companies don’t. This a controversial subject of licensing that will take time to workout. I say Viva Youtube for it has allowed a whole new form of expression for those whom are interested. It also prevents important footage from being kept secret etc. The problem of televsion remaining relevant is becoming a bigger and bigger isssue. I would prefer to put an end to selective programming and corpoarte control over what America views so I hope we can adapt the digital age and all the possibilities it enables.

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