Almost all of NBC’s prime-time and late-night shows have full episodes available on NBC.com. And virtually all of those are available in sharp HD using NBC Direct, which is a desktop application that uses P2P in the background to power quick, high-quality downloads. Now that NBC has built up that broad selection of HD content, the only obstacle is going to the trouble of actually installing the program.
If you prefer to watch your shows in your browser, NBC.com’s native player has a lot to recommend it. It runs smoothly, it’s well-stocked with extra features, and it’s fairly easy to use. (Right now, you can even watch full episodes of 22 shows commercial-free. How cool is that?)
As a standard feature, the background automatically darkens during playback to aid viewing, a feature shared by the ABC.com player and which is optional on Hulu.
Additionally, NBC has a variety of features for sharing the viewing experience. Not only can you embed videos and share them through email or social bookmarking sites, you can also join or host “viewing parties” so that up to 10 viewers can watch episodes together, comment on them and answer customized polls and trivia. Click on the image on the right for an example of setting up one of these parties.
That complete package earned NBC’s full episode player the 2009 Webby Award in the Broadband category, which is for:
Sites fully integrating bandwidth-intensive interactive content. This content may include video, animation, and like dynamic elements that bring the computer, television, radio and film one step closer to convergence.
NBC also integrates its website into the full experience of its shows by creating exclusive online content like webisodes (including whole web series) and themed websites around their shows, not only to keep viewers thinking about the show but even to provide extra back story in some cases. Web content can especially come in handy when a show has a long break between seasons, to stoke continued interest in the series.
And for that extra content, NBC (perhaps unsurprisingly) has its own social network, myNBC.
As you can imagine, users build and style their profiles around the shows they enjoy, and are encouraged to join groups, participate in forums and the like. But the social network is also integrated with the extra content that NBC produces, and users can upload photos and video, write their own blog posts and use special widgets and modules to stay in the loop. If the myNBC members list is roughly complete, they can boast almost 900,000 users.
But NBC’s online content doesn’t end there. The network provides episodes of classic shows like Quantum Leap, the original Battlestar Galactica and many more, and during the Beijing Olympics NBC invested heavily in putting content online despite the high difficulty of translating that into revenue.
Clearly, NBC isn’t timid about embracing the internet, but is instead experimenting boldly by creating unique value online and embracing the web as part of their wider business model.
The venerable Peacock Network has put a lot of eggs into its web basket, and anyone who likes any of their shows has reason to be pleased at what’s available online. If fans didn’t have enough reasons to enjoy their content the safe and legal way already, NBC seems determined to give them as many more reasons as they need.
Jaman offers hundreds of free, ad-supported movies, alongside a greater number of movies that are available to rent on an as-you-go basis. Rented movies can be watched as many times you like within the allotted time period, which can be 24 hours or a week.
Almost 600 of these movies can be queued directly to be downloaded onto your TiVo, and 50 can even be watched on your mobile device.
For the rest, you can still watch them on your TV if you hook it up your computer, and the Jaman website has a very helpful guide to selecting the best connection between the two devices, depending on which inputs and outputs are available.
For those who would rather watch their movies directly on their computers, Jaman has multiple options there, too. You can either watch your movie directly in your browser, or you can get higher quality by downloading the Jaman player and downloading each movie to your computer.
If you go with the Jaman player, the application takes advantage of P2P technology in the background to download content from other users in addition to their central servers, which gives you a quick download while keeping their costs down.
As a site that focuses on independent and international media, a big part of the Jaman experience is discovering content you like.
When you sign up, Jaman allows you to create a personal profile, and asks you about your taste in movie genres, just to get you started. Having a variety of foreign-language films, Jaman also asks what language you prefer in your movies, and asks about your tolerance for subtitles.
After you’ve set a baseline for your preferences, you can get more specific about what you’re in the mood to see right now. Each movie at Jaman is rated based on several rough criteria – serious or funny, mellow or charged, deep or shallow, tears or bullets – and you can set each of those along a sliding scale.
Also helping viewers to find new things is that staple of video websites, the social network. Jaman’s social network, which is augmented by Facebook Connect, is part of that sharing aspect of the site, allowing you to rate movies you like and discuss them.
And once you start to watch movies and rate them, Jaman’s recommendations system gets a better handle on the kinds of movies you like and adjusts accordingly.
It’s a solid way to introduce yourself to indie and international films, because it looks for movies that match your interests and your mood. The content is high-quality, and of course by going through Jaman you get it safely and legally, and you can pump it directly into your living room.
So if you’re looking to try new things, or you’re already a fan of films outside the mainstream, Jaman has what you’re looking for and wants to share it.
The networks, UPN and The WB, each had some individual hits, but overall they both struggled to compete and lost billions of dollars. It served as a reminder that even TV networks are just businesses, with no guarantee of profits. Some business models and opportunities don’t pan out, but fortunately the parties involved were able to try out new ways to please the viewers.
In September 2006, their owners, CBS and Warner Bros., essentially merged the best content from the two networks to form The CW. The CW hasn’t catapulted to the top, but it is now occasionally competing among the likes of NBC, making it appropriate to start speaking of a new “Big Five”.
The CW’s website, CWTV.com, is made to appeal to its young female target demographic. The CW is banking on using lots of online show-related content and social networking to keep its audience engaged and coming back.
It has all the usual tokens in spades, and more. To start, it has plenty of mobile content, photos of the shows and their stars, games, and downloadable content like buddy icons and wallpaper. And all its most popular programs have their own themed widgets. The site also offers a calendar with trivia such as celebrity birthdays to sweeten the fact that it also delivers info about its shows.
But there’s also a section devoted entirely to the music of The CW’s prime-time series. Several of The CW’s series serve double duty as promotions for musicians, which is handy when you run a music label in addition to a TV network.
At the end of each episode of several programs, viewers see an announcement of which bands played the music that was featured in the show; they can also go online to see a list of which tracks played in which episodes, often with a direct link to buy the song online. The audience likes it because it exposes them to new music, and content creators can use it to make up for sagging revenue in both music and television.
Working in a similar fashion is the CW Style section, which (when available) allows viewers to find clothes similar or identical to the ones worn by stars on half a dozen of The CW’s hottest shows.
Also helping to keep the audience engaged is The CW’s embrace of forum boards (with tens of thousands of members) and new media staples like social networking–the Facebook fan page for The CW is well over 50,000 strong–and personal blogs.
Even the video player is evidence of this “audience engagement” strategy: it doesn’t have any fancy controls (you can send custom clips via email and expand video to fullscreen) or superior quality, but it does have “The CW Bonus Box” in which trivia about the show and little quiz questions appear during video playback.
CWTV.com really is all about keeping the viewers’ attention, making their favorite shows part of a lifestyle, and drawing them back week after week.
Neither UPN nor The WB could survive alone, so they experimented with a new business model that has started to prove successful. CWTV.com is part of that model, providing extra value to keep viewers involved, and from the looks of things, it’s working.
It’s not that Hulu carries a bevy of content that can’t be found anywhere else. Indeed, you can find many of its TV episodes on the websites of the individual networks. But Hulu packs the content from all those networks onto one sleek site, making it easy for viewers to find and watch their favorites.
When it comes to delivering quality content, the focus is commonly on delivering static media like music and video. But arguably the most interesting and powerful form of sharing and content delivery on the internet has long been in video games, which have built a broad user base.
While some solo games are compelling, computer allies and opponents typically become predictable and stale far faster than humans do. Developers of computer games took advantage of the internet to greatly increase the value of their games by connecting players from across the globe to each other. Each new player brings slightly different skills and personality to the table, which makes every game experience new.
As computer games took great strides in connectivity, console games lagged far behind. Early efforts at connecting players over the internet were plagued by a variety of problems, not the least of which was the relative difficulty of establishing a stable connection for a video game console at a time when connecting to the internet meant tying up a phone line.
So to get even a minimal multiplayer experience of 2 to 4 players, gamers had to either gather some friends at the house or drop quarters on a public arcade machine. And video game consoles were pretty much limited to playing games; over the course of the ’90s they could play CDs and then DVDs, but they didn’t offer anything special over other relatively cheap electronics.
Microsoft got into the video game console market with the original Xbox in late 2001, making it clear at the time that it was part of Microsoft’s strategy to be at the forefront of multimedia convergence. Beyond just playing music CDs, the Xbox could store (what was then considered) a decent amount of music on its standard 8 GB hard drive.
Thinking ahead, Microsoft also included an Ethernet port on the standard Xbox which, combined with the hard drive, could be used to download new content after the games’ release. A year after the release of the console, Microsoft launched the online service Xbox LIVE.
Xbox LIVE started with limited functionality, but nevertheless signed up more than a quarter of a million users in its first two months, and steadily gained popularity.
What LIVE did give to players, aside from the great leap of being able to reliably play console games with other people over the internet, was a single standard for voice communication and a unified identity and friends list for all games across the platform. This put Xbox LIVE on the leading edge even among computer games, few of which had built-in voice communication and all of which had walled-off communities.
In many ways, it served as a test run for an expanded and improved service when, in late 2005, Microsoft launched its next generation of video game console, the Xbox 360. By this time, all Xbox titles had some kind of tie-in to the LIVE service – online competitive play, downloadable content, and the like.
With continuous improvements in both form and function, Xbox LIVE started to grow much more rapidly. Far more gamers now have access to broadband, which has always been needed for LIVE, and most Xbox owners have the requisite hard drive or memory unit.
So what can you expect if you try out Xbox LIVE today? Quite a lot.
How well does CBS.com cover some of those basics, and how do they differentiate themselves from the others?
First, there’s the important matter of how much content is available. CBS of course has pages for all its currently running shows, and several specials that have appeared on the network, but they also have 14 classics. All series have at least some videos, and many shows, including virtually all the primetime ones, are available in either “HQ” or “HD” format.
For a handful of its currently running primetime series, only the two most recent full episodes are available. About a third of them have a significant number of videos (the reality shows even have several full seasons), along with a few daytime shows and Letterman, and all of the classics have full seasons available.
Unlike many other TV-based websites, CBS mostly shies away from providing trinkets for the fans such as themed wallpaper, buddy icons and games. (An exception is mobile content, which keeps viewers’ minds on the show when they’re not at a computer.) CBS’s focus is on delivering the video and allowing the fans to socialize about what they’re watching.
So while they provide a forum for each show, they set themselves apart by also providing an opportunity for fans to interact as they watch the show. In the Social Viewing Room, you can watch recent episodes that each come with a chat room of sorts, bringing the water cooler aspect to fans far and wide.
The viewing room has it all. You can choose your own viewing room and invite your friends via email, IM or even Facebook and MySpace. You can chat individually, or leave comments for the whole room. You can even use little “props” or simulate “laughing”. And then, for some shows, there’s a quiz question every couple minutes, testing your attention to detail and memory (and it keeps score).
CBS’s reality shows offer the most chances for fan interaction: among a couple of extra features, rather than just watching and chatting, you can also watch and vote, generally just offering your opinion about various aspects of the show.
Tying the rest of the site together for users, CBS also features its own social network, the CBS Community, which allows viewers and their friends to keep track of their favorites, how they rated videos they’ve watched, and their forum posts.
And lastly, another way CBS encourages fan interaction is by linking each show’s page to its entry on TV.com, which CBS runs. There you’ll find more in-depth treatment of each show by its enthusiasts – including series on other networks.
Add it all up, and CBS has clearly endeavored to avoid clutter and draw an interactive audience. It’s an intriguing plan, and in a time when viewers want content to be flexible around their increasingly networked lives, it might just be the future of TV.
Two of the developers, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, went on to create Skype, an application that allows users to make non-emergency phone calls over the internet (voice over internet protocol, or VoIP). Unlike other VoIP applications, Skype was running on P2P software and was entirely decentralized. Skype did not suffer the same legal troubles as KaZaA had, and indeed the developers were able to sell Skype to eBay for a cool $2.6 billion in 2006.
It wasn’t long before they used the money and momentum created by the Skype sale to start work on their next project. With their background, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Zennström and Friis carried on creating P2P software, and in 2007 Joost debuted as a desktop application that carried safe, legal, professionally-produced video to the masses.
P2P technology is a natural fit for video distribution. Videos – especially high-quality ones – are big files that soak up a lot of bandwidth. If you’re trying to host all the video from central servers, then you’re going to spend a fortune. P2P allowed Joost to only distribute video to a small number of users at a time: once new videos were downloaded by users, the users themselves would help to distribute the video files to any other users who came along.
Last October, Joost was able to discontinue the desktop application and switch to a Flash-based player working in your browser – a newer, more convenient Joost. The rest of the site may operate through their servers, but when you watch video, other users are helping to securely deliver that safe content to you, and you’re paying it forward to other users.
Then, in December, Joost became even more convenient as it empowered users to enjoy their content on the go with a free Joost application for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.
And there’s lots of content to enjoy. Joost enjoys partnerships with a variety of mainstream content providers, from Viacom to the NHL to Warner Bros., as well as indie music content. In May of last year, they boasted more than 7000 hours of videos (not all available in every country), and when they announced the new web-based Joost in October it was up to 8000 hours. Those 8000 hours were comprised of more than 46000 videos, more than half of which were TV shows and related content. The number of videos available in the US today is a little higher than that, and the number available globally is greater than 57000.
The videos are split into various genres and “channels” to make browsing easier, and they do make recommendations based on what you’re watching at the moment and what’s popular with other users, but the new Joost also emphasizes their social network, which at last count was not far from 10000 publicly visible users, as a way of discovering content you like.
Joost doesn’t want you to have to start from scratch when finding people with whom to share your experience. On the one hand, they do have user-created groups for people with shared tastes, and you can easily check to see which of your email contacts is already on Joost. But there’s another, more powerful way to make Joost an integral part of your daily social networking.
Their “Connect with Facebook” feature can connect your Joost and Facebook profiles in just two clicks. At your command, it imports your Facebook info and connects you with any friends of yours who use Joost, and at the same time allows you to send status updates based on your Joost activity to your Facebook Wall.
It’s a notably more aggressive approach than simply allowing people to create profiles and expecting them to buddy up. And it may be a wise one: people often trust their friends and other peers to recommend content to them, so it may be that Joost will enjoy greater involvement from their watchers -and attract more of them – by tapping Facebook’s massive user base of frequent visitors. And more users not only mean more ad revenue, but also more people helping to distribute video.
These simple ideas — get people watching together, and let them share their bandwidth – seem to be working. So if you’d like a little help finding the best content, Joost might be just right.
But when it comes to the shows our kids watch online, safety takes on whole new dimensions. For them, you’ll be happy to know there’s a place they can safely and easily watch some of their favorite cartoon shows online: KidsWB.com.
KidsWB.com is a fairly sheltered environment, relatively easy to navigate and featuring a number of ways to keep your child busy. WB has its own classic characters as well as children’s versions of DC Comics characters like Batman and Superman.
The site does genuinely seem to steer kids directly toward the content. As you can see above, the basic options are Video, Games and Downloads, although if you’re looking for something specific, there’s a very simple search option or they can click directly on their favorite show.
The video player is purposely light on functions: besides being able to play, pause and change the volume, it has a full-screen option (which can only be undone by use of the Escape key, if you want to set it up ahead of time).
Besides video, Kids’ WB has, last we checked, 132 Flash-type games of various styles, which should keep any kid busy for a while. And it has a wide variety of downloadable content – wallpaper, a few types of widgets, printable activities and more.
It does feature a few advertisements, of the kind you would see on the TV network: toys and cereal, mainly. In videos, you’ll only have to endure two short commercials for each episode. If your child should click on one of the banner advertisements, a banner will appear for 10 seconds warning that they’re leaving Kids’ WB, and should check with a parent before using any personal information.
The same warning appears if the child should click on the DVD Showcase and then click the little “Buy It Now!” button, which redirects them to the WB Online DVD Store, which in turn requires knowledge of how to add to a cart and order. There’s not much room for mischief, but depending on your situation you may want to lightly monitor your kid’s activity… or just hide the credit cards.
For even younger kids (i.e. preschool age), the partner site KidsWBJr.com is even more insulated. Featuring “baby” versions of the Kids’ WB characters, Kids’ WB Jr. is highly simplified, using simple shapes, big text, bright colors and even voice cues to aid navigation.
There are only a few things to do at the “Jr.” site: video, activities and games. No other links to speak of. And as the site explains in the “Grown Ups” page,
Game controls and game play are specifically designed to promote early learning skills such as number, letter, shape, pattern recognition, and hand-eye coordination while keeping your child entertained and safe.
There isn’t even a registration option, or anything else that might ask your child for personal information. Nor does it have any advertisements. It’s just a straightforward little sandbox in which your kids can access some of the simplest content. The only way out of the site, in fact, are some small, plain text links at the very top and bottom of the screen.
On both sites, there’s a moderate amount of content, presented according to the audience. It’s enough to give kids something to do on rainy days or in the evenings, but not enough to keep them from seeing daylight again. Together, these WB sites provide a pretty kid-friendly site from a very young age up to… whenever they grow out of Batman Beyond.
In the 22 years since News Corp created the Fox network with the intention of competing with the Big Three, it has unarguably expanded the field to a Big Four and has recently risen to throne of the highest-rated network on television. How does their online presence stack up, and what can you get out of it?
Fox.com is like a solid sedan with all the features and very little in the way of bells and whistles. If you just want the basics, like watching your favorite shows online, talking about them on forums, or checking the Fox schedule, you’re in luck. Fox has official sites for 25 currently running shows, 22 of which feature free full episodes, and also has sites for four shows that are coming soon.
Each show’s site is styled to fit the series, but the features of each are quite standard. While some shows have some nifty extras on their pages, the sites typically have all of the following:
- a brief “about” or “info” page,
- a few character bios,
- a “features” or “downloads” section with buddy icons and wallpaper,
- a bit of mobile content,
- a gallery of photos,
- episode guides/recaps,
- a community section or just a forum/message board, and
- videos, including full episodes
Fox.com’s video player is a slightly less snazzy version of the player that News Corp and NBC Universal have on Hulu. It’s the same size player, and has almost all of the same features: you can share episodes and clips by embedding the player on other websites, you can “dim the lights” (darkening the rest of the page to make the video stand out more), or watch in full-screen mode.
Fox has experimented with a couple of new-media efforts like blogs and podcasting. A wide variety of podcasts were all ended by the end of last summer, but several shows still have their own blogs.
A more general blog, Future on Fox, was created to promote upcoming series, including shows that hadn’t even been picked up, but now it also occasionally promotes existing primetime Fox shows. It occasionally employs original videos and behind-the-scenes info to promote them, and it also features an impressive set of links to fan-created websites about two of their new series, Fringe and Dollhouse, in the blogroll.
And of course, there’s some divergence between how involved the viewer communities are. Fox’s biggest hit, American Idol, was a huge driver of SMS (text messaging) in the US, and they maintain the MyIdol community of over 1.1 million members who have written nearly 190,000 blog posts. Other shows maintain wikis, have official groups in outside social networks like MySpace and Facebook, or stick with a simple forum.
Fox.com has thoroughly covered all the standard content that the average viewer will be interested in getting from a TV network site, for all of their shows, not just the most popular. Though Fox has fewer series than the other broadcast networks due to a shorter prime-time schedule, providing full episodes for almost all of their series is nothing to sneeze at. So while we might be charmed by more ambitious attempts to integrate the internet and TV, knowing that we can get quality, safe content online for all our favorite shows from Fox is quite nice, too. Enjoy.
Comedy Central, the cable network launched to popularity by South
Park and cemented by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is a part of MTV
Networks Entertainment Group, and given how polished MTV.com is, one might expect ComedyCentral.com to be a solid operation. Let’s take a look.
As you can see, the layout is simple, so it’s not hard to find what interests you.
As with most TV network websites, each show has its own page – but in
Comedy Central’s case, several of the shows’ sites are hosted outside
the main website, at their own URLs.
Comedy Central doesn’t have a whole lot of original shows, but for
the shows that have been anchors of the channel’s popularity – South
Park, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Colbert Report – they
have an embarrassment of riches online.
The website for South Park, a show the network would like to keep running forever, has every single episode of all 12 seasons of the show streaming online,
supported by just a few ads per episode – and half of those are parody
ads created by the makers of South Park. And once you see that they
have gobs of bonus content, you realize that it really is everything a
TV show’s website should be.
And they don’t skimp on content for The Daily Show and The Colbert
Report, the network’s signature parodies of news and political talk
shows. The pages for both have full episodes going back several weeks
(not bad for shows that air Monday through Thursday), and an
astonishing number of embeddable video clips. The Daily Show has well
over 10000 videos (including more than 400 videos of guest interviews) going all the way back to January 1999,
when Jon Stewart took over as host. The Colbert Report, a spin-off of
The Daily Show, has built a library of over 3000 videos since its first
episode in October ’05, including several hundred interviews, with
recurring segments and topics conveniently categorized.
Based on the recurring special political coverage starting with
“Indecision 2000″, election and other political content from both shows
contributes to an Indecision 2008 website (which is proceeding apace into 2009) that includes its own blog.
Comedy Central’s less popular original programs, like Reno 911 and
The Sarah Silverman Program, have decidedly less content available
online, and unsurprisingly, their syndicated shows such as Futurama and
Scrubs have even less.
Comedy Central isn’t all about regular programming, of course:
through their Jokes.com portal, they’ve gone above and beyond by
keeping an archive of almost 1200 stand-up comedians,
each complete with a profile, short video clips and transcribed jokes
for your amusement. They even have it all tagged by topic, so if you
really want to watch bits about, say, marriage, you’re in luck: you
have hundreds of videos on the subject to keep you busy.
So Comedy Central has been… selectively thorough about pushing its
cable shows across the content divide separating TV and PC. But they’re
apparently attempting to bridge the divide from the other direction as
well: they recently entered a partnership with Atom.com, a comedy video
website that produces some original content, to bring their goods to a
late-night televised show.
All told, ComedyCentral.com may not be quite as impressive as its cousin MTV.com, but they’ve done an admirable job getting their best content online.
It’s a testament to the job they’ve done that if you’re looking for a
particular kind of laugh, you won’t have trouble finding it.