Broadcast.com billionaire and trailblazer for online video Mark Cuban wrote Saturday in his the best impression of Andrew Keen that internet video was ideal for snacking, but for the big events, people turn to broadcast television and HD. Cuban argues that "the platform is the message" and that HD television is where the game is at.
The problem with his argument is that he mixes the delivery method with the end result. He makes the presumption that we need broadcast television to obtain the end result of quality programming, but he's wrong. There's 105 million reasons today why he's wrong.
105 million is the number of streamed programs watched on Hulu in July, according to figures released by Nielsen. 105 million times in the United States alone (and Hulu is US only) people watched full television programs on Hulu, a site NewTeeVee notes have only just hired a marketing firm and are said to be about to get $50 million in free promotion from NBC and News Corp. Better still, in terms of online video viewing, Hulu ranks only 8th. The true number of videos watched online is close to 6 billion among the top ten sites in the United States alone. But for the sake of Cuban's argument, Hulu is the important number, because the site shows primarily television content. Hulu proves in some respect that the platform is the message, but only in demonstrating even further that the switch to online is on.
Then there's the Olympics, which Cuban uses to prove the sustainability of broadcast television. That NBC's online coverage is verging on epic fail may be open to argument, but the BitTorrent numbers don't lie. According to TorrentFreak, the Olympic Opening Ceremony is the highest rating BitTorrent download for the second week in a row, with over 2 million downloads. A small number perhaps in the broader context of Olympic viewer numbers, but a remarkable figure none the less when we consider both the legalities of the download, and the demand for it when there was some legal coverage online. People want content online and are NOT simply using the internet to snack as Cuban suggests. They want the real deal, and as we've already covered, the NBA and NFL are both moving to offer live coverage online. If Cuban is right, surely there isn't demand for live sport to be shown online, and we'd be switching off our computers and turning on our HD widescreen big LCD's. But the real numbers don't lie: In the United States, 2.5 million viewers switched off in the spring on 2008, people are spending more time online than watching television, and the average age of a television viewer in the United States is now 50.
The trend is here, and still we sit at the tip of the iceberg in terms of bringing television to the lounge room. There will always be a demand for live sport, in HD, on a big screen television, and yet bringing that content online to the television screen is limited today through cost and technology. And yet it can be done. You can watch television in HD on the internet today. I rented a movie from the iTunes store in HD last week and watched it on my big screen television via an Apple TV. The cost and reach of broadband may cause issues now, but both issues are being addressed, and availability will only improve. Sony is adding Internet access as a feature to its televisions today, and other are sure to follow. We sit at the dawn of internet enabled television boxes, with companies such as Apple and Netflix looking to penetrate into the mainstream.
The switch is clear. The content goes where the viewers are, and increasingly more and more people are switching to the internet. That number will only increase as more content becomes available legally online, and eventually to the point of dominance when that content can be viewed, from a recording or live in the lounge room on a big screen television. Cuban is right that people want to watch live HD sport on the big screen, but he shouldn't confuse the delivery method with the end product.