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Those of you who may follow my writings here know that I like to travel a bit. And that one of my favorite destinations is Thailand, which is where I am now. The Thai islands and beaches are among the most beautiful in the world, and January is the perfect time to visit.
While I have been gone from my home in the US, I have apparently missed one of the major cultural events of the new decade – a performance by a 62-year-old gentleman named “General” Larry Platt of a self-composed song called “Pants on the Ground.” Mr. Platt’s signature rendition was broadcast on the popular television show “American Idol.”
Now, I don’t watch “American Idol” even when I am in America, so I would never have seen this on television. But in the hours after its broadcast, my Facebook page was lit up with friends commenting on the song, claiming that they could not get it out of their heads, and in some cases even posting YouTube clips of the performance. CNN even picked up on the event.
But then I saw something posted on my Facebook page a few days later that really interested me – apparently, a late-night television host named Jimmy Fallon had performed “Pants on the Ground” on his show – and had done so while impersonating Neil Young. This I wanted to see.
But I couldn’t.
Since Mr. Fallon’s show is broadcast in the US on the NBC television network, the content is available for “official” online viewing through the Hulu™ video service. (NBC is a significant investor in Hulu, and has chosen Hulu as a primary channel for online distribution of its content.) However, when I clicked on the link to view the video, here is what I saw:
Clicking on the “more information” link provides this from www.hulu.com:
For now, Hulu is a U.S. service only. That said, our intention is to make Hulu's growing content lineup available worldwide. This requires clearing the rights for each show or film in each specific geography and will take time. We're encouraged by how many content providers have already been working along these lines so that their programs can be available over the Internet to a much larger, global audience. The Hulu team is committed to making great programming available across the globe.
The moral of the story here is that, once again, the biggest obstacle to technological progress is not the lack of technology.
The restriction on NBC programming, however, serves as a particularly bizarre case. Within the US, NBC is broadcast over-the-air free of charge, and can be viewed by anyone with a television receiver. There is no fee for watching Mr. Fallon’s show. Traditionally, the broadcaster and content producers have received their money from advertising. One would think that the same model could be used for online viewing – in fact, the ability to target advertising much more specifically to the viewer should make the advertising model even more attractive in the online world.
I’m not an attorney, and I don’t claim to understand the restrictions and rights issues that prevent Mr. Fallon’s show from being streamed on Hulu in Thailand. But I do understand that this is just one more obstacle that our industry will need to work through as video becomes the pervasive means of communication – in broadcast, online, or on mobile devices.
For now, I’ll need to either hunt online for a pirated version of the clip, or just wait until next week when I am back in the States to see Mr. Fallon impersonating Mr. Young covering “General” Platt. I think my curiosity can wait for a few days…
In the UK, the BBC iPlayer has been a huge hit and allows residents to see programmes from the last 7 days on the BBC, increasingly including movies that weren't made in the UK, but simply shown again on the BBC.
Like Hulu, access restricted via a number of means, so you cannot watch from another country, or for example if you have the country settings wrong on your Wii (many games platforms now support iPlayer). I suppose that the BBC case (compared to NBC) is easier to understand as the BBC is still funded by UK viewers buying an annual "TV licence".
Eventually, everything in video will of course be online, but many legal and funding issues have to be ironed out in the coming years.