Will the Venice Project save TV?

Have you heard about the Venice Project? The project by the Skype and Kazaa founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom that some claim is set bring telly into the internet age? So what’s it all about?

Here are some snippets form the Venice project blog:

For those who’ve not quite caught on to what Venice is all about – in essence the various journalists got the story almost exactly right: we’re fixing TV; removing artificial limits such as the number of channels that your cable or the airwaves can carry and then bringing it into the internet age; adding community features, interactivity, etc.

But we’re also bringing something back from that old TV – of having a shared experience with your friends, something you can talk about, rally around and enjoy with others.

And it is that latter part – embodied in the community tools and APIs – which we expect will play a prominent role in this early beta. Since we’re based on some widely distributed Open Source software we do expect people to quickly be able to leverage it and tune it to their own wild ideas, hobbies and interests.

And suprise surprise, like Kazaa and Skype, its P2P.

We are in the process of launching a secure P2P streaming technology that allows content owners to bring TV-quality video and ease of use to a TV-sized audience mixed with all the wonders of the Internet. All content on The Venice platform is provided by content owners directly, and it’s all protected with the highest standard of encryption and we are working within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) framework to ensure that it complies with appropriate content protection and ownership regulations.

Besides making a product that we trust users will love, we think that quality content and the respect of copyright is central to making The Venice Project successful. We cannot mix the best of the Internet with the qualities of TV without the content industry’s help and support, which is why the service has been developed with this thought at the heart of our business.

So the bet is that if people can access all the professionally produced content they want, over their broadband connection, when they want, and recommend this content to friends – well have a wildly successful new way of watching TV programming. Some commentators like Anthoney Lilley even predict that it would knock the impact of YouTube into a cocked hat.

I have some doubts.

Who pays for the bandwidth?

Distribution of high quality video files via the Net on mass is relatively expensive. Especially compared to normal broadcasting TV signals. P2P solves that for the Skype boys as a user can download a program (or get a stream) from many other users who carry and split the cost of the bandwidth. What will these users’ ISPs make of this? Especially as these ISP’s are trying their hand at video on demand as well.

Will TV companies be comfortable putting their content into the same pot?

To negotiate the licenses to all the content that will sit on the same platform will be a nightmare and one of the biggest challenges the project will face. TV stations are strong brands. How will these brands prosper in this environment? How will the brands fit into the navigation and programming guides, if at all? The tech part is comparitively easy to getting the TV companies to agree to this.

Pro vs amateur

Since the inception of the net we have had ‘professional’ websites. The Yahoo’s, Lycos’s, AOL’s, Amazons of this world. They are huge, and last time I checked the top 10 sites attracted alost 80% of internet users in the UK. Not unlike print and TV where the big players’ reach are significant.

But if you look at frequency and time spent on a website, these numbers drops precipetously. Although most users visit the big ‘pro’ sites regularly, these sites make up only a small fraction of the sites they visit. The bulk of our life online is spent on niche and often amateur sites.

Look at Flickr. There are a number of very important established photographers using it. Often they get tenfold more views than that of the average user. But as a percentage of the overall usage of Flickr, they are in a small minority.

Yes, ripped TV shows are poppular on YouTube. But if they are all removed tomorrow would we see a crash in traffic numbers. My bet is that you won’t. Another example: How many blogs have ripped and how many orginal and often poor content? What point am I trying to make? Venice will ignore ‘amateur’ content at thier peril.

And the lack of amateur authors create impacts on other things. The Venice Project aims to create a community around TV. Unfortunately a community of collectors and fans are just not as sexy, rich or alive as a community of creators.

The Venice Project P2P video on demand community would seem rather bare if it featured no amateur content.

The big challenge in the future of filmmaking and TV – funding

Lilley points out that: “The big problem for broadcasters won’t be distribution but rather how to fund new content.” The Venice Project does attempt to address this. But this is also the main concern of the amateur filmmaker in his bedroom (which is what Google is trying to address).

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