TV on the Web – almost ready for primetime

My cable was on the fritz earlier this week, which gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the Web-based TV offerings of the major networks.

It’s great to see how quickly the major networks have jumped on the bandwagon since Apple announced it’s deal to offer ABC shows on iTunes for $1.99 each. Watching the same shows from the network sites is free. Unlike the shows on iTunes you have to be connected to the Internet while you’re watching; you can’t download the video to an iPod or other portable device.

There is a modest number of commercials thrown in, from the likes of Cadillac, Target and Sanofi Aventis (say what?).

The video quality on all of the sites was surprisingly high, though it clearly isn’t HDTV.

ABC has the cleanest, simplest interface. The show selection interface is similar to Cover Flow feature in iTunes. Steve Jobs must have had a hand in this. ABC also has helpful hints when it detects low bandwith that will cause video playback issues. CBS and NBC show the standard “connecting/buffering” routine.

ABC also excels in another area: if you miss something and rewind, it seems to playback from a local buffer. CBS and NBC restart the video stream and refetch from the server, making it painful to rewind. They also deal poorly with network hiccups; they should be able to prefetch video to smooth out network speed variations. (To be fair, I was watching over a wireless network.)

CBS has a cute “Boss button” that converts the video player into a mail send screen.

All in all, a good experience on CBS and NBC and an excellent experience on ABC. And I’m not just saying that because of today’s news.

This won’t replace watching TV on my HDTV hooked up to my HD DVR, but I can definitely see using it when I miss and episode or to check in on a show a friend recommends. It sure beats trying to find the TV shows on a file sharing site. If you offer a reasonably priced, legal alternative, people will use it.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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