Television 2.0

Viacom vs. Google. I guess you’ve heard about that case: Viacom, in all its stupidity, wants to sift through all of Youtube’s log files to find out who have watched what. And the US courts approved that. So don’t be surprised if one day a slick lawyer turns up on your doorstep asking you to pay $2.000 for having watched excerpts of Friends on Youtube back in 2004.

It’s sick, and Viacom is making a stupid move. You can’t win the media wars by sewing and harassing your own target users. You simply must provide a better product than your competitors. It’s really that simple. But just like most of the record labels, Viacom doesn’t get it and, thus, will fail.

This destructive and pathetic struggle of a dying giant made me think of why the web is so more intriguing than the old telly, and why we choose to watch the pixelated, lagged streams on Youtube instead of buying yet another satellite HD decoder box.

It’s not just because the web is free (it isn’t, you know. Broadband connections do cost money). It’s definately not because the quality is better (HD on cable looks stunning – Youtube videos pretty much look like shit.) It’s because it’s fun! And it’s there when you need it. You don’t have to order a satellite package seven days before the race or the fight that you want to watch. And most of all: You can share the experience with hundreds or thousands of other viewers. Real time. Right when the action is happening. It connects you to the reality. That’s why it rocks: It’s all in the interaction with other individuals of the Homo Sapiens.

A few weeks ago 24 hours of Le mans was on. And Danish driver Tom Kristensen was behind the wheel of no. 2: The Audi diesel R10. Something not to be missed. But none of the two national networks in Denmark chose to transmit the whole 24 hours of Le Mans – or more correctly: None of them could afford to buy the rights.

Being at my weekend cottage (no cable) I had no way of seeing the race on Eurosport. Luckily I have a 2 MBit internet connection, though.

I found a page made by a guy called Crizzzie (yes, three z’s) who has put a tuner card in his pc and somehow manages to make this signal into a Flash Video stream with only 30-something seconds of delay. Normally Crizzzie streams rugby, but this day Le Mans was on for all 24 hours of it. My hero.

Furthermore, and this is where it gets really clever, he had embedded a IRC style chat chat next to the stream. Here, Le Mans aficionados chatted away about the drivers, the cars, the tires, the pitstops – in sync with the stream. And most of the guys on the chat seemed to know more about racing than do the lame commentators on Danish tv. One of the chatters actually has participated in Le mans himself with an American GT1 team).

Now, Crizzzies stream was without commentaries (I guess he somehow has access to the “raw” stream from Le Mans) and I knew that the official Radio Le Mans (broadcast on the track) is supposed to be quite entertaining. So I found the official audio stream of the Radio Le Mans in another browser tab. Real time lap times and the overall standings came from a third site. And voilà: The perfect Le Mans cocktail in three browser tabs: IRC, a video stream, audio from Radio Le Mans and real time updated lap times, pit status and so on. No television network can compete with this no matter how hi def the signal is.

This was the funniest and most intense tv experience I have had in a long time. It was like sitting in the couch with some good (and very race-savvy) friends. People argued about tire choices, Peugeot’s strategy – and we all tried to help poor Dave when his laptop started running out of juice. (Poor Dave didn’t make it, though. He disappeared from the chat 5 minutes before the checkered flag).

A short video grab from a great Le Mans “tv” experience

As long as the web gives you this much added value and as long as pay-per-view networks insist on charging a fortune for a single race, people will stream from the web and thus embedding the content in their own social context. Simply because it’s more fun and more meaningful an experience.

Viacom and other distributors must face that the value of content in itself is falling rapidly – even that of the good stuff. But the number of people that will attend a single event online, like the Le Mans, is on the rise as more and more have access to broadband and as services like Youtube and Google Video matures. The good parts of a race like Le Mans 2008 will circulate the web for years and be watched by millions.

Come on, Viacom and all you other boneheaded media dinosaurs. There must be a clever way to capitalize on these dynamics by acknowledging that it’s not the content in itself that carries the value, but the context in which it is watched. Think advertising, product placement, targeting, measuring, viral, instead of thinking trials and lawyers.

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