Web TV: Put Down The Remote, Pick Up The Mouse Just a few years ago, the television industry was incredibly restrictive with its content on the Web, preventing clips from shows like Saturday Night Live from appearing online. Now, sites like Hulu and Joost offer full, legal versions of popular shows — for free.
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Web TV: Put Down The Remote, Pick Up The Mouse

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Web TV: Put Down The Remote, Pick Up The Mouse

Web TV: Put Down The Remote, Pick Up The Mouse

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: It's time for our weekly technology segment, All Tech Considered. Last week, we talked gaming and took you to a bar where the band plugs into an Xbox. This week, we watch a little TV, on the computer. And since we're talking tech, I need to check in with our tech guru, Omar Gallaga. Omar, happy new year.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Technology Reporter, Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Michele. Happy new year to you.

NORRIS: So we're talking about TV on the computer. This is not exactly a new idea. My colleague, Robert Siegel, reported on it in the summer of 2007, quite a while ago. But a lot has changed since then.

Mr. GALLAGA: Right, well, you know, I'm a big TV junkie. Full disclosure, when I'm not talking to you or writing for the Austin American-Statesman, I actually also write for the Web site Television Without Pity, which is owned by NBC. It seems like - kind of like with the music industry, there has been this push and pull between TV networks and the Web. Whenever certain videos would pop up on YouTube, they'd file an injunction or try to get it off the Web. More recently, they've really come to embrace the Internet and gotten a lot more content online where people can view shows whenever they want to.

NORRIS: It seems that they're actually pushing people online. I mean, I remember during the presidential race, it seemed that clips of Tina Fey doing her Sarah Palin impersonation were everywhere.

Mr. GALLAGA: Right, you used to have to really hunt to find clips fron "SNL." Now you can usually find them within hours of the broadcast or the next morning on YouTube, on Hulu.com, a lot of other places. Hulu was actually founded by NBC Universal and News Corp., but you won't find a lot of corporate logos there. There's no NBC peacock or Fox spotlights. Even on other sites, like Joost, you see a lot of shows and a lot of archival stuff from all different places. It doesn't feel branded like that particular network. On Joost, you can find Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" or Showtime's "The L Word." And it's not just new shows. There's an entire online channel devoted just to retro TV.

(Soundbite of cartoon "Betty Boop")

NORRIS: Were we just hearing "Betty Boop"?

Mr. GALLAGA: Boop Boopedoo(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So, a few quick questions. This is all free, and is it all legal?

Mr. GALLAGA: It is on these official sites. For instance, on Hulu, if you're watching a 45-minute TV show, you're going to get commercials every 15 minutes like you would on TV. You can't skip them, you have to kind of sit and watch them, or you can maybe browse in another window while it's playing. But then, on services like iTunes, where you're actually paying for the content, the commercials are gone. You're actually paying for the privilege of not having to sit through those commercials.

NORRIS: Now, if you're someone who watches a lot of television, enjoys watching television, prefers to watch television on television, does the technology on the computer match what you can now see on these, you know, these super-large TVs that have plasma and LED and all kinds of special features?

Mr. GALLAGA: Well no, you're not going to get the same resolution, and there's this whole convergence issue right now of how are we going to watch all this stuff on our TVs. The electronics company LG just announced they're introducing a television with Netflix streaming built into it.

But the thing about online is there's a lot of content that you just can't see on TV. You're not going to see it on your cable or satellite providers list of channels. Fans of "The Office" and "Battlestar Gallactica" have been able to watch special webisodes, as they're called, on the Web. You can't see them on TV. They were produced specifically to be watched online. The Web also opened the door for lots of entrepreneurs who are working outside of Hollywood, kind of using that same example of delivering straight to the people.

NORRIS: Well, Omar, we asked April Baer of Oregon Public Broadcasting to profile two of these people. And let's take a quick listen.

APRIL BAER: Rebecca Gerendasy is ankle-deep in mud, hunched low over her camera at the Ayers Creek Organic Farm. She's on a shoot for her Internet-based show, "Cooking Up a Story."

(Soundbite of show "Cooking Up a Story")

Ms. REBECCA GERENDASY (Producer, "Cooking Up a Story"): Anthony, tell me a little bit of what you've already done today.

BAER: Farmer Anthony Boutard is wrestling with burdock roots and explaining how he farms through wet Oregon winters.

(Soundbite of show "Cooking Up a Story")

Mr. ANTHONY BOUTARD (Owner and Operator, Ayers Creek Farm, Portland, Oregon): You can't operate the machine in the wet soil because it'll just compact it and kill it.

BAER: This is not the kind of stuff Gerendasy would have been able to do in her old job, shooting broadcast TV news. She put 20 years in as a camerawoman before switching gears, and she now produces "Cooking Up a Story" almost single-handedly. The show has become sort of a foody cult favorite with over four million online views. Some webisodes are cooking demos. Others explore food policy or tell stories about sustainable food production. Gerendasy hasn't looked back after leaving traditional broadcasting.

Ms. GERENDASY: I remember I would try to pitch more of a feature-type story here or there, and it got turned down all the time. Now on the Internet, you can really go into a niche and stick with it.

(Soundbite of show "Cooking Up a Story")

Ms. GERENDASY: Bringing the people behind our food to life.

Unidentified Woman: I often explain Food Works as a youth empowerment program that uses food and farming...

BAER: "Cooking Up a Story" isn't making much money yet, but Gerendasy says she's trying several different kinds of sponsorship, and the show has just been added by Hulu. When you watch "Cooking Up a Story" on different sites, you start to see how Internet video is making use of the broadcast business model. On YouTube, you'll notice a tiny text ad at the bottom of the window. On Hulu, the show starts with a commercial that looks exactly like what you'd see on TV.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: Regenerist Eye Derma-Pod from Olay. Love the skin you're in.

BAER: More Internet ads mean more work for Paul Golden. He's a veteran animator and producer who's worked for TV, movies, and the Web. Golden wasn't really sure Internet video was taking off until last year.

Mr. PAUL GOLDEN (Animator; Producer): It hasn't happened successfully everywhere, but I think it's starting to.

BAER: There was a time when no one was asking Paul Golden's company to make commercials for Internet video, but they're asking now.

Mr. GOLDEN: We don't have to create banner ads or very simple things in order for it to play on the Web. Now it can just be the way you'd produce a high-end commercial for anything else.

BAER: Golden says there's one thing Internet video and broadcast TV have in common. People don't want to pay to watch either. So the new media business model may not be so new after all. For NPR News, I'm April Baer in Portland, Oregon.

NORRIS: And we're back now with our tech expert, Omar Gallaga. Omar, April just said that the show that she profiled had four million online viewers. Is that considered a mega hit or do other shows or webisodes have that large an audience?

Mr. GALLAGA: It's considered a hit, but it's not unusual for just some weird viral video to get that many viewers on YouTube. Just something takes off. People start emailing it to each other. It gets featured on blogs and really starts to take off. I think, like the "Saturday Night Live" example, one of their big videos, which I'm not even sure I can say the name of on the air, got about that many within a couple of days of airing on "SNL" and then being put online, one of the Andy Samberg videos.

NORRIS: You know, there's a bit of irony here. Televisions are bigger and better than they've ever been. And now we're talking about going and watching this on computers instead.

Mr. GALLAGA: Right, but I think that the evolution is going to be that all of this content is going to end up on your TV. I think that's the future of televisions. They're all going to be Internet enabled. They're all going to be able to stream Web content.

NORRIS: Omar, it is always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me. And if you all are curious about Web video, and you want to catch up on your "Betty Boop," I'm going to post links to all of those sites and content that we talked about on the NPR Web site. That's npr.org/alltech.

NORRIS: Omar Gallaga covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesmen. We also want to encourage you when you visit the All Tech Considered site to register as a member. That way, you can check in on the tech stories we're working on throughout the week, and you can chat with other NPR listeners about all of your tech questions.

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