Friday, January 06, 2006

We've Seen The TV Future

Those old days where the living room TV or the small set in the bedroom was the only place to consume TV content are rapidly disappearing. And some new things are emerging in the race for TV's future.

OMW's latest obsession is costing us something on the order of $25 a year. It's CNN's "Pipeline" service, TV news web video on super steroids. The biggest feature in our news junkie eyes? Live "raw" video and lots of it. From the menu we found when checking in at about 9 this morning - a four-feed presidential and vice-presidential smorgasbord featuring simultaneous live feeds from both officeholders, First Lady Laura Bush and others - the video eatings only got better.

If you're one of those folks who shouts at the TV when cable news goes away from the latest breaking news video, from car chases to water tower rescues to a massive fire at a Chicago church, "Pipeline" doesn't disappoint. We've seen all of the above in the two days we've had it up and running.

OK, so it's not really all that meaningful in the scheme of things. It's sort of televised cotton candy when they're not streaming important official speeches, or press conferences from the site of major news the West Virginia mining disaster or Ariel Sharon's hospital. But it's kind of like being in the control room of a TV station, and being able to do things like choose between the live helicopter feeds of two CNN affiliates providing different angles of the story. That was the case for all of the above stories we saw.

Some of it is silly, like live shots of the White House or the president's plane leaving Chicago. But the video quality is easily among the very best we've seen on the Internet, and even holds up fairly well on a full screen expansion. It isn't perfect at that resolution, but live video and all newer clips on the service are widescreen, which fit our 15.4" widescreen laptop screen quite well. The regular size and smaller clips are very sharp. This isn't 20kbps small screen video here, folks.

As such, the Pipeline service does require broadband Internet, and the actual downloadable program you can use will take up to 700kbps streaming the service. If you have the horsepower and Internet speed to handle it, it's beautiful. The downloadable version works on a PC, and there's a web-only version that'll work on either PC or Macintosh...with features only slightly less than the stand-alone program. That program features four small live video screens which show you what's being fed on the four "live pipes" the service click once to switch screens, twice to make it full screen.

At night, "Pipeline" features a live feed of the overseas-oriented CNN International (8 PM-8 AM), and the live "Pipeline Overnight" feeds often contain raw video or reporter standups fed to local affiliates. They're direct from CNN's "Newsource" affiliate video satellite feeds. The middle live "pipes" aren't as busy at night, or apparently on weekends, but there's still occasionally something to watch. And if you aren't seeing much, you can dip into or search the extensive video archive.

"Pipeline" offers a 14-day free trial, though you do have to give them your credit card billing information to take advantage of it. The prices are very reasonable for a pay video service, at $2.95 a month, or $25 a year...with a 99 cent one day pass also available. At OMW World Headquarters, the monthly technology-related bills are mounting to rather scary levels, but it's hard to complain about something that costs that little.

So, what does all this have to do with our core mission, Northeast Ohio media?

For one, as noted, the service does feed local affiliate video of breaking news stories. If we get something of note here, material from CNN's local affiliates out of Cleveland will likely be found on the "Pipeline" seems they don't send up the anchors or live broadcast video, but mostly live helicopter or wild video. A quick Google search shows all four major local TV news operations have, or at least have had, ties with CNN.

But we're also wondering when local stations start getting into this game, if it proves successful for CNN. All Cleveland stations with news, except WJW FOX 8, offer recorded news video clips on their websites. CBS affiliate WOIO/19 offers large portions of their newscasts. NBC affiliate WKYC/3 also has a live feed of their "NBC Weather Plus" digital/cable channel.

Is better quality or even live video next? Will stations put up live helicopter video when their birds are up in the air anyway? How about WJW offering live, continuous video of its "Ground Fox" unit during its drives through bad winter weather? The future could be interesting...

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