Why the networks are blocking their shows from Google TV

You probably saw this coming. Three of the major U.S. TV networks have blocked online streams of their shows from working on Google TV. So if you were eyeing the Logitech Revue as an easy way to catch up on episodes of Castle, you can pretty much forget it, at least for now. Why the blatant dick move?

According to the Wall Street Journal, none of the full episodes provided by ABC, CBS and NBC on their websites will stream to the Google TV service, though promos and trailers will still work. Fox so far isn't blocking anything, but network reps say they haven't yet reached a decision either way. (Disclosure: DVICE is owned by NBC Universal.)

Technologically, there's nothing preventing anyone from viewing Internet content on a TV. For many PCs and laptops, you just need the right cable — connect your machine, fire up a browser, and you're done. But machines and services built specifically to bring Internet video to TV sets have sparked no end of battles, legal and technological, between tech companies and content providers. Just ask Boxee.

At the center of the issue is a philosophical divide: Either you think the shows the networks are putting out for free on the Internet should be viewable on whatever screen you want, or you think that content providers should be able to decide which screens they're going let their shows play on.

While the choice may seem obvious to consumers, it's equally and oppositely obvious to traditional media companies. They certainly see that the future is digital, and most networks have made shows available on numerous digital platforms. The problem: revenues generated from those efforts are a tiny fraction of what their existing business model — selling on-air advertising — nets them.

Those digital efforts may be ready, technologically, to move "back" over to your TV, but the business side isn't. If I choose to watch Castle on ABC.com instead of the broadcast, I get the same show, but ABC makes a hell of a lot less from my eyeballs.

But wait, wouldn't opening up that content to a big user base, like the one Google TV may provide, get those eyeballs up to the point where the networks could make some money? Maybe, but it would also require a complete revamping of how most shows are presented online today (i.e. the de facto standard of having one sponsor per streamed episode would probably go up). Or at least how they're presented on a device like Google TV.

In the end, though, you can't stop progress. Someday soon it'll be too easy to port TV-episode streams to your TV, and everyone will be doing it. The technological trend toward having this feature is just too strong. The networks had better figure out how to make money from it soon, because blocking it simply won't be possible.

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