Can we all agree that the CBC online-video-player project is a non-starter?

The time to launch it is well past. There was a brief three-month window of plausibility – between the launch of the BBC iPlayer and that of NBC’s Web player, Hulu. At this point it’s too late.

Ordinarily you’d just assume, because of the colonialism still at work at the Corpse, that the BBC video player is the standard of reference. And in this case you’d be right. I don’t think I’ve been back to Brighton (the acceptable face of England) since the iPlayer launched; I haven’t used it. But the Beeb put immense effort into it – essentially setting up an entire department of developers, testers, and rights-wranglers. When V1.0 didn’t really work, they accepted their mistakes and nearly rewrote it from scratch for V2.0.

They’ve got an entire apparatus in place to encode and reëncode video into different formats. (It turned out to be unwise to bet the farm on Flash video. Can your iPhone play Flash video?) Instead of the CBC tactic of fighting a human-rights complaint they knew they would lose, BBC took accessibility into account from the word go. There’s captioning (sometimes), there’s description (sometimes), and the player more or less works in screen readers (sometimes).

Hulu is another story. I haven’t used it either, but I did use the earlier NBC online video player that was Hulu’s progenitor. A very strange way to watch television. Alien, even. There’s advertising. The captioning, when it’s even there, is a separate scrolling window that they somehow expect us to take seriously, use, and understand. Nonetheless, tons of little mentions come through my RSS all the time about watching programs on Hulu. (It’s even an OK name. “iPlayer” certainly isn’t.)

In the interregnum between the launches of those two players, there was something resembling a public awareness (an online-public awareness) that TV could be legitimately watched online. Just as the iTunes (Music) Store competes with illegal downloading, a concept so radically simple nobody had really tried it, these sanctioned video players compete with Bittorrent. Given a relatively convenient option, most people will be honest. Dishonest people were never going to use your legit player in the first place. It’s two separate audiences.

In theory you can watch CTV programs online, but, despite my commitment to journalism, I am not going to go check.

Why bother?

Now, a basic question is: Why bother? The BBC has a serious public-broadcasting remit backed up by the windfall of a mandatory television licence. For Hulu, NBC (and Fox and the other “partners”) pulled a Comedy Central and figured that if illegal YouTube clips were attracting x many hits, legal TV clips could do the same. You can sell ads to capture those hits.

My assumption is that CBC feels it naturally falls onto its own mantle to provide an online video player. (Sort of like CBC should obviously be the sole perpetual broadcaster of the Olympics and NHL hockey on Saturday nights.) It’s a given.

But I have it on good authority that people inside Fort Dork are just not getting their acts together technically on the whole thing. They don’t have the “manpower” to program a video player; there really isn’t any in-house expertise. As with the BBC, it requires its own department. Who can justify the office space? They could be renting that out!

The Corpse doesn’t really have a clue what features the player should have (hint: copy the iPlayer). The CBC’s foolish self-removal from production of Canadian television has severely limited the number of programs to which they could even conceivably negotiate rights. Then there is the problem of carrying out foolproof reverse-IP lookup so that viewers outside Canada could be geofenced.

But, most of all, the problem is trying to explain the 21st century to managers who are still mentally working out of a Jarvis St. office with overflowing ashtrays. Is it true that one can sit in a meeting and suggest a feature “like they have on Flickr” and receive the response “What’s Flickr?”

How would you go about selling an online video player to Peter Gzowski?

Like any doomed project with heavy sunk costs, the Corpse will keep plugging away at a video player until, let’s say, 2010, when it will release a product that’s Windows-only and feature-complete up to 2007.

Could I suggest a couple of alternatives?

Not that they’ll go anywhere?

  1. TiVo remote and box Do a deal with TiVo, and, I suppose, with those hideous off-brand “PVRs” the Windoids are too stupid to realize are hideous. (Can’t they even tell that the interface sucks, and that a PVR is its interface?) I want huge prominence of CBC programming on my TiVo – not just a logo next to the show name, but an entire menu item. I want CBC podcasts on my TiVo, including all that unwanted video shit from Q.

    CBC already blew it with the Onion News Network, a category it could have owned; quit making the same mistake twice.

  2. In fact, start handing these things out to people. Did you know that APTN is shutting down its transmitters in some parts of the Far North? Viewers there will instead be handed an ExpressVu box.

    I don’t have the details worked out, and this is only a half-assed idea, but half- is more assed than most CBC ideas. Try something like this: For a hundred bucks you get a legit TiVo preloaded with CBC shows and with automatic subscriptions to all CBC networks, including the diginets. (This will mean making things work with digital cable boxes, as we are still a CableCardless society.)

    Standard TiVo subscription fees would apply, split with the Corpse and cablecos. We’d have to get this thing working in French (they have Spanish already); as it stands, blind people would be SOL.

    In the way that ExpressVu APTN subscribers can optionally add other channels and will probably do so, you could optionally add other services, or just graft the new CBC channels onto your existing lineup. Then we start auto-downloading shit into your box. But it’s public-broadcasting shit, not E! or Keys to the VIP or Flashpoint.

If the public broadcaster can invest in a private enterprise like Sirius, why can’t it invest in TiVo? They could use the money.

The thing about TiVos is they respect the nature of television. It is, as Dan Rayburn put it, a lean-back medium (you watch it from a distance on a big screen while lying on the couch). The computer is a lean-forward medium. Not too many people want to watch full TV shows leaning forward. Some people, sure. Those people will get the shitty has-been corpsePlayer or will just keep downloading via Bittorrent.

The rest of us can still be networked and online. We just won’t be using a general-purpose computer. We’ll be using a single-purpose computer masquerading as a tapeless VCR.

Another half-assed idea that I’ll just put out there

Release full-featured DVD sets of CBC shows more or less at the same time they appear on the air. Like, two weeks after or something. Saturate the marketplace.