Paul Shen has seen the future of television. Unfortunately for TV networks, that future looks an awful lot like the future of music.
Shen has built TVU Networks, a peer-to-peer service that lets anyone with a PC and a broadband connection distribute or watch live TV online. He swears his technology will save network TV, if only they'd embrace it.
Predictably, they haven't. At an industry conference last fall, Bob Seidel,
What is Shen after? For all his talk about "democratizing the TV broadcast," Shen wants to make nice with the networks, because they are his intended customer base. "This is the first solution to meet their needs," he says. In a show of goodwill, he'll shut down any streaming feeds upon request—and HBO, ESPN, and ABC have so requested. ("It's not fair use of our signal to retransmit it," HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson says.)
Shen is not alone in thinking that the networks would benefit from TVU. As they struggle to get content to viewers who have unprecedented options, a technology that lets people watch live episodes of The Wire on their phones, with inserted personalized digital ads, might be attractive. "Anything that lets you see more television benefits the television producers, networks, and advertisers," says Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California.
The networks have experimented this season with putting up clips and whole episodes of already-aired shows online, but none offer live viewing. Shen is dangling a planned pay-subscription service in which viewers could essentially choose which channels they're willing to pay for individually. All he has to do is convince the networks. As Edward R. Murrow said, good night and good luck.
Non-Internet users watch an average of 9.1 hours more television per week than Internet users.
Source: Center for the Digital Future (2006)
A version of this article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.