TV’s Napster Moment

I really don’t believe we’re going to see this much stupidity again so soon after the exact same stupidity launched the death of an entire industry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me recap very briefly and excessively linkfully and painfully parenthetically:  Boxee has this cool product that enables you to watch Internet video streams on your TV.  Another company, called Hulu (f.k.s.a ClownCo – the “s” stands for snarkily), has deals with a lot of TV networks to stream TV shows on its website.  Both companies he said she said that Hulu content is now being blocked from Boxee.  The obvious read is that the ”’content providers”’ (I just invented triple-quotes to indicate sarcastic air quotes!) that are partnered with Hulu demanded this blocking to protect high-priced distribution channels.

It’s Napster all over again, replaying from the music industry into the TV industry.  For those with short memories:  In probably the worst decision in a relentless trail of self-destruction, record labels had two choices when they saw the early popularity of the original Napster (not today’s incarnation) service for music file sharing:  make a deal with Napster or shut it down with litigation.  The labels chose to destroy the popular service, which turned out to be like trying to prevent a flood by blowing up the nearest dam.  Napster alternatives quickly sprang up that were impossible for the labels to deal with, and the rest is history, just like the labels will be.

Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”  This used to be a mournful statement, because it’s actually pretty hard to learn from history – there’s just so much history, no one can really hold all of the lessons of it in one head.  So you’re doomed to make mistakes that lots of people have made before.  And then by the time you’re old enough to remember a lot of history, you’re starting to feel too old to do anything about it.

But one wonderful aspect of our accelerated modern lives is that history happens in ever-shorter cycles.  I doubt there’s anyone in a decision-making capacity at the TV networks who doesn’t remember the Napster lesson very well.  And I can’t believe they’d make the same mistake with that knowledge.  People can’t be that dense, can they?  A deal is going to get done here, if not with Boxee then maybe with BitTorrent.  I’m going to lose faith in humanity if that doesn’t happen.

[Edited to correct slight misquote of Santayana.  <sigh> Those who rely on random websites for quotes are doomed to misquote.]

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