TelevisionWeek contributing writer Daisy Whitney is blogging about the pinnacles and pitfalls facing viewers who want to consume television in new ways. Check in frequently as Daisy kicks the tires on the new media juggernaut and dishes on which services do -- and don’t -- make the cut.


Trial and Error

September 2006 Archives

NBC.com Earns Thumbs Down on Video

September 28, 2006 8:49 AM

The Internet can be so distracting. I plan to kick the tires on Carson Daly’s new user-generated video contest on NBC.com, but am quickly distracted on NBC’s Web site by other stuff.

Why not take a stroll through NBC’s “First Look,” its online previews of NBC shows? I see a button for a First Look at “30 Rock.” I take the bait. After all, the link is easy to find and it lures me in.

La dee dah. The video’s loading.

Hold on. Let me grab my nail file. The video is still loading.

Yup, passed the one-minute mark and it’s still loading.

If I were a civilian I would have jumped ship. I’m only waiting because my nails are in need of a good shortening and because I have this blog to feed.

The two-minute mark passes. The video is still loading. OK, let’s start over.

I hit the back arrow button on the browser to return to NBC.com. I try “30 Rock” again.
The video is still loading. Hmm, maybe I’ll check email.

Oh wait. The video is finally playing! There’s an AT&T ad and then a short preview of “30 Rock” begins.

Uh oh. That’s not good. The video freezes 10 seconds in for a few seconds. And again at the 38-second mark too.

Finally, the preview finishes. OK, let’s check out another show, “Studio 60.”

The video is still loading. Looks like I do have time to answer that email.

Still loading.

And it never plays.

I return to NBC.com, hoping that the third time is a charm.

I look under the video tab and click on “Friday Night Lights.” At last, a show loads and it plays well. But the video clip only lasts seven minutes and the whole episode is supposed to be online. I look around and it appears you have to watch the episode in 7-minute doses. I then decide I am a civilian after all and this is too complicated.

Can’t Trick KPIX Player; CBS Station Site Video Rates High

September 26, 2006 10:35 AM

Television public relations representatives will occasionally offer up one of their online properties for the Trial and Error blog test. The latest guinea pig is KPIX-TV, the CBS-owned station in San Francisco. The PR representative sent me an e-mail on Monday, Sept. 25 titled “check out our video player for your blog.” How could a reporter resist?

I click on the link provided in the e-mail, which takes me to a KPIX web page for “30 Minutes Bay Area,” a quarterly KPIX program that’s a local spin-off of “60 Minutes.”

I hit play on the embedded video player and the video launches immediately with an IKEA ad in front of the show. I run the usual tests – pause, fast forward, rewind – and they all work. The “enlarge” button instantly shifts the video to about double the size, but the video looks a bit pixilated so I shrink it back down.

I fiddle around with other options – playlist, search and browse. I choose a simple search term: cats. The search results include a plethora of cat videos, including clips from the Moscow Cats Theater, a story about 56 cats living under one roof in San Jose and an August piece about a mountain lion attack.

I click on the browse button which showcases the most recent news stories, such as a 49ers press conference. I go for the final test. I enter KPIX.com directly into the browser window to see if we can easily find videos from the home page.

It’s like magic. In the upper right hand corner of the home page sits the embedded video player, just waiting to be played. I click on the 49ers press conference video and the coach starts talking.

This almost works too well. I must be able to trip this site up. So I click “video library” and enter “30 Minutes Bay Area” to see if the site will deliver me to the original video.

And it does.

Hats off KPIX. You’ve done good.

ABC.com Player Good for 'Grey's' Addict

September 25, 2006 9:54 AM

The big ABC.com streaming TV episode initiative returned Saturday Sept. 23 when the network bought back ad-supported, full-length episodes of its marquee shows to its Web site (http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10738)

ABC is quite keen on this new venture, so I took it out for a spin on Sunday Sept. 24.

I open a browser window and type in ABC.com, just as the average user would. The Web site is a bit busy, so my eyes take a few seconds to adjust to the potpourri of information. My eye settles on a series of images that flash by every few seconds for various ABC shows, such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

I click on the big arrow button for: “Watch episodes of your favorite shows. Now Available Free. Online.” It whisks me quickly to a neat, clean page with a black background. Images are neatly laid in two rows of online shows. A big button below says “Launch Now.”

That seems clear enough so I click on that.

Another page loads in about 10 seconds with the message: “Watch full episodes” and “Use the arrows to browse.” The arrows take me across the scroll of show images. I feel like ABC is making me jump through a few hoops – pages – to get to the player, but at least they load quickly and are easy to navigate.

Naturally, I opt for “Grey’s Anatomy.” As a recent convert, I’ve enrolled in the total immersion plan – I’m consuming the first two seasons on DVD at a rapid fire rate, reading news articles on the actors and I even bought the soundtrack to season two last week.

Since I have already watched the season three premiere, I select the Grey’s “sneak peek,” which launches me into a short “brought to you by Home Depot” message and then the video itself. The play plays easily with the advertiser’s logo remaining above it. I watch a few minutes and then dash out to test some other videos, including the behind-the-scenes special, presented by Visa. While here I test out the scroll bar to see if I can fast forward. But when I try to, it brings up a message letting me know if I jump to the next section, I’ll see an ad. OK, I can live with that. Once I watch a Visa spot, I’m free to jump around and I gleefully move the scroll bar back and forth. That tells me the Visa spot was my price of admission for full functionality.

I do wish I could fast forward and rewind more easily. But I can live with the ads, especially since the commercial-free iTunes is no great shakes these days.

iTunes Latest Software Gets Sluggish

September 22, 2006 10:59 AM

I’ll be the first to admit – I’ve been drinking the iTunes Kool-Aid since the start of the year. (See story at: http://www.tvweek.com/article.cms?articleId=29449)

As far as I am concerned, iTunes has been a raging success because it’s easy to use.

Well, it was easy to use.

The week of Sept. 12, iTunes released a new version of its software, iTunes 7. If you want to download videos or TV shows, you need to install the new software upgrade.

I upgraded last week when I purchased an episode of NBC’s “Passions.” I made a mental note that the 38-minute episode took about 30 minutes to download. I was especially surprised at the length of time because earlier this year when I purchased most of the second season of NBC’s “The Office” on the service, each episode downloaded in about two to three minutes. Granted, “The Office” is a 22-minute show while “Passions” lasts 38 minutes, but the longer show shouldn’t take a half hour to download when the shorter one only needed a few minutes.

I encountered more trouble when I played back “Passions.” The video was stilted, as if running on an old dial-up connection. In fact, several tech Web sites have reported problems including playback issues and installation crashes with the new iTunes software.

On Thursday Sept. 21, I tried the new iTunes software again. I’ve become a “Grey’s Anatomy” addict within the last 24 hours thanks to the DVDs of season one and two making their way into my hands within the last week. To enable new junkies like me, ABC has thoughtfully offered last season’s finale for free on iTunes. To get up to speed before the start of season three, I downloaded the finale on Thursday afternoon. The download took more than an hour for the one hour and 25 minute episode. Plus, I had to shut down iTunes three times because it slowed every other function – e-mail, word documents – on my computer to a quicksand pace. Finally, on the fourth try, iTunes successfully downloaded the episode.

This time, however, the video played back flawlessly. The junkie is at ease and iTunes gets a reprieve.

For now.

LonelyGirl’s Has New Digs, But YouTube Still Easier

September 21, 2006 12:10 PM

So LonelyGirl15 has a new home. Or several, I should say. (http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10763). After the Internet video phenomenon on YouTube was “outed” as an experiment by a pair of filmmakers, the creators “Revverized” their videos last week. The videos now have a second home on video-sharing site Revver.com, which matches viral video with advertising, letting creators make money.

However, one of the reasons for YouTube’s rampant success is that it is ultra easy to use. Can the same be said of Revver? Let’s find out.

On Saturday Sept. 16, I visit Revver.com. LonelyGirl’s video is on the home page under the heading “Editor’s Pick.” I click on the video and then press the arrow button in the middle to play the clip. I watch LonelyGirl’s escapades one night in a park. The best part for her creators is the still image at the end – and ad for the movie “The Last Kiss.”

Revver includes the standard YouTube-esque features that users like, such as ratings and number of views. But when I click on the link for LonelyGirl’s name I cannot access any information because I am not a Revver member. I sign up quickly to become one, simply supplying an email address and password. I go back to her video and click on her profile information. But it’s “private.” So I watch some more LonelyGirl videos on Revver and try the fast forward scroll button, but it doesn’t work well. It won’t jump ahead to the end of the video.

I open a YouTube window to compare the two services side by side. On YouTube, I can save to favorites, add to a blog or email the video. But on Revver, I don’t see links for those options. I hate to admit it, but YouTube is still the ultimate in user-friendliness.

NBBC Videos Play Nice but Hard to Find

September 18, 2006 3:13 PM

NBC went live last week with its latest broadband video play, a vast new effort to share and swap video from NBC Universal properties, its affiliated stations and more than 25 Web sites. As of late last week, NBC had rolled out the video on its owned and operated station sites as well as New York Times-owned KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, Okla.

NBC sent me a link for the KFOR video (http://www.kfor.com/Global/link.asp?L=206119) so I took that for a test drive on Thursday Sept. 14. The link escorted me directly to the NBC video player where a promo clip from new NBC show “30 Rock” began. It played immediately and then led right into a clip from USA’s “Monk.” I watched that for a few seconds, but grew more interested in the thumbnails on the right hand side of the video player, including one for a “weather-predicting pig.” Who could resist? Not me, so I clicked on the image which took me to a clip from NBC-owned KXAS-TV on a pig who can allegedly predict storms or sun via tail wags with 85 percent accuracy.

Then I noticed a video thumbnail featuring a cute guy with his shirt off. The “Passions” promo featured a lot of shirtless shots and they were quite effective too, because the next thing I knew I was on iTunes buying an episode of “Passions” for $1.99. I returned to KFOR’s site to test one more video – a mock PSA from “The Office.”

Overall, the NBC player worked well, but I prefer to click on videos individually rather than have them play in a loop.

To finish my NBBC test, I popped over to WNBC.com to see if I could easily find videos there. I could not. Finally, I found a news story on the new video offerings, which noted that the clips could be found on the right hand side of the page under the “Now Playing” link. I went there and the player launched.

Memo to NBC: the video is too hard to find!

Searching for Joss

September 18, 2006 1:34 PM

So a blast from the past comes back: Lycos incorporated video search technology from the well-regarded Blinkx into its Web site late last month (http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10636) to help its 25 million monthly visitors sort through the 5 million hours of video content on the site.

To check out the service, I figured I’d go with an easy entry—a singer. That would give the site the opportunity to spit back some music videos, maybe even interviews. I enter “Joss Stone” in the main Lycos search bar and get a page of “regular” results. I remind myself I have to tell the site that I want video specifically. So I go back to the home page and click on the images and video tab in the search bar so the site knows to fetch video results for the 19-year-old British singer.

The first result is a video clip profiling FHM’s sexiest woman of the year, Keira Knightley. Next up is a little piece on how Mischa Barton also earned some hot moniker in the lad’s magazine and, oh, by the way, Ms. Stone was somewhere on the list. The third video clip in the results actually features the soul-style singer rehearsing for the Grammys. The fourth pick from Lycos featured singer Frankie J. performing a cover of Extreme’s “More Than Words,” but no mention of Ms. Stone.

No. 5 promoted itself as a Yahoo! Music exclusive interview with the pop star, but the Yahoo page was experiencing technical difficulties when I clicked through.

ABC.com’s Short-Form Video Push Rates High

September 18, 2006 1:02 AM

ABC is betting that viewers will go to ABC.com and watch behind-the-scenes clips from its hit shows and new properties this fall. The network is probably right because the video is incredibly easy to find and play.

I visited ABC.com on Thursday Sept. 14. As soon as the page loaded, a small, embedded video player on the right side played a behind-the-scenes clip from a “Men of Desperate Housewives” photo shoot.

The video played easily, with pause and play buttons working seamlessly. However, the player is quite small. I clicked on a link for the video from the “Dancing with The Stars” dress rehearsal and it brought me to another page that featured a slightly larger player and a playlist with several short-form videos from ABC shows.

The dress rehearsal video also played easily, so then I visited the “daytime” category and viewed a promo from “All My Children.” Next, I pulled down the menu listings for both prime-time and late nights shows, which listed all the different programs with online video.

ABC gets major points for a nice layout and extraordinarily easy-to-find video and player.

View an exclusive example of "Dancing With the Stars" video being offered at ABC.com

Kidnapped on MSN: Works Well if You Can Catch It

September 14, 2006 9:37 AM

MSN debuted online NBC’s “Kidnapped” on Sept. 13, a week before the show’s on-air premiere.

I go to MSN.com on Sept. 13 to look for the video. It’s not on the main portal so I click on the TV link, which takes me to a page that features the MSN Video player near the top. Nice placement. But the first trick starts when you want to play the video. That’s because, like a carnival-style shooting game, you have to wait until the image for “Kidnapped” pops up in the video player.

I spot it and click on it quickly, zipping onto a page of images from various TV shows. I again click on the link for “Kidnapped” and the show plays instantly. I begin the usual tests, jumping ahead 15 minutes for starters. That works fine, but then I try pause, play and fast forward. Uh Oh. The fast forward button jumps me all the way out of “Kidnapped” and into a promo clip for “Grey’s Anatomy” season two on DVD. Well, why not? Let’s see that video.

Or maybe not. The video stops randomly during playback, simply pausing itself at any given moment every few seconds. The clip ends and then jumps into one for “Biggest Loser.” Where’s “Kidnapped,” I wonder? I look around the site and it’s nowhere to be found.

I hit fast forward again and again, jumping from video to video—clips from “Gilmore Girls,” “Lost,” “The Wire.” I’m just clicking for kicks now to see where the fast forward button will take me. At this point, I decide to get serious again and return to the main MSN Video page. I click on the “Kidnapped” video. This time, I exercise restraint and don’t hit any buttons.

But please, MSN, give us a little more information on where to find the videos for those moments when we go nuts and hit that fast forward button.

AOL Video Plays NBC Show Without a Hitch

September 13, 2006 12:41 PM

At the start of the week, AOL posted the first episode of NBC’s new fall show “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” on its Web site in advance of the show’s Sept. 18 on-air premiere (http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10708). The AOL/NBC partnership is the latest in a slew of duets between portals and broadcasters. MSN will stream CW shows, Yahoo CBS shows, and so on.

I type AOLVideo.com into the browser, which whisks me to the main portal for AOL Video. That may sound elemental; the browser should take me there, of course. But portals don’t always take you to where you want to go, so I consider this a victory for the consumer and the portal. Right in the middle of the AOL Video home page lies an image from the show with a note, “See Entire Episode Before It Premieres on NBC.” I click on the picture and the AOL Video Player opens, asking for my Internet speed. I select “broadband” and the video starts in about two seconds.

I test out various features—pause, play and full screen. They all work. Then I go for the piece de resistance, thinking I can trip AOL with my ploy to push that little scroll button that lets you jump several minutes ahead. I move it all the way to 13 minutes into the show. Wild, I know. But, the video still played. I toyed with that option a few more times, jumping ahead to 45 minutes even, all in an effort to see if I could flummox AOL Video. No such luck. Hats off to AOL Video and NBC for a top notch user experience.

NBC’s "Twenty Good Years" is next. It goes live online on AOL on Oct. 4.

Pretend You’re Mel, Thanks to GSN

September 12, 2006 6:17 PM

Looking for a fun way to blow off work for a few minutes on a Friday afternoon? Then check out GSN’s new viral video game at http://www.gsn.com/games/game_lobby.php?link_id=G402

You can pretend you’re Mel Gibson driving a cute little sports car in the network for games first online viral game offering called ‘So you think you can drive, Mel.” You use the arrow keys to move his car up and down and earn points for collecting tequila bottles. But you must avoid flying stars of David and troopers on the road. It’s a sort of Frogger for the modern entertainment world.

The Gibson game is the first of several animated online games, crafted in a satirical vein on topical situations, that the network will introduce in the coming months. Users can post the game on a blog or MySpace, for instance, or share it virally.

Plus, it’s an amusing excuse to play email hooky for a few minutes.

Back to work.

Amazon UnBox -- UnVeiled

September 8, 2006 1:59 PM

After officially unveiling the worst kept secret in the online video business yesterday (See story at http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10693), I click onto Amazon.com this morning to put the new Amazon Unbox download-to-own service through the paces.

Right off the bat, I like what I see. Front and center on Amazon.com is a button for Amazon UnBox, promoting video downloads with an offer to try a free TV show download. Reporters can’t resist the word “free,” so I’m hooked.

I click through to a Web page with details on the service – categories on the left, a promotional video player in the center and a list for top sellers on the right. I start with the “friendly start guide” button to download the UnBox player. After 20 minutes of installation, a neat and clean interface for Amazon Unbox pops up on my computer screen.

I return to the store on the Amazon Web site. I opt for an episode of HGTV show since Amazon noted in its press release that UnBox features the first online downloads for HGTV content. As I am about to check out, I decide to search for a movie too. I look for a button to continue shopping but don’t see one. So I pound the back button a few times to back up to the video store screen. Nothing grabs me in the film department after all, but then I don’t spot an obvious link for “return to cart.”

So I return to the video store page and re-select the HGTV episode and check out. Within one minute I can start watching the show, though the entire download takes about 30 minutes. I go back to the Amazon UnBox player and click on the show, which starts immediately. Pause, play and fast forward work well. Amazon boasts DVD quality for the service the video looks pretty darn crisp. So UnBox has a lot of potential but needs better navigation.

Comcast TV Planner = Poor Planning

September 7, 2006 7:15 PM

Comcast introduced a new online program guide yesterday on Comcast.net. I’m a Comcast customer and I love my video-on-demand service, so I go to Comcast.net to check out the new tool. The portal features a well-marked link for “TV Planner.”

The planner asks for my zip code and then takes me to what looks like the Comcast TV grid transposed online. I was hoping for something different than what’s on TV. Still, I enter a search for NBC’s “The Office.” The grid displays several upcoming repeats for the show. I am not sure what to do next. I look for a category for “list shows I want to see” or something like that. I see nothing. So I hit the back button and it bounces me all the way back to Comcast.net. OK, let’s enter the TV Planner again.

Comcast boasts that viewers can customize searches by title, category and genre and also search across VOD. I enter “10-minute fitness videos” since those are a staple of the “Sports and Fitness” category on VOD. I see a list of fitness videos from QVC, Logo and ExpoTV, a VOD service. But the grid does not produce the dozen or so 10-minute fitness videos that the VOD service regularly features in its lineup.

Maybe a more precise title will help. I enter “Bob the Builder” in the search bar since I have watched that show on VOD with my son. The grid displays several “Bob the Builder” titles from PBS Kids Sprout, but none on VOD. I then spot an “On Demand” button on the grid and click on that. But rather than display “Bob the Builder” titles available on VOD, it shows all VOD categories, such as movies, kids and premium channels. I click on the “kids” category but the listings don’t match up to what’s actually on VOD on the TV. I know because I watched “The Berenstain Bears” on VOD this morning with my son.

I’m done.

Very Funny Ads=Very Good Site

September 7, 2006 3:13 PM

TBS announced on Sept. 6 that its two-week old broadband site, veryfunnyads.com, had generated 7.7 million video plays from 900,000 unique users in that short time frame. There’s good reason for that. The site works.
So I trotted over to veryfunnyads.com on Sept. 7. Kevin Nealon popped up in an embedded video player to give a 16-second intro to the site and invite viewers to submit ads.
When he finished, the ads starting played. The first one up was a Hyundai spot from Sweden called “Toy Boy” that featured a middle-aged couple making the best of the reclining passenger seats in their respective autos (do check it out – it’s quite funny). The laugh-out-loud spot continued into the next one, a Banana Boat ad. Normally, I don’t like videos that roll one right into the next, but because the content is related thematically, I didn’t mind this time.
I tested a few more functions on the site, including an option to e-mail a video. I sent a Smirnoff ad to my own e-mail address. It arrived about five minutes later with a link back to the ad. I clicked on the link in the e-mail, and voila – the site loaded quickly and the Smirnoff ad played again. I visited the “top rated” section of the site and clicked on an “Isenbeck” beer ad from Argentina where I noticed a cool feature of the site, a running count of the number of views for each video. The Isenbeck ballet spot had garnered 463,000 views. That sort of transparency adds to the community feel since it lets users know if other people are watching what they like and vice versa. The site also posts how many times a video has been e-mailed.
When I tried the site a few more times, the videos did not play continuously. Users can select videos they want to see or they can hit the “play all” button to get the videos to roll automatically into the next one.

SciFi's A+ Webisode Scheme

September 6, 2006 5:13 PM

That was almost too easy. I found Web video that worked – well and immediately.

To build buzz for the Oct. 6 premiere of its signature series, Sci-Fi Channel debuted the first of 10 Webisodes for “Battlestar Galactica” online last night. They post Tuesday and Thursday evenings at scifi.com and, big drum roll, they play like a charm.

I entered Scifi.com in my Internet browser and on Wednesday morning, Sept. 6, and the episode played immediately. An embedded video player plays a crisp, well-produced four-minute video with actors from the cable show. Plus, the Web site includes a big bold message telling visitors that new Webisodes will post online at midnight ET every Tuesday and Thursday. The message is one of the best features of the Web video experience because it answers that all-important question for the viewer – when should I come back?

My only concern was whether site users who don’t want to watch the video will be able to easily navigate to other sections, since the Webisode comprises the bulk of the home page. However under the video player and the schedule for upcoming Webisodes is a link to “continue to Scifi.com.” I click on that and I arrive at the traditional Sci Fi site with information on shows and the network as well as another clearly marked link to the Webisodes.

Here’s one of the big reasons why the SciFi Webisodes get an A+ for user experience: Sci Fi made a specific choice to showcase the Webisodes. The network didn’t merely insert a link somewhere in the middle of its home page. Instead, SciFi decided that anyone coming to its site would have the chance to see the videos. The videos were easy to find and easy to play. Most important, the site posted clear information on the availability of such videos. Everyone should check this one out.

CSTV -- Testing College Football Streams

September 6, 2006 1:57 PM

After the kickoff of college football this past weekend, the CSTV Network touted that its new online network of nearly 250 college athletic Web sites had garnered 6.4 million page views on Saturday Sept. 2, representing a 14 percent rise over last year. Since the network just launched those sites last week, I decide to kick the tires.
I was interested after reporting a story http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10656)

To get started, I go to CSTV.com first. I do a quick scan and spot a link promoting “Over 100 channels of college sports live and on demand.” I click through, launching a good-looking video player that’s nearly full screen and contains menu items for live events, football, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer and all sports. The channel listings menu includes a host of colleges. I’m surprised that it contains one for Brown, since my alma mater tended to make its mark on the football field through the goofy irreverence of the marching band rather than any athletic antics. However, the Brown channel displays a message telling me that no content has been found that matches my criteria. I then pick Colorado State University, my husband’s alma matter. Same message there too.

Let’s try one more school. How about the Michigan channel? Once again it’s content-less. I make sure to visit all the options – past games, coach’s show, archives – for the three colleges. Same message always.

I e-mail the spokesman for CSTV, who promptly replies that the site includes links to about 200 individual college sites listed under the left side of the page under “partners.”

I call him and while on the phone I scroll through the partners list on the home page. Auburn’s a college football powerhouse, so I go there. The archives section spits back the same message. I try University of Southern California and déjà vu strikes again.

He suggests Notre Dame. Since it’s a huge sports school, I go back to the main page and give it a shot. Something finally happens. I am transported to www.und.cstv.com. I don’t spot a video player. The spokesman tells me to click on the link on the right hand side for “All Access.” Who would have thought?

Nothing happens. He says he will look into it and call me back.

As I wait I think, what the heck – let’s try one more time. I do and the link works. At last! It shoots me to the same style player I accessed from the first way in. I try the coach’s show feature. Nothing happens. I click on interview and see a video clip option from 8/18. But when I click on it, a message tells me the event hasn’t begun so I should try again later. I soldier on, clicking on “football” from the main menu bar in the video player. Once more, I click on a video from a 9/6 press conference. It plays.

Still, I’m pretty much maxed out on this scavenger hunt.

The spokesman puts CSTV President Brian Bedol on the phone. He walks me through the USC channel, which is easier to access and features more videos that actually play. He also explains that most site users will access the broadband channels through the “teams” link. The server I accessed the channels through may not be pulling all the content yet, but the videos can be found when users navigate via the “teams” link, he says.

“This is a first generation product,” he says. “We are really in this part of beta where every day we are learning about things that need to be tweaked. It’s a complex platform and we are thrilled with what it does and fully recognize there is a lot more we want to do.”

I also learn later that Brown didn’t have any games last week.

Kudos to CSTV for being frank about drawbacks in the service and for getting an offering into the marketplace timed to the college football season.

However, I can only hope that college football fans – and I’m not one of them – are willing to jump through the technical hoops they may encounter.

AOL and Katie Couric

September 5, 2006 12:56 PM

Ever wonder why online video works “perfectly” for the companies who send out the links to reporters? But not quite so well for the average user?

AOL Video alerted the press that it had posted a posted a pair of exclusive, behind-the-scenes clips on Aug. 31 from Katie Couric’s preparations for her Sept. 5 debut on the CBS Evening News. I did a little story on it for TVWeek (http://www.tvweek.com/news.cms?newsId=10662) and checked it out.

I clicked on the link in the e-mail sent to me that afternoon to check out the videos. Only four seconds of a two-minute clip played. Then the video stalled out and neither the pause nor play buttons on the video player worked. I went back to the e-mail, clicking on the link once more. The video launched in a new browser window and ticked past the four-second mark to about seven seconds, but froze again while Ms. Couric chattered about her new job and the traffic on 57th Street.

I decided to circumvent the e-mail link and see if I’d have better luck launching the video from an AOL site. I typed AOLvideo.com into my browser window, but didn’t see the videos promoted on the AOL Video home page. I asked AOL’s press department to send me the URL directly. The AOL spokeswoman also told me I could find the videos on television.aol.com rather than the AOL Video portal. I cut and pasted the direct link into my browser. And once more the video stuttered and stopped throughout.

I checked with one of my editors at TVWeek and he said he managed to watch the first clip, though the playback was sprinkled with several few delays throughout. But the second video got stuck for good, he said.

See if you fare better.


I tried the link again on Sunday Sept. 3 and it played seamlessly from start to finish.

Trial & Error

September 4, 2006 1:00 AM

During the reporting of our recent story on Google’s video syndication strategy (Sept. 4), Google’s press department provided us with links to several sites that feature MTV video content via Google’s syndication deal struck in August.

Video on hip hop site Concreteloop.com played easily when clicked on during an initial check on Aug. 30, but later that evening sputtered and stuttered in that painful old school fashion. I tried one more time and the good news is ad for upcoming flick “The Covenant” played easily.

Moving over to pop culture site egotistic.com, I clicked on a VH1 video embedded in a player on the home page. This video too came with a few seconds-long stutters, so I lost interest and flipped over to lyrics site lyred.com, which featured video from MTV News on the home page including an interview with Christina Aguilera. That video played seamlessly.

I made a final stop on the Google/MTV tour to humor site devilducky.com. Clips from Comedy Central started fluidly, but then once again suffered from poor buffering, with long pauses every two or three seconds during the clip, rendering it unwatchable. This remnant of the dial-up era video experience is unfortunately a problem that has plagued Google Video since it introduced the Video store in January.

Trial and Error Blog: Testing New Media

September 4, 2006 12:58 AM

Media companies pelt the press and the public daily with announcements of fresh plans for online delivery of television shows on iTunes, Google Video, AOL Video, Yahoo, their own Web sites and other destinations.

The big question is, do these services work? We decided to test-drive them for our readers in a regular blog, Trial & Error, on TVWeek.com. In our initial test, we found that while some services work seamlessly, users may also stub their toes as they seek out TV shows online. While our auditions are by no means comprehensive, they represent how consumers experience digital media.

For the inaugural edition of Trial & Error, I chose Fox as the guinea pig. This in part is in recognition of the network's aggressive push recently into online streaming. Part of Fox's marketing strategy is to feature the first three episodes of "Vanished" and "Prison Break" for free across more than 50 Web sites.

For my first stop, I jumped into Fox.com on the evening of Monday, Aug. 28, expecting to find a big, blaring video player or other obvious guidepost for the free episodes.

A 30-second clip for "Prison Break" began playing automatically in the embedded video player.

The video started without my consent, which is known in the online video world as "non-user-initiated," though users probably refer to such self-propelled video by more colorful terms.

I clicked on links for other show titles underneath the player but found only more promo clips-and no sign of the full episode. Then I scrolled down a few more inches on the site and spotted an ad in the lower left-hand corner. It said: "Missed a Fox show? Watch an episode online now."

But that teaser only led me to another message: "Sorry, this episode is no longer available. Please visit Fox.com/streaming for the next episode." In fact, that is the very URL I was already on, so I appeared to be trapped in a black hole in the online Fox universe.

Just to be sure I hadn't caused this infinite feedback loop through user error, I contacted Fox. The spokesman there explained that the sites can run an episode until 3 p.m. (ET) on Mondays and then post the fresh installment Tuesday morning after it airs the previous night. That means most sites with the episodes are "dark" for nearly 24 hours.

How was I, or anyone else, to know?

My stumbles on the site signaled it was time to leave Fox.com. I hopped on over to AOL Video.

The home page was jam-packed with video-on-demand channels, video links and even a scrolling guide, which didn't list the Fox shows. However, the "Most Recent" heading below the guide did feature a link for "Prison Break: Full Episode." I clicked and it started playing immediately. That's when you want an instant response from Web video-when you've selected it.

Next I skipped to Google Video. I clicked on the "TV Shows" category on the main page, but found no evidence of "Prison Break." I noodled around some more, clicking on other links for "TV Shows." Since Google is the king, queen and ace of search, I figured that if I just plugged "Prison Break" into the search window on Google Video, it would whisk me to where I want to be.

Well, no. Instead, I got a page of results with opening themes, previews, promos and video on the "Prison Break" theme.

Off to Yahoo. On the main page, I clicked on the video tab, then searched for "Prison Break." Again, the list of search results didn't include the full episode.

I was convinced that I must have been doing something wrong, so I continued in this scavenger-hunt fashion, entering Video.yahoo.com into the browser. Once more, I typed the show's name in the search window and once more, the first page of results didn't include the episode.

The next morning, I remembered Fox.com's explanation about the missing videos. So I returned to the site and easily found "Prison Break" in the "Featured" category on the Google Video site. I also learned through Fox's public relations department that "Prison Break" is housed under the "TV" section for Yahoo. Finding the episode that way sort of feels like cheating on a test. Nevertheless, the segment plays.

The moral? A helpful post on these sites letting viewers know when a show is and isn't available online would be useful for those visitors who aren't able or interested in giving the services a stay of execution.