Recently Sarah Houghton-Jan highlighted an issue that I’ve been thinking a lot about myself lately as I’ve noticed changes in my own tv-watching behavior. She highlighted a software program called AnyTV for watching television shows (and other multimedia) on your computer and wondered what opportunities programs like these might provide for libraries. While it’s not the first such application, this type of service has really taken off during the last year, and there are now more ways and places to watch television than ever before. On websites, on cell phones, on portable players – they’re multiplying like rabbits. Watching tv shows in real-time on an actual television may be down, but my sense is that it has shifted to other mediums and become a niche market. To name just a few ways I watch tv:
- Fancast (summary from Infodoodads, but this is essentially a Hulu clone for Comcast subscribers)
- Each of the major networks streams recent episodes of their shows on their websites
All of these services require you to be connected to the internet in order to stream the video, but there’s also BitTorrent, NetFlix, iTunes, Tivo to Go, and libraries for taking shows with you on the go. I worry a lot less these days about recording shows I’m interested in since I can usually catch up with them at some point, often on the web. Some of these sites require a download (Joost), others don’t (Fancast). Amazon, iTunes, NetFlix, and MovieLink all offer movies-on-demand services that let you purchase and watch a film immediately on your computer. They generally require a separate software program to view them, but how long will it really be before there’s a Hulu-like movie site that plays in your browser?
All of which is to point out that viewing habits are changing, and that the current debate about bandwidth issues and filtering of social networking sites is just a prelude to the coming controversy about watching longer-form video on library computers. Expect to see this soon, as more and more people start using our computers to watch whole shows, movies (Hulu offers several free ones), and live events.
It’s also going to re-ignite the debate about judging content consumed by our patrons. It’s easy enough to say we don’t have the bandwidth (sadly, that’s usually true in the U.S.), but it’s more difficult when you base policy on judgment calls that some uses of a format are okay while others are not. Kind of like when we impose our personal preferences that Literature is better than trashy romance novels. Is it really the librarian’s call that I should not be using my library’s computers to watch that episode of “Lost” I missed last week? What if I’m watching PBS’ “The War” – is it okay then?
And what about someone like me who is a huge Kansas Jayhawks fan, who just wants to watch her team in the big dance? CBS didn’t show my game last weekend, but I was able to log in to the free NCAA Sports site on my laptop, hook it up to the TV, and still watch it. I usually miss Big 12 games because I live in Big 10 country, but now the internet is finally leveling that playing field. I still had to watch the ads, but I’m more willing to do that during a live event online. If I didn’t have broadband internet at home, though, would it have been acceptable for me to bring my own headphones and watch it at my library? Heading into a possible recession when it’s quite possible that people will be cutting costs by canceling cable subscriptions, it’s an interesting question to ponder.
If you think the YouTube, social networking, and web-based gaming debate is growing now, just wait until the general public realizes they can watch television online, too. As Sarah says at the end of her post, “I know I am opening a can of huge worms…[but] this seems like a very cool addition to me.” I’ll agree with her and hope this country gets its act together and starts installing fiber connections the way it should be. In the meantime, though, it’s helpful to recognize that this is something that is going to start happening at your library, and your staff should probably talk about it in a “here’s a heads-up” kind of way so that you’re prepared.