Internet Video vs Digital TV

Best Efforts. That is what you get when you try to send internet video. Its absolutely impossible to assure anyone , anywhere that a video you or any Content Delivery Network hosts will be able to be delivered at the equivalent quality of any TV show being broadcast today.

There is a reason why Content Delivery Networks exist. They exist because the internet is a best efforts medium. The internet will always be a best efforts medium, if only because of Net Neutrality. If all bits are created and delivered on an equal basis, then there is no way to be sure that the bits carrying your TV show will be delivered with any Quality of Service assurances.

For some reason, every Internet bigot out there seems to think that there is some magic bullet that will cure this problem. There is a reason why Cable companies spend so much money on equipment and engineers to make sure that your favorite TV show shows up when you change the channel. Those same engineers do everything they possibly can to make sure that you get that show at the highest possible picture quality. Delivery is not just about bandwidth allocation, there is an incredible amount of engineering that goes into getting TV signals to your screen. It works because those engineers control the signal end to end. Its deterministic, not best efforts.

Its for this reason I have turned away from the internet as the future of entertainment and am focused on Digital TV, whether its delivered by a satellite, telco or cable company. While its true that the companies offering TV often step all over themselves and make things far more difficult than they should be, all of the real innovation is happening on the Digital TV side of the ledger. Why ? Because its a stable, deterministic platform.

With digital video, particularly for cable and telcos, there are specifications and tolerances that developers can use to design interactive applications. Satellite has different advantages in terms of broadcast solutions.

in addition, those set top boxes that continue to be upgraded and swapped out more often than you swap out your computers ? They are application specific platforms. They are being built at the software and hardware level to drive digital video and interactivity. Contrast that with the Windows /Vista platforms that most users have.

Cable has Tru2WAY, Dish Network and DIRECTV have their development platforms. They are not perfect, but the feature sets are expanding and the application base and number of developers are expanding as well.

Call me crazy, but when given the choice of developing new applications for a deterministic platform connected to a specialty application box connected to a high definition TV with a remote control or a best efforts internet platform connected to who knows how fast a connection to a PC running who knows what operating system connected to a monitor and a keyboard, I will take the first option.

But thats just me.

30 thoughts on “Internet Video vs Digital TV

  1. Pingback: Can YouTube even handle movies? —

  2. Mark,

    I think you may be underestimating the current capabilities that are out there. I\’ll be admit that I\’m a little dorkier than the average person when it comes to home electronics and am willing to but some time into my setup. Right now I am able to download HD content (movies(9-12gb)) to my home PC server over the internet using newsgroups. This fully saturates my Comcast connection at 3.5mbps and is encrypted using SSL. I can stream it over a wired LAN(while still downloading) to a souped-up laptop (I am lucky enough to have a high end laptop from work, but devices such as SageTV media extender could do the trick) and from there to HDMI and surround sound. Sure I only get a couple movie\\shows a day but who has time for than much content anyways? Of course this isn\’t very \’on demand\’ but with a days notice I can have a movie which beats Netflix. And I can store it forever on a hard drive. I of course still have Netflix for hard to find stuff but went from 20-5$ a month there and now pay $30\\month for giganews. I know people who have 30mbps residential FIOS service which theoretically could speed things up to download an hour of HD content in less than an hour.

    My question is: when will the media companies offer a competitive service? Sure it will take 3-5 years to mature but why wait? It would sure take the hassle out of dealing with the cable companies or at least give leverage in negotiating with them. I would gladly take my money there if they offered a similar capability.



    Comment by Nick Porter -

  3. Video is the rapid emergent technology in the field of real estate. I attended a technology conference ( recently and during one panel it was mentioned that Google will soon be including the usage of video into its algorithms for ranking websites. The days of the Realtor who wears multiple hats is getting more complex as technology advances…a Realtor now must, know the market, be a salesman, administrator, be a marketer, a photographer, a videographer, amongst other roles as well. The days of the \”part-time\” Realtor are no more…with a slowing economy the professionals are what remains and yet these professionals are finding themselves juggling all the duties they must adhere to with all of the new technology being released. Check out they are specific to real estate, but the quality and distribution of their videos is great.

    As a businessman too you ought to look into investing in a new IDX provider in the Atlanta area that is looking for investors.

    Comment by Carl Martens -

  4. There are two options:
    A watch regular broadcasting on their schedule
    or B watch regular broadcasting on mine.

    Tivo helped somewhat to fix this to opt. B
    and the handhelds will also help us get information when we want it..think the tv networks are getting the picture just by offering programing to watch online they realize information is heading in a new direction. Investors want the same options online when they decide what choices they want that is why we offer plenty at

    Now we just need to address how this all will look on handheld asap like the networks information is finding alot of new ways to present itself we can chose when and where.

    Comment by Tisner -

  5. Televison has the same challeges that music, newspaper, radio, and movies have. They must adapt, embrace the net or die. The net is the future of all media. It\’s the best platform. And it\’s boundries have no limit.

    Comment by darryl -

  6. \”Why ? Because its a stable, deterministic platform.\”

    Back in the mid-to-late nineties, they used the same argument to talk down Ethernet and IP in the world of industrial control (e.g. automated production lines, high speed printing presses, and, in my particular experience, entertainment automation).

    Many customers were told that they could only solve their problem of predictable delivery (in this case of control messages – stop, start, go faster etc.) using deterministic networks such as Profibus, CANbus, RS485.

    Nowadays (and for some years now), that argument doesn\’t hold any water any more. Mainstream and highly reputable engineering firms, such as Siemens and the like, have solved the problem using Ethernet and IP with their inherently non-deterministic approaches. Even using WiFi.

    I see no reason to assume that the same won\’t play out for Internet TV. The advantages of a standards-based protocol such as IP are simply too great to resist in the long run.

    Comment by Stephen -


    Traditional ways of broadcasting video cannot measure up to the internet\’s flexibilty. That\’s why I believe the internet will win. CBS could never broadcast the entire NCAA Men\’s Tourney via old media. What about the Olympics? I think future media will become more interactive and enhance our way of veiwing programming.

    Comment by darryl -

  8. The incumbents (cable, satellite, telephone, and broadcasters) guard the front door to the living room. The newcomers DVD retail, set-top box, ICT, web, mobile keep knocking on the back door. The newcomers are nimble, the early adopter and early majority want to do business with them. The incumbents are clumsy, they make expensive mistakes that drives the early majority (moving towards the late majority) to the newcomers. The more mistakes, and boy the incumbents are good for a lot of mistakes, the more the majority looks around. Yes, we know where the money is today. But do you know where the back door to the living room is? There is technology to built, business models to build, and money to be made. Best effort is good enough for a growing number of people, just like the Datsun was – now #2 automaker in the world.

    Comment by Trevor Doerksen -

  9. Since social networking sites has saturated the internet, what is the next big thing for users, is internet T.V or Digital T.V next?

    Comment by Cenell D. Harrell -

  10. I agree totally with bt. Convergence: bring it on and who cares which network. Connect many networks and they become one. This, by the way, applies to the old boy network too.

    Comment by Andrew -

  11. I think you are going to see HD Internet video thrive in longtail niches. Aggregator applications that cater to that model like Miro( will do very well in this area. There are no hang gliding shows on mainstream media. There will be on Internet TV.

    Comment by Tom Galvin -

  12. Seems to me this is more of a realization that you dont want to take on the challenge of the next generation delivery mechanism. It will happen. Someone will do it. Broadcast does have its advantages but it has major drawbacks that the next generation wont tolerate. I think in the interests of protecting your investments you are right to focus on DTV innovation as that will likely reap you near term profits. As for the assumption that high quality video and interactive experiences wont be delivered over the internet, you are either baiting us all or not paying attention.

    Comment by Jesse Chenard -

  13. i don\’t think that the \”content\” you are talking about cares if it\’s HD quality or camcorder quality. internet video is good like that

    Comment by abraham -

  14. The post brings up several good points, to which I\’d like to add :

    – Hard to find a good number, but let\’s say 70% of the US uses the internet.
    – Of that, the latest number I could find is that 57% of US households have broadband access.
    – Only a subset of these households have a fast enough broadband connection to support quality video.
    – Only a subset of this subset cares, or is even aware, of internet video.

    In other words, it is going to take a long time for a) the internet to become as ubiquitous as telephones or cable/sat, b) longer for sufficiently fast broadband to be ubiquitous, and c) even longer for the masses to care.

    Nevermind that this country is, in general, aging. Just try explaining internet video to your parents or grandparents without them looking at you like you have three heads.

    By being aware of this blog, we\’re already more savvy than most, and it\’s easy to think that most people are just like us. They are not.

    Comment by CT Mike -

  15. QoS doesn\’t matter if you\’re not worried about live. I almost never watch live TV, that is why I have a DVR. If my shows get to my DVR over the Internet, cable, or Sat, they\’re still there hours before I\’m ready to watch them.

    Comment by Jason Tracy -

  16. Network TV vs Internet Network? Huh? Someone is claiming there is still a difference? What? Knock Knock, hello; is this thing on? TV still exists? How quaint.

    What is Internet based network and what is a TV network is going to be utterly, completely, and unconditionally MEANINGLESS.

    Tivo is already blurring the lines between net and TV. AppleTV and OnDemand further erode away the concept of what \”is tv\”.

    I was watching 60 minutes (off dvr of course) and about half way through a story, my wife looks at me and asks, \”hey, isn\’t Anderson Cooper a CNN reporter?\”. Wow, it is reporter 2.0! There are even newspaper guys with blogs these days – go figure!

    Think about it this way:
    – We blur the lines between tv and net: tivo downloads of VodCasts and amazon based content. Or AppleTv dls.
    – We also blur the lines with the huge outpouring of OnDemand stuff (why would I waste money on a obsolete blueray dvd?)
    – Then we have TV people popping up on every which channel like chess pieces to move around. Network brand loyalty is fading fast.
    – Lastly, voip has already blown down the doors of audio convergence. Video is next. Just a matter of time.

    And you want me to care if I watch 4×3 format NBA on the NBA network package, or via the Net?

    Convergence is an unstoppable force. We are about half done with it. It\’s 2008. Join us if you can.


    Comment by Brett Tabke -

  17. Mark,

    Thanks for creating the conversation. While I mostly agree with your take, I do know that Internet video has it\’s place. I just paid $70 for 12 months of tennis via How many people pay that much for Maverick\’s media?

    Scary to realize McNall was right about more than Wayne.


    Comment by Korye Logan -

  18. Mark, as with most of your other entries, I feel you are right on. Its great seeing someone \’in the know\’ challenge current beliefs that technology can, and will do everything.

    Comment by Vlad D -

  19. I think you are right Mark. I don\’t see the internet being the end all be all for video especially when everyone pays for traffic including video eveb if the content wasn\’t coming from their product or service. I attended an event on internet traffic and they were talking about backbone companies doing hot potato routing where they drop off your packet if they cross another carrier because when they transmit your bits it costs them money. Example you order a online video from company A, and it hits company b\’s network, why would they want to pay for the other guy\’s traffic. It is like fedx paying for UPS\’s gas to deliver their own product. Not fair if you ask me.

    Comment by Mark -

  20. I think most major tv stations will avoid \’internet\’ thing because \’internet\’ is considered as if \’all free\’ zone, when advertisers send your way tones of ads on tv/radio it\’s ok/interesting, when they do the same on the Internet, it\’s considered annoying.

    Comment by bet -

  21. two comments:
    1) undeniably only closed (operator-managed) IP networks can guarantee QoS, which is a pre-requisite for TV-like services. However Progressive Downloading or simply Downloading over the public/open Internet allow the provision of video-rental-like services.
    2) there might be a parallelism between voice-over-IP and video-over-IP. Basically the same kind of arguments are being used, e.g. QoS vs. Best Effort, hobby/free service vs. professional service, etc. Remember: residential Internet access became fatter (DSL) and more widespread, and all of a sudden SKYPE came out…
    My feeling: over-the-top IP video will establish itself more and more as a complement to traditional cable/telco/broadcast TV.

    Comment by Paolo F -

  22. Mark

    We don\’t disagree that full quality programming over the net faces challenges, but I believe the technology has improved enough you\’re underestimating what\’s possible.

    Any reader of the blog in the U.S. with a decent 3 meg or more connection can test this for themselves. Go to, and watch Lost or Desparate Housewives. After downloading the Move player, the program should come over at 1.9 megabit quality quite close to typical digital cable. It starts in a few seconds, builds a buffer quickly, and adjusts well to any temporary line problems. I\’ve watched 5 hours or so, with no pauses, on a good 3 meg Verizon line. Move has a few tricks, buffers are working well, etc.

    The main reason this is possible is that the actual DSL and cablle networks are better than most people realize. Verizon FIOS is built to be nearly rocksolid. DSL in some areas is just as good. Good cable network performance is just as good, except when the \”shared\” local loop is congested. With DOCSIS 3.0, coming soon, the local loop is a minimum of 4 times as fast, and will have fewer problems.

    I\’m convinced this will work just as well for HD, which typically requires three times the SD bandwidth. Verizon is now offering 20 meg FIOS to about 10 million homes (although not mine). I have tested 6 megabit HD over a similar setup with CacheLogic and Microsoft at 6 megabits, and got a fine 720p picture.

    This is true because the \”best efforts\” of a carrier can be pretty darn good. 99+% reliability is often delivered, and VP of the number 1, number 2, and #3 U.S. carrier tell me they can do so and \”will not degrade\” the quality of an incoming signal. Not a guarantee, but in practice it should be darn good a surprising amount of the time.

    Which doesn\’t mean that HDNet can reach most of the potential customers over the net today or even in 2010. So you probably are right in your business strategy for a high end HD network that hopes for large volume. But I didn\’t want your post to discourage others. If SD digital quality works, your audeince in the U.S. alone is 40M households. You\’ll be able to deliver HD quality to many as well. Both numbers will increase rapidly, especially with DOCSIS 3.0 likely to explode 2009-2011.

    So I expect many other folks will find good business and millions of customers over the web. Some very smart people at ABC, NBC, BBC and others are investing $100\’s of millions. On my expertise, the network side, I know most networks are being designed to handle it.

    We may disagree about whether over the top should be part of the strategy for HD Net. But I think we can agree it can be a major part of the strategy for others.

    Dave Burstein
    Editor DSL Prime

    Comment by Dave Burstein -

  23. So would it be beneficial to find a way to broadcast the internet on DTV? Or to develop DTV content that could be \”browsed\” via a set top box at a resolution equal to or greater than \”normal\” web content? I know that for the most part television has lagged behind computers in resolution, but that is now changing. Just like the \”mobile web\” revolution in which websites were created to target smart phones…why not create web content that targets the home user on their HDTV?

    Comment by Kenyon -

  24. You can\’t claim that the internet is dead when so many regular consumers are still
    discovering it.

    Comment by whatever -

  25. If you want to sit there and be told what to watch digital TV is for you. If you want to get a limited amount of content digital TV is for you. If you want to get content when someone wants to give it to you then digital TV is for you. If you believe digital TV is ONE source for finding new content and the internet is the delivery system to getting what YOU want WHEN you want it then digital TV is actually a starting point and not a be all end all. A person can watch a TV show and then download past episodes or episodes each week and watch them without commercials. What you want, when you want it.

    Comment by Bill Ross -

  26. I see traditional television as necessary for really just one thing: live events. News and sports. These are the things where being able to ensure timely quality delivery of the video is important. Anything else that I can currently get from TV I can have from the internet, just have to trade download time against quality.
    Immediate access of the show isn\’t even really an issue. Cheap storage means that I can store all kinds of content before getting around to watching them. I even have a few DVDs I haven\’t gotten around to watching yet.
    The only other argument for traditional television\’s superiority over internet is the \”water cooler effect\”. Everyone talks about the latest episode of \”Friends\” on Friday morning. A sharing of the experience. I\’m gonna point to the inbox filled with youtube clips as evidence of \”sharing the experience\”.

    Comment by Matt Nelsen -

  27. We have our YouTube for crappy video, Veoh for less crappy video, AppleTV for purchased content, and our cable / satellite for subscription content.

    Last time I checked, only one of these models is working. It\’s probably wise to ride that train instead of trying to pound a square peg into a circle. I\’m calling semi-shenanigans on this post. We\’ll see HDNet over the internet some day, but some one else will be absorbing the delivery cost.

    The internet isn\’t dead. It may be as an entertainment platform in the hollywood sense of the word, but was it ever alive?

    Comment by Mufaka -

  28. Basically, the Internet is Dead. Maybe the future of the net is one where it is a mobile communications channel. It cannot support good quality/HD programming the way it is meant to be delivered.

    Mark can you talk a little bit more about Tru2Way. I understand some Televisions will come with it built in, removing the need to buy/rent a cable box. Will this be delivered via a Virtual Machine that is remotely hosted or Software builted into the set that will be remotely updated?

    Also, If Tru2way is a virtual machine that is remotely hosted..then theoretically, wouldn`t this take away the need to buy other electronic devices? DVD Player? Video Game Console?

    Does anyone out there believe that someday we will all be able to buy a 50\” flat screen for $500 and not have to buy an xbox or PlayStation because these systems will be delivered as virtual machines allowing to buy games and store them remotely?

    Comment by Gregory Rueda -

  29. This post is only correct if you are owner/investor/employee of a cable company. The set-top box is a key advantage for cable/satellite – it provides a market, a stable platform, access to the living room, and a delivery channel for new services.

    However, for me as a consumer, none of that, or anything in your post, makes a difference. Moreover, I think tying into the set-top box will soon be a signficant disadvantage me – I don\’t want my viewing limited to one piece of non-mobile hardware. I want a slingbox, youtube on the IPhone, and digital media players designed for video.

    But cable/satellite will continue to see the set-top box as an advantage, because it gives them market and customer tie-in. So they will fail to meet the desires of the customer by allowing such streaming off the box, or directly streaming to other devices that they don\’t have control over – not only is it harder to do technically, but it\’s not good business because they lose their tie over the customer.

    Meanwhile, considering that CDN\’s are only a few years old, I would not count them out of the ability to increase reliability. It does make sense that it will be harder to do over the internet – but people and companies solving the hard problems are what new technologies are made of, and there are alot of people and companies out there right now working on this exact problem.

    Comment by Andy -

  30. That\’s just you? 🙂

    Comment by matthew -

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