The Future of Online Video?

GigaOm’s Josh Levy outlines the promise and difficulty Web video is having in the American media landscape.

While writing about how Roku, a set-top box that lets you stream Web video to your television, added Al Jazeera English so that users could watch the Egyptian protests, cable providers are fighting against consumer ability to cut the cord.

Roku’s move was a thrilling taste of what online TV might look like if big cable loses its grip on channels and viewers. Imagine if more channels, sick of waiting in virtual holding pens to be allowed to join cable lineups, instead just joined up with Roku or one of its competitors. And then imagine if viewers followed these channels off the cable reservation, cut their cords and relied solely on little Internet boxes for their TV content.

It would be a shiny future for online video. Except the cable giants won’t stand for it, and are using all their power to stop it: The cords that pipe in your cable TV also deliver the Internet, and big cable is all too eager to exploit that fact, threatening to throttle or block content they don’t like or that competes with them.

Independent online video efforts are running into problems left and right, and the cable giants are trying to stymie them for as long as possible while they test out their “TV Everywhere” offerings — which is their attempt at rolling out online video services without allowing subscribers to “cut the cord.” Thanks to loopholes in a recent FCC decision, there are a number of ways Comcast and friends could degrade or throttle Netflix, Hulu and other channels offered by Roku.

It’s true that with more innovations like Roku’s addition of Al-Jazeera English, the future of online video could be bright. But if big cable succeeds in squashing competition and stifling innovation, it could also get really, really dark.

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