Web Video, TV: 'Not a Zero Sum Game'

Las Vegas — Since the fall television season began, viewers have watched 35 million episodes of ABC programming on the Web, according to Albert Cheng, Disney-ABC Television Group executive vice president of digital media.

And the season finale of HBO's The Wire was its most-watched episode to date, said Rishi Malhotra, director of HBO On Demand. The premium network last year allowed viewers to watch all episodes of the police drama on demand before they appeared on its TV schedule.

Meanwhile, the Web's most popular video-sharing site has been “noodling” over the idea of creating a linear TV channel comprised of content culled from the thousands of clips posted on its site, according to YouTube vice president of content Kevin Donahue.

Meaning: Conventional TV can benefit from Web TV; and vice versa.

“TV 2.0 is not a zero-sum game,'' said Shahid Khan, managing director of consultancy Bearing Point at the panel session “Television 2.0” at the 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Instead, downloading of episodes to PCs through Apple's iTunes and other such services; and watching of “webisodes” off TV programmers' Web sites adds to interest in the original programs, said Cheng, Malhotra and other panelists.

“It's proven out,” said Cheng.

Viewers still turn to TV first to watch what they want, Cheng and Comcast senior director of interactive products Ty Ahmad-Taylor agreed. The challenge now is to deal with the decision-making wrought by new forms of distribution.

Ahmad-Taylor said there are 250 scheduled TV channels on most cable systems, another 8,000 choices available from a cable operator and about 20,000 choices on the Web confronting viewers at any given point.

Which means that if programmers figure out how to deal with all the different TV 2.0 platforms — from the computer screen to the phone screen — TV 3.0 will be where the real challenge lies, Cheng said.

The question then becomes whether programmers can create awareness online and on mobile communications devices as they have on TV. “Can programmers be as good marketers in the future as they have been in the past?” asked Cheng.

— Todd Spangler contributed to this article.