TVU Networks poses risk to sports rights holders, networks; Users streaming ESPN, major networks live over Internet

By Ken Kerschbaumer

While sports broadcasters, teams and leagues attempt to figure out how to handle distribution of video via YouTube.com, the streaming video service that has become a cultural phenomenon, its Shanghai-based TVU Networks and its ability to stream live cable and broadcast networks around the world that could pose a bigger threat.

Information about the company and its plans are slim to nil on the company’s Web site but a sister site, www.viidoo.com, shows the power the company will have in disrupting everything from blackout restrictions to International rights deals and even live video and audio streaming subscription services from companies like MLB.com.

Bob Seidel, CBS Television Network VP of engineering and technology, mentioned the Web site during a panel at the recently held MSTV Conference in Washington, DC. And it was exhibit A of the necessity of a broadcast flag system that protects all content from primetime entertainment to news and sports.

A visit to www.viidoo.com (“Home of Web TV”) shows how easy it is to stream live broadcast and cable network streams to a desktop. After downloading a TVU Player (at this time only available for Windows PC) users can simply pick the TV network they want to watch from a Channel List.

Current networks include ESPN, ESPN (ASIA), ESPN 2, MLB, Star Sports, CCTV 5, NBA TV, and the broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. Others available include Comedy Central, USA Network, CNN, and a number of foreign networks.

“Viidoo allows consumers with a PC capture card to capture live streams and put them on the Web,” said Seidel. “So much for blackout rules. This is a major problem that going to have to be addressed. And without protection from Congress services like this will become a growing problem.”

The new service is the latest in new media headaches for sports rights holders and distribution partners. BitTorrent, the service in 2004 that became a popular way of illegally distributing copyrighted content, had an indicator that would allow rights holders to find out who was distributing the content. But the TVU service does not have those indicators, making it impossible to tell who is doing the streaming. Compounding any possible action is it is based in China.

For now sports broadcasters and leagues are casting a weary eye at the service. And while it has yet to attract mainstream attention an article in PC Magazine this week about baseball fans using the service to watch ESPN and Fox Major League Baseball playoff coverage is an indicator that it may be a lot closer to becoming a phenomenon than anyone, except for consumers, would hope.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters