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iTunes for video? Don't hold your breath

Downloading TV shows from a Web site is a long way off, according to a panel of Internet executives sounding off on the future of entertainment and media.

SAN FRANCISCO--Wouldn't it be great if you could buy and download your favorite episodes of Sex in the City from a Web site? Unfortunately, that scenario is probably a long way off, according to a panel of Internet executives sounding off on the future of entertainment and media at the Web 2.0 conference here on Thursday.

The main reason, of course, is that "the forces of control," which are the cable and satellite TV companies, want to protect their turf and continue to make consumers buy 200 channels worth of content, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said. Pitted against them are the "forces of freedom," made up of Internet entrepreneurs, who would like to shake up that model, he said.

"I'm sure the forces of freedom will win over time, but it will take a long time," said Hastings, whose company rents DVDs over the Web but delivers them via the mail.

That's not the only problem though. Unlike music, which many people listen to in the car or through tiny earphones, video-over-the-Web must be good enough for fancy equipment, like 50-inch plasma TVs. The Internet is not quite geared up for that yet, Hastings said.

Not surprisingly, the panelists expressed little sympathy for the music industry and its plight with illegal file sharing. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a high-definition TV venture, said lawsuits against consumers are mainly a way for the recording industry to distract people from the fact that their business is in decline. "They need a boogeyman," he said.

Fellow panelist Michael Powell, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, put it another way: "Hiring lawyers is easier than innovating."