I recently spent some time looking at the top 20 cable TV network sites, as ranked by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, in order to find out how these networks are using the Internet.

Here's what I found:


As you can see from the chart, all of the sites offer some kind of video.  Some sites used this tool better than others, but all of them had at least one video feature. 

Two things particularly surprised me about these results. Seven (35%) of the websites allow you to watch entire episodes of shows online.  I could be wrong, but I think this is a relatively new feature on TV sites.  It's great for TV viewers, but it surprised me that the websites allow this to happen.  I guess there are a few ways that the networks protect their content while allowing it to be viewed on their websites:

  • Limited Sharing.  While 45% of the websites allow you to email clips to someone else, they don't allow you to download the clips or send them to another site, like Digg.  None of the sites give you an option to embed clips on your own personal site or blog, and no sites allow you to download anything to your computer.
  • Advertising.  Most sites incorporate advertisements into their online video clips.  For example, the other day I watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy on the ABC site.  The site advertised that you could watch the full episode with "limited commercial interruption."  What they don't tell you is that every 20 minutes, your viewing will be interrupted by commercials for the same company, over and over again.  When I watched Grey's Anatomy online, there were about 4 commercial breaks, all of which consisted of a 30 second ad for All State car insurance, and all the commercials were basically the same ad. 

The other factor that surprised me was that just 4 sites (Discovery, ESPN, Nickelodeon, and the Weather Channel) allow you to upload your own videos to the site. For example, ESPN has a "Sports Center Home Video" feature, and the Weather Channel allows you to send in your own videos of crazy weather experiences (and has a YouTube-esque rating system).  With all the hubbub about user-generated video and collaborative content, I was surprised that more sites didn't integrate this feature into their Web programs.

So what was the worst site?  Probably SpikeTV .  It was so slow that I could barely get it to work, the video player was awful, and there is very limited content on that site compared to the others.  C-SPAN's site looks like it was made in 1992 and never changed, but it does have a lot of videos and podcasts to choose from, so I can't judge it too harshly.

The best site?  Hard to say.  All of the sites took different approaches to their online programs, so it's sort of like comparing apples and oranges.  But, for the record, HGTV and TBS have sites that are visually attractive and easy to navigate.  Discovery and ESPN have a ton of content, while Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network made very kid-friendly sites with an emphasis on games and fun extras. 

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