Earlier this year I wrote about my frustration in finding TV shows and documentaries on the Internet, and my eager anticipation of an online service I wish I'd thought of: TIOTI - Tape It Off The Internet. Since then the service has gone live and now the project has more Web two-dot-oh features than you can shake a stick at. Yesterday Techcrunch UK announced that TIOTI had raised a first round of funding from top-quality early-stage investor Pond Venture Partners.
As a business model I like TIOTI much better than Joost or most of the Internet TV projects that depend on developing or buying content for re-distribution. I also like the focus on whole TV episodes or series, rather than a muddle of UGC and TV clips.
TIOTI started life kind of like a specialised search engine, indexing tens of thousands of TV shows that are available on the Web, and guiding users to them for download or streaming. I thought that is conceptually pretty valuable, although the coverage as of a few months ago was fairly limited.
Now TIOTI is adding reams of factual information to its catalogue of shows, emulating the world's favourite movie database, the IMDB. But by easily taking you to where the shows can be downloaded it goes a step further than IMDB has to date. Beyond that, TIOTI pulls in the must-have features of the new Web 2.0 paradigm -- tagging, user commentary, ease-of-sharing and various tools for building communities around common TV interests.
The key question in my mind remains how TIOTI will deal with illegal TV downloads. In the Techcrunch article CEO Paul Cleghorn makes the obligatory statement about working with the industry to protect copyright blah blah. But precisely the greatest value of a TV index and search engine is enabling users to find the shows, in whatever state of legality or illegality they exist. They should be able to make their own decision about whether or not to download. TIOTI can help by rating download sites on their degree of copyright respect, but if it self-censors then it's just handing the juicier part of index to other players.
Or so I would have thought. Another index & search engine, Testcard.tv, which launched a few weeks ago, shut itself down on Friday following the closure on Thursday of its main source -- a volunteer-driven site called TV Links, whose 26-year old organiser was arrested on Thursday for copyright infringement (although the site hosts no download streams itself), as reported in The Guardian here. There is more on the New Freedom blog here. The precedent is very worrying, as it throws into question the whole concept of linking and indexing content, though presumably the Gloucestershire Police are not going after Larry Page and Sergey Brin next....
Others are entering TV indexing game, with slightly different strategies. TVCatchup is trying to be an online PVR, allowing you to program a recording schedule of your favourite shows. It's hard to see at the moment how this differs from a cheap Freeview box (though I'd love to be able to programme my Humax over the Web!).
Watch this space.