This morning I read this interesting report from Video Nuze about a new online video DVR service called PlayLater. PlayLater, from the makers of PlayOn (which lets you stream video from your computer to your TV or mobile device), will let you record your favorite online videos and shows so that you can watch them whenever you want.
A DVR For Online Video?
Let's double check that. What does their website say?
"The photocopier, the tape recorder, the VCR, the DVR and now… PlayLater, the DVR for online video. Now you can record your favorite shows and watch them anytime, anywhere, even offline!"
PlayLater will let you record your favorite shows from Hulu, Netflix, and similar services so that you can watch them whenever you want. It's opening with a small beta–only 5,000 users–that appears to still be open if you're interested. The service will cost $4.99 per month, or $49.99 if you pay annually.
Users will need to download the software from PlayLater before using it. And the recording time for each show will equal the normal run-time, meaning your computer needs to stay on the whole time.
Does Anyone Need This?
I though the whole point of online video was that it gives users the ability to watch shows, clips, and movies on their own time. That's why it's better than TV, right? Instead of having to be in front of the television on a specific day at a specific time, I can just live my life how I like and catch up on shows at a time that's most convenient to me.
Maybe I'm going out to dinner, but I want to watch the latest episode of The Office online as well. I suppose I could use PlayLater to record it, and then watch it when I got home. But guess what… it's still available when I get home… streaming.
The only reason i can see for someone to want this would be to get around the terms and services at places like Hulu and Netflix, which leads me to my next point.
This Can't Be Legal, Right?
Video content on sites like Hulu or Netflix can come and go, with certain shows or episodes disappearing after a time. Which is, of course, related to the content distribution deals the services sign with movie and television studios. You can have this show for this long. That's how it works, and Hulu Plus & Netflix users know this.
Using the kind of service we're talking about here is a way for us to watch copyrighted content after its streaming window has ended. And since we're talking about "recording" the shows here… isn't that basically stealing? Like… a formalized piracy? Isn't that kind of the whole point of "streaming video," that they don't want you to download or own a copy? With Netflix and Hulu, you pay for the right to watch a piece of video content, not the right to own it forever.
In fact, let's check the Hulu Terms & Conditions to see what it says, shall we?
"You may not either directly or through the use of any device, software, internet site, web-based service, or other means copy, download, stream capture, reproduce, duplicate, archive, distribute, upload, publish, modify, translate, broadcast, perform, display, sell, transmit or retransmit the Content unless expressly permitted by Hulu in writing."
Now, I'm no legal expert, but it sounds like I'm not supposed to do the very thing PlayLater's service will let me do.
So I see no way that PlayLater doesn't run smack into a wall of lawsuits someday soon. The founder says he believes his service falls under the same protection as traditional DVRs. And I even think I understand why he would say that. Heck, networks and studios weren't exactly thrilled about traditional DVRs when they came out. But they're still around.
But the Internet and broadcast TV are the not the same thing.
This is not just about the copyright on the content, which would be owned by the studios and production houses. It's also about the terms of service at Hulu and Netflix, which is just a big a legal hurdle for PlayLater as copyright.
It's also important to point out that PlayLater's service will apparently mess with ad systems, such as the ad-choice program Hulu often uses–consumers would still see an ad when using PlayLater, but the element of choice would be gone. And the element of choice has shown recently to be a very good tool for boosting viewer engagement with an ad. So I don't think the advertisers will be too keen on this new "DVR for online video" service either.
PlayLater Faces Uphill Battle
I'm just not convinced there are any real legitimate reasons to use a service like this. It doesn't save me any bandwidth at all, because it has to record the full duration of the video length. It doesn't offer much convenience, since online video is already on-demand.
It really only helps me do one thing: get around the rules. I could download shows that I'm not supposed to own a copy of, and then watch them outside the rights-holder's intended window of release or when I'm offline. But the service minimizes the ad impact, and violates several elements of the terms of service agreement.
Of course, I'm only one man. Maybe you see a consumer use that makes a lot of sense in PlayLater. But I hope it's a legal one, if you do. Because even if the service made tons of sense to me as a customer, I wouldn't be able to make much use of it if the company does run into legal issues.
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