Mobile Video Costs Employers

Mar 24, 2006 (02:03 PM EST)

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TV, movie, and sports fans who can't quit the habit have more options than ever for dialing into their sin.

This week, CBS Sportsline announced that it had served more than 14 million streams of live video from the 2006 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship and recorded more than four million visitors during the first four days of the tournament, breaking Internet traffic records.

The impact of so many people watching basketball games during work hours was estimated by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas to cost employers an estimated $3.8 billion in lost productivity, based on a 2005 Gallup poll indicating that 41 percent of Americans are fans of college basketball.

And basketball is not all they're watching. Last week America Online launched AOL Television, or In2TV. Now anyone with a broadband connection can watch online episodes of 4,800 old TV shows, including Welcome Back Kotter and Growing Pains for free.

More content is on the way, as AOL taps into its Warner Brothers archives and starts charging $1.99 for downloads, the same pricing model that Apple is using.

Apple is at the vanguard of the pay-per-download video explosion with its popular iTunes service. This month it announced the launch of its first monthly subscription service. For $9.99, fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be able to buy the next month's series of 16 new episodes. Four episodes air each week and viewers can download each episode after it's been broadcast. Individual shows are priced at $1.99 each.

The relatively new phenomenon of video podcasting, in the form of vlogs or vodcasts is adding content to the Internet daily. Video podcasts come in all styles, from the informative Photoshop TV to the endearingly nutty Tiki Bar TV.

Employers wise to the lure of such goodies are turning to Web filtering software, which aims to block access to classes of Web sites, or specific URLs offering sports, gambling, porn, and other distracting content.

Undettered, video fans are in turn using their mobile devices to get their fixes.

College basketball fans away from TVs and computers can follow the March Madness thrills on their 3G Cingular cell phones equipped with the company's MEdiaNet package, which costs $19.99 per month. Cingular offers video clips of the games. Neither Cingular nor CBS Sportsline would divulge how much traffic comes from cell phones.

Alternatively, the games can be downloaded from iTunes and viewed on iPods, laptops, or PCs. Games are priced at $1.99 each, or by subscription. Apple also offers downloads of classic men's NCAA games dating to the 1980s.

Clips from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are included in Verizon's V Cast package, along with other content from Comedy Central, plus music videos, movie trailers, news and sports headlines, clips from CNN and ABC News and more. The monthly fee is $15.00.

Access to content on some cell phones can be restricted. Cingular allows filtering via parental controls, which can prevent access to Web sites and block the purchase of downloads such as games and ringtones. Verizon does not offer filtering, but a technician noted that V Cast can only connect to WAP-enabled URLS.

In October security vendor Websense announced a deal with Nortel Networks to develop a Web content filtering solution for cell phones. "It will allow GSM/UMTS wireless operators to set mobile handset and device Internet access policies for subscribers across three URL filtering categories -- security threats, adult materials, and undesirable content," Websense said in a statement.

But deciding what to block isn't as easy as it sounds.

Jonathan Kass, CIO of Veterinary Pet Insurance in Brea Calif. said his reasons for using a Web filter at his company are both to deter access to sites that could potentially cause security problems and to protect bandwidth. VPI has been using software from Websense since 2003.

Kass and other senior managers set the acceptable use policy for the 400-person company. But because distance learning and its related streaming video are in play at VPI, setting restrictions is tricky.

"We're trying to walk a balance. We're trying to do this more judiciously. We're not as restrictive as we could be," said Kass.

VPI has about two dozen laptops currently without Web filters, but Kass is considering applying restrictions to those devices, primarily for security reasons. None of the company's cell phones is Web-enabled.

Those toiling under employer-imposed restrictions and without a commercial video package like Cingular's MEdiaNet or V Cast from Verizon Wireless can now watch any television programming they get at home on their cell phones -- from anywhere they happen to be.

Sling Media announced this week that its SlingPlayer Mobile (beta) software package gives Slingbox owners the ability to watch and control their home TVs from any network-enabled mobile phone or handheld computer (PDA) powered by Windows Mobile. The beta is free now, but will cost $29.99 beginning April 26. No other charges apply, but users must own a Slingbox.

Life is looking sweeter by the minute for slackers. Finally, there's a new device that lets loafers watch the clock and get their fill of video entertainment simultaneously -- in convenient Dick Tracy-style wristwatch form.

Watch now: The News Show Video: The Boss Button.

Internet Madness.