Return of the "Entertainment Revolution": is Taking TV Online Friday, March 29, 2002, 1:33 PM ET

by Ben Fritz
It's been a while since a new Internet company popped up with the promise of revolutionizing entertainment and the likelihood of drawing lawsuits from major Hollywood companies. The second version of icraveTV, however, is set to do just that.
The original icraveTV was a Canadian company that used to broadcast live feeds of TV shows. Faced with lawsuits totally over $1 billion from networks, studios and producers, it quickly shut down. Herbert Becker, CEO and President of streaming media technology company Entervision, however, is preparing to get into the same business at, and seems confident that he'll succeed.
"You can turn on your TV and invite friends over to watch," he says, defending his business. "When you walk through a mall, you can watch TV in a store. As long as we're not charging for it, there's no reason we can't do the same thing via the Internet. We're going to bring TV into the 21st century, whether it's kicking and screaming or with Hollywood's permission."
Becker's promise is a bold one that has been made many times before by now-defunct companies like Pseudo and DEN. IcraveTV still faces the big questions of "do people want to watch TV on their computers?" and "Will Hollywood let this happen?"
In answer to the first question, Stein seems confident he has an audience. He cites people at work as potential customers, as well as home viewers who may not otherwise have access to the stations icraveTV offers or who want to watch at different times, as all icraveTV programming will be simulcast with the east coast.
As for the second, Stein wouldn't divulge any names, but says he has been talking to the major networks and cable stations and that "there's no one out there who doesn't know what we're doing." He expresses the hope of setting up his company like local network affiliates, where he would be paid by networks to air their programming and could share the revenue from advertisements. "These are business models that broadcasters understand and are attracted to," he explains. "We're not changing anything when it comes to the business."
Stein also points out that he won't air broadcasts from any networks that decline to cooperate. Nevertheless, he admits there is a high likelihood of at least a few lawsuits, especially from the owners of the content airing on networks. A spokesperson form the NFL, for instance, told CNET News that his organization would not provide permission to air its properties. Network representatives contacted by DCR declined to comment.
One clear advantage the new icraveTV will have is its technology. The Entervision player it uses sits server-side and doesn't require a download. And a demonstration provided for Digital Coast Reporter showed an impressive broadcast of the BBC with near-TV quality and only a few seconds of load time on a cable modem. Compared to the heavy download and occasional buffering on competitors like the RealNetworks' media player, icraveTV may have a significant technological advantage over other Internet media companies.
Is there a viable business where so many have failed before, though? Stein claims that some affiliate fees, as well as a subscription offering featuring content from partners he is recruiting now, will provide icraveTV with significant revenue opportunities to cover its low costs, with only 15 employees working out of its offices in L.A. and Montreal.
The biggest question, though, will be just what content icraveTV airs. If major networks go along, viewers on the west coast may turn on their computer to get a Friends fix three hours early, or to take a TV break when working late in the office. If not, though, icraveTV will either find itself offering an impressive service without content people want, or facing lawsuits from broadcasters angry to find their content up on the Net.
We'll find out on May 1, when icraveTV is set to launch and debut the details of its offering.