iCraveTV streams Toronto broadcasts on-line

A Canadian company has leapt into the burgeoning world of Internet broadcasting with a free offering of 17 Toronto-area television stations, 24 hours a day.

iCraveTV broadcasts live signals on the Internet using Real Player and makes its money by advertising on its Web site, www.icravetv.com.

William Craig, president and CEO of iCraveTV in Toronto, said the signals are taken from an “over-the-air receiver” just north of the city and streamed on-line at up to 80Kbps.

“We will accept people at 34Kbps, but below that we drop people because the quality becomes too horrendous when you go below 34Kbps,” said Craig.

He said the quality of the picture can be quite good with a fast enough computer and Internet connection, especially when left at the original size of a small window on the screen instead of being increased to full screen.

“For the first time it brings television into the business environment. Many office buildings do not have cable television service, and do not have good over-the-air reception because of all the steel beams and concrete that are involved. This allows people to put a little TV picture in the corner of their screen and watch TV shows.

“As you’re doing an Excel spreadsheet you can be watching Seinfeld,” Craig said.

Approximately 800,000 visitors came to the Web site in December, he said, indicating a favourable response.

“We downloaded about 80 million impressions, which is the number of banners viewed by computers over that time. 20 million of them came from the Web page and 60 million came from the streaming page.”

Craig is determined to keep the service an entirely Canadian one. To satisfy his Canadian advertisers, the Web site dictates via a Terms of Use Agreement that viewers must reside in Canada.

“We didn’t want the site to be inundated with people not from Canada. We wanted to stay focused on the Canadian advertising. We know the issue of having a border open or not is controversial and we didn’t really want to engage in the controversy. We’re not saying it’s illegal to pick it up outside of Canada, we’re just choosing not to make it available to people outside of Canada at the moment,” Craig explained.

“An American can watch it, but their computer has to be in Canada.”

Craig acknowledged that iCraveTV has no way of stopping people from pretending to be in the country, but said he believes most people are basically honest.

However, several Canadian networks and a handful of American parties have not been willing to extend the same belief to iCraveTV itself, and have threatened to sue over the rebroadcasting of their signals without their permission. At press time, Craig said no lawsuits had actually been filed, but threats of them had been made.

“I was hoping for a more progressive approach which said hey look, this is a new way to get our signals out to the public, this is a new way for our advertisers to get a bigger audience… I was hoping they’d take that approach instead of thinking, ‘This is something new, let’s kill it.'”

He said broadcasters have lost court cases in the past where they tried to protect their signals, citing suits against Sony for producing VCRs that would allow people to record the signals in their home, or against cable companies that pick up signals and rebroadcast them without negotiating with the rights holders.

“The broadcasters are using their standard pro forma argument and concerns on a new technology. They’ve talked this way for many decades and we are the new person on block so they’re trying the old script on us, and we’re just carrying on,” said Craig.

A spokesperson for CTV said the network was not commenting at press time, pending an announcement from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters that would speak for CTV and several other networks.

Meanwhile, Craig said he plans to expand into the Vancouver and Quebec markets in the future, and also negotiate with closed-circuit specialty channels to broadcast their shows, perhaps on a pay basis.