By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Occasionally, at the bottom of an info page, the bootleggers leave a little message. On one page, Evil ISO offers "employment" opportunities. The group, which is associated with an Argentina- based Web site devoted to the game Quake (http://www.evilones.com.ar), urges aspiring criminals to send any digital contraband their way.
Once you, the clandestine consumer, ascertain from one of these sites that the film you desire is available, you then go to the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and place your request. Trading on the IRC can be anonymous for people who have their Internet accounts set up right, and users are much more difficult to trace than are the owners of Web sites, which resides at a static locale in cyberspace. Nonetheless, the fluid nature of the IRC is not a guarantee against getting caught, warns the Motion Picture Association's Jacobsen.
"There are people who agree with us that copyright needs to be protected and who are willing to assist us in working through the IRC and providing us with information," says Jacobsen. â
CONCURRENT WITH THE BOOTLEGGING BOOM is a legitimate (i.e., commercial) net-casting business, even though the audience for both aboveboard and outlaw online video -- films, television-style programming and "events" such as live concerts and sports -- is still tiny, made up mostly of college kids with their high-bandwidth connections in their dorms.
"Traditional TV people laugh at our numbers," admits Julie Smith, vice president of content development for Broadcast.com -- the oldest, largest and best-known aggregator of streaming video and audio on the Internet. "But a live concert will get us in the tens of thousands of viewers."
Broadcast.com operates a video channel with a large, though still limited, selection of movies available for viewing in real time -- that is, with no download wait. You won't find Star Wars in streaming video here. But you will find Satan's School for Girls, Beast From Haunted Cave ("Screaming young girls sucked into a labyrinth of horror by a blood-starved ghoul from Hell") and The Ape ("Obsessed with curing paralysis, a man slays townspeople to tap them of their spinal fluid").
With Star Wars, The Matrix, The Mummy and a roster of similar blockbusters online for the taking, why would anyone want to watch any of those lesser flicks, or, worse, something like Frat Ratz? The Santa Monicabased Digital Entertainment Network -- the DEN -- produces that and several other shows, including Fear of a Punk Planetand Tales From the Eastside ("Love and danger in East L.A.") for broadcast on the Internet only. The shows are net-cast in bite- size episodes.
I tried for several days to talk to someone at DEN, only to be told that all interviews had to be cleared through the company's CEO, who apparently never cleared mine. So I'm forced to quote DEN's "mission statement" off of its elaborate Web site -- the same place that you'll find all of its programming. "DEN's mission is to provide the youth of today with a revolutionary replacement for the passive, brain-killing experience of watching network and cable television. The DEN Century began the week of May 10th, 1999, when we launched the first wave of our 30 interactive television pilots into cyberspace."
DEN is one of only a few companies producing original programming exclusively for Webcast. More common is the Broadcast.com approach: "repurposing" programming designed for "traditional" over-the-air and cable broadcast. In addition to its film library, Broadcast.com also acts as the Netcaster for 41 over-the-air TV stations. They all use either the RealPlayer or Windows Media Player, the two most popular software applications for playing real-time video over the Net.
As with pirated video, however, legal Netcasts are bound by bandwidth. And a confining bind it is. Viewing video over a 56k telephone modem connection can be an excruciating experience. Stanley Cup Final highlights take on all the excitement of watching Jell-O harden.
The Los Angeles company FasTV.com has, it believes, come up with a solution to this problem: Netcast video in bites of two minutes, tops. More importantly, FasTV's hook is to make video searchable by keyword (made possible because almost all broadcast video is close-captioned, which allows a text-based search).
"We take video and completely digitize, encode and process it, make it fully searchable and index it for the consumer to come in and search by a simple keyword to get exactly the concise clip they're looking for," explains FasTV's marketing and business management VP Chuck Ball.
Founded by United Arab Emirates Prince Khaled Al-Nehayan and housed in the swanky E! building on Wilshire Boulevard, FasTV is basically a news and information service. You can't type in Assman and turn up a clip of Kramer from Seinfeld. But that doesn't mean the service has no entertainment value. For example, FasTV made its first splash earlier this year when it indexed and archived videotape of Bill Clinton's entire grand-jury testimony.
"Who's going to sit through all those hours of Bill Clinton?" Ball asks. "All you really want to know is, where did he talk about the cigar thing?"