TVU Networks this week introduced PVR-like functionality for its P2P TV platform, letting subscribers record 300 or so live TV channels from around the world, including Cartoon Network, BBC World News and Telemundo. Users can record shows in real time or schedule them for later. Due to the nature of the service, however, there’s no TiVo-like programming guide available; Mountain View, Calif.-based TVU essentially picks up signals from its broadcast partners and redistributes them with the help of P2P technology.
That also means users have to install the startup’s software in order to make use of the DVR functionality — or watch any of the TV channels in real time, for that matter. And finally, they have to cough up $2 per month for TVU’s DVR service. But while all these factors make the service seem unlikely to succeed, something tells me that TVU’s audience is a forgiving one.
TVU was originally developed in China, where it competes with other popular P2P TV services like PPLive and PPStream. The company received $2.7 million in funding from New Atlantic Ventures last fall, claims to have 40 million viewers, and has been able to secure a couple of deals with major U.S. advertisers as well as broadcasters.
That being said, the majority of content on TVU is still non-English programming. There are a bunch of channels from China and India as well as some oddities, like the one that only features sessions of the French Senate. You’ll also find the occasional unlicensed stream of Family Guy episodes coming directly from somebody’s living room. The experience is a little like watching basic cable on your overseas vacation: lots of channels to flip through, but nothing to watch.
I had a chance to play with the PVR functionality a bit today, which is only available within the newest Windows version of the player. There’s also an OS X version, but it doesn’t feature any recording capability yet. What did I think? Well, to be honest, I was somewhat underwhelmed. First a few words about the sign-up process: Web sites that respond to me entering my credit card with a server error are not all that reassuring, but I guess stuff like this can happen. More irritating was the fact that TVU’s site promises a free 30-day trial, but I was informed via email after signing up that my credit card will be billed for a whole year if I don’t cancel within the next 24 hours.
So what about the recording? It works pretty much as advertised. You can click on a red button within the player to record any ongoing program, or schedule upcoming recordings by time and date. Recorded shows are only available from within the player and can’t easily be burned or transferred. TVU is modeled after a single-tuner PVR, which means that you can’t watch a show while you record another — a restriction that’s likely in place to avoid bandwidth issues, but it would be great if users with fat pipes could add additional recording sessions.
The lack of an interactive programming guide to schedule recordings is definitely a major letdown. TVU features a basic guide in its sidebar, but there’s no way to select any of the listed shows and start recording right away. Instead, you have to search for the channel, see whether it’s available and then manually program start and stop time of your recording. It’s kinda like the good old VCR, only for online video.
So why would anyone actually pay money for this? One word: Sports. TVU is carrying a bunch of channels from around the world that feature soccer games and other sports events. Some of this content may be licensed; some is clearly not; and a lot is broadcasted at times when many of us are supposed to be working. Sports fans have been using P2P TV services to get their Bundesliga and Premier League fix for a long time, and dedicated sites like All P2P TV or MyP2P.eu actually list extensive programming guides for sports events.
Some of these sites also offer software for sale that makes it possible to capture the video of a P2P TV application. It’s only logical that TVU Networks would want a piece of that pie, and you can bet that some users are willing to pay for it.