Ivi Seeks to Become an Online Cable System

ivi

Now this is ballsy: Seattle-based Ivi Inc. introduced software today that relays live TV feeds online from some 40 broadcasters, including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and Telemundo.

The company claims its application offers “more content than Hulu”, but it hasn’t signed contracts with a single broadcaster. However, Ivi founder and CEO Todd Weaver believes his company’s offering to be perfectly legal. In a phone interview he claimed Ivi is “an online cable system,” and as such is protected by U.S. copyright law.

How’s that possible? In the U.S., cable and satellite TV providers can legally retransmit broadcast content without striking any deals, as long as they pay semi-annual fees to the U.S. Copyright Office: fees which then get distributed to rights holders.

Ivi has already filed paperwork with the Copyright Office to pay these fees. It’s questionable whether broadcasters see eye-to-eye with Ivi on this, and Weaver admitted that lawsuits are not out of the question. “What we expect is a typical knee-jerk reaction from the industry,” he told me.

However, he said that Ivi eventually wants to help broadcasters make money. The company plans to work with Nielsen to provide its viewership numbers, and it also wants to help sell local ad inventory, which it promises will be more effective than on cable TV.¬†“We have the ability to do targeted ads,” said Weaver, and he promised the ability to actually purchase products straight from within an ad further down the line.

For now, Ivi is working on growing its audience, and the company is targeting various hardware platforms, from the iPad to Boxee, Roku and the Google TV in order to do so. Ivi is using P2P technology to distribute its live streams, but the company is using a number of servers for seeding.

I briefly tried the application today, and it’s pretty snappy. A first channel starts playing immediately upon launch, and channel changing also works with minimal buffering. The player offers the ability to pause and rewind current broadcasts as well as access a basic EPG, but that’s about it for now.

Some menu items hint at future plans for on demand and pay-per-view shows, but these aren’t implemented just yet. Weaver told me that he hopes to have pay-per-view shows up and running within the next three months. Ivi is available for free testing for 30 days, and charges around $5 a month after that.

Liz Gannes first reported about Ivi in early 2009.

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