Last week's launch of on-demand TV shows via Apple iTunes has left many wondering whether UK broadcasters' efforts to make their content available online is too little, too late.
All the hype surrounding the BBC's iPlayer service and similar online strategies announced by Channel 4, Five and ITV pale in comparison to that drummed up by Apple's launch. TV shows and movies have been available via iTunes in the US since 2005, and by the start of 2007 over 50 million shows had been downloaded via the service.
So what does iTunes offer that the BBC and Channel 4 don't? If you forget the quality of the content provided by the various suppliers, and even ignore the fact that traditional UK broadcasters are offering programmes for free, whereas iTunes users have to pay £1.98, one clear difference stands out – flexibility.
The BBC, for example, must pay close attention to the rights held by content makers, so it has to impose restrictions on the types of shows available via iPlayer, and you're only able to view programmes for 30 days after you've downloaded them. It's early days for the BBC's on-demand service, so those users who have managed to negotiate its early quirkiness (see the user comments at the bottom of our review of the iPlayer beta for more details) are probably quite happy to put up with this restriction, for the moment.
But in the coming months and years, are demanding internet users who expect access to everything at a time that suits them likely to put up with this? Sure, you have to pay a premium for iTunes content, but at least you can view it when you want, and as many times as you'd like.
We'd like to hear your view on internet TV downloads. Let us know in the comments section below and answer today's PCA poll in the left-hand panel of the site.