TV Online: A Glimpse of the Future at the 'Upfronts'

He envisions two- to three-minute episodes that consumers can view "at work or while you're waiting for your car to get fixed, at the dentist. Primetime for Internet video is going to be the working hours."

The rationale is that few viewers would watch their favorite TV shows on a small screen when they can store them on DVRs and watch them at home in wide-screen, high definition splendor.

"Watching 'Lost' on YouTube," Thompson said, "would be like listening to a symphony on a conch shell."

So while the upfronts provide a crystal-ball glimpse into the future of online video, that future is not crystal clear for anyone, the networks, their viewers or advertisers.

Thompson cites the past as a guide: "We are at the stage now of Internet programming where we were in about 1946 with television." Broadcasters may not all catch up with the new medium in the same way, but they are all poised to do so quickly.

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