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Opinion: America offline

American TV news networks may claim to embrace the digital age, but this is studio-concocted nonsense.

Egyptians work on their computers in a cafe in Cairo. (Aladin Abdel Naby/Reuters)

CAIRO, Egypt — I can watch Al-Jazeera live on my iPod Touch anywhere on earth with an internet signal, but I can’t watch CNN. I can view EuroNews in real time from my office computer in Cairo, but not Fox News. I can watch BBC’s Arabic network live in my lap on a Wi-Fi-enabled jet 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, but not NBC.

American TV news organizations may claim to embrace the digital age, but this is studio-concocted nonsense. Not a single major cable or broadcast news network in the United States consistently streams their programming in real time. The only U.S.-based news network I’ve found that streams live content is Al-Hurra, the U.S. government’s news channel in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, networks from countries all over the world are offering their content free and live to anyone with an internet connection. Haber Turk and TRT-Haber, two of Turkey’s most popular news networks, offer free streams of their programming. Germany’s Deutsche-Welle network freely streams their English-language network as well as an Asia-focused network in German. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation similarly webcasts its evening news program live, and three of Italy’s largest news networks, Rai News 24, Sky and Mediaset, afford live viewing online.

There seem to be two main reasons American TV networks don’t care to do the same. First, cable networks fear streaming their content online will eat into subscription fees they collect through companies like Comcast and Brighthouse. This claim may have some merit, but what’s to stop a network like CNN from charging internet users around the world $10-$20 a year to stream their content live and around the clock?

This would lessen the need for traditional cable providers, with whom news organizations squabble anyway, and the networks may come out making more money. I’m willing to bet that an attractive number of the more than 5 million Americans living outside the U.S., as well as others, would be willing to pay $10 to stream CNN live on their laptops or handheld devices, not to mention the obvious fact that more eyeballs equals more advertising proceeds.

And in any event, mobile provision of TV content is the direction the industry is headed — and it’s the direction some networks around the world have already gone — so CNN and Fox News should just spare their heels the friction and accept the inevitable.

The second reason American TV networks cling to the old model is an absurd fear that people around the world will steal and misuse their content.

TV news executives: Stop flattering yourselves. Selling news reruns is no racket. People around the world don’t want to steal your news content. They want to watch it today to make better decisions tomorrow. (Oh, and they’ll watch your ads, too.)