Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Is it all just a little bit of history repeating?

Does anyone remember the time streaming media was really hot a decade ago? Pretty much around the dot-com bust?

There were some interesting things going on back then(EyeWonder, DestinyMedia doing player-less streaming), Microsoft's Web TV (ahem..), and streaming media was touted being the next hot spot to be in.
Of course, that didn't happen.
Infrastructure(hosting and delivery) was expensive, the market wasn't well defined, and coupled with the dot-com situation, the streaming media proposition became unattractive.

YouTube changed that. Fast forward four years from the bust, and it seemed like the whole world wanted to publish video on the Internet. In 2007, the bandwidth consumed by YouTube alone equalled the total amount of bandwidth consumed on the Internet in 2000. Apples and oranges..maybe, but significant, nonetheless.

Then the "democracy" thing happened: MyTube, YourTube, OurTube, HerTube, HisTube, WeTube, ThisTube, ThatTube, TheTube, ATube, TheirTube....everybody wanted to participate in online video. It was a large enough opportunity, and a number of worthy video sharing websites cropped up.
"Internet TV" was everywhere. White-labels got into the action, with Brightcove, Move Networks, Maven, and FeedRoom(to name a few) starting to serve content studios and corporate publishers looking to go online with their video. Internet TV needed to get turned on, and content publishers needed to turn on their Internet TV channels.

And they did. A few twists and turns aside, a noticeable percentage of media publishers are now serving their content on the Internet, in the dream of enhancing brand value, generating a new source of revenue, and most importantly- reach more people.

I daresay they have realized their dreams. Brands are even being created now because of Internet video(a la LonelyGirl15), new revenue streams are opening up(more so for niche sites like GlamMedia), and 79 million users watched videos on YouTube in Jan 2008 alone.


Good news all around, right?


Internet video is a shaky area to be in. Because the business of Internet video is unsteady. In the most simplistic of analogies, the site with the largest volume of video content on the Internet, and the highest number of eyeballs on the Internet, is unable to turn profitable.
Into its fifth year now, and charging upwards of $100K/day for an ad on its homepage, YouTube exemplifies everything that is wrong with online video: there is no business model.

The business of Internet video is not quite the same as the business of the Internet. Delivering a quality Internet video service is a lot more intensive than delivering a good web service (a la Twitter, Disqus...)
The challenges are a-plenty:
- technological barriers (transcoding, content management)
- user experience issues (keeping users engaged, encouraging social distribution)
- infrastructure (storage, content delivery)
- monetization (ads? PPV? premium? fremium? subscriptions?)
- rights management(protection, regulation, revenue distribution, visibility)

These are all critical issues that come back to haunt content owners, one way or another. The sharpest ones of the lot end up building some of these components, sourcing the others from vendors, and piecing it all together in building up their online video platforms. Others do a half-ass job, building up a business strategy around their technical limitations. Yet others push too hard on a few aspects of their platform, in order to compensate for the deficiencies.
And of course, some are still waiting to get on the Internet video bandwagon.

Is it any wonder that online video is now being classified as a not-so-opportune market, yet again? No one's created a highly profitable online video venture yet. Not YouTube in the online publishing world, not Brightcove in the enabling world(granted, they arrived only two years ago..), and certainly not Revver in the social distribution world(Revver's as dead as.....dead).

So...? Is it all just a little bit of history repeating?

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