YouTube to Become “Next-Generation Cable Provider”

YouTube, according to the Wall Street Journal and CNET, is looking to become the “next generation cable provider.” We’re seeing more and more shifts in the online-video medium, and YouTube appears to be making dramatic shifts away from its origin.

Reports CNet:

  • youtube 2012

    Google has inked deals with InterActiveCorp’s Electus, News Corp., and “CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker to create content for its site. Celebrity skateboarder Tony Hawk has also reportedly signed a deal with Google.

  • The company was investing $100 million in original content, and would create about 20 “premium channels” featuring 5 to 10 hours of original programming each week.
  • But now that a recent study suggests online-video is giving cable a run for its money, things are changing.

Over the years, YouTube has relied on third-party content and has consistently said that it’s not in the original-content game. But according to the Journal’s sources, Google has designs on becoming a “next-generation cable provider” and has shifted its focus.

Will amateur and short-form video still matter? What do you think?

 

Online Video in 2011: Ready for Drama?

Friends, online-video is going to be a fun storm in 2011 as the drama has just begun. It’s the first official business day of 2011, and that prompted me to awaken at 3:00 a.m. with great curiosity. I spent 4-plus hours diving into dozens of articles and blogs, and have wrapped it all up nicely for you. It’s my late Christmas gift.

Here are “things to watch” in early 2011, including some recent articles. See also my 2011 predictions, which is a mandatory scan. This will be on the exam.

Can WebTV tame the "Big Media" Tiger?

1. The WebTV Bloodbath Is Just Beginning: Check out this killer article by Fortune’s Jessi Hempel titled “What the Hell is Going On With TV” to get a flavor for the impending drama in this space. And I quote: “Netflix, Google, and Apple can’t just swoop in and disrupt the $85 billion home entertainment industry. The challenge lies in navigating the entrenched interests that make up the television business.” Jessi’s piece reminds us that only a 1/10th of a percent of people have left cable television for the web, yet Microsoft says 42% of the premium Xbox Gold users who rely on it to view video are watching more than an hour a day, or 30 hours in a month. “If you’re a cable provider, that should be terrifying,” says Forrester analyst James McQuivey. The author points to Clicker.com as one I’d watch closely… a made-for-web TVGuide and search tool that allows you to locate various shows (Modern Family) and select viewing options: free, per episode or subscription. But Jessi likes Comcast as a driver of a mature online-video model because it protects the financial interests of content providers (as well as its own). I sadly believe she’s right given the confusing and frustrating state of online-video on television today (which she likens to Internet circa 1998).  Fortunately we’ve got two forces to keep Comcast motivated: consumer demand and willing startups ready to meet that demand. And he, Comcast has been asked to be cool (see Bloomberg/Businessweek article).

Click image to read more of Fortune's "What the HELL is Going on With TV"

2. Online-Video Platforms Continue to Get Commoditized, Then Interesting. Frankly I’ve never been as interested in the boring infrastructure supporting online video as I am the marketing, community and content that sits on top of it (where the air is easier to breath). But Streaming Media’s Dan Rayburn explains it well. Sure the space is commoditized, but just because YouTube is free doesn’t mean online-video platform vendors can’t charge a premium for more flexible solutions that can scale and provide unique functionality. According to Rayburn’s “Commoditization Is Not a Dirty Word,” vendors are shifting from talking about how they encode or embed (yawn) and how they a) integrate with ad networks and analytics, b) deliver the right video content to the right user on the right device. That makes sense, and I would not underestimate the power of a platform that meets the needs of creators and advertisers (David Russek‘s SevenEcho, for instance, is one of the best-kept secrets for storytellers and brands). There’s a wide opening for a video platform which better meets the needs of creators and advertisers (see MediaPost article by WatchMojo’s Ashkan Karbasfrooshan). The challenge, of course, is that today traffic (not content) is king, and YouTube continues to reign by miles (comScore). Thanks to music videos, Vevo and Blip.tv continue to grow — but still small fish.

3. YouTube Community Still Alive. Is YouTube a thing, destination or community? Yes, depending on whether you live there 2 hours a day or slide over to see the latest viral clip of search for a meme. Community is still alive, and the eager and weird folks from StirFryTV are cooking up a “YouTour,” a YouTube Tour which starts in Orland on a Jan. 18 event. It will include YouTube allstars Michael Buckley, Shane Dawson and CoolGuyWithGlasses. We’re not sure if John Basedow will be sneaking onto the YouTour RV, and going shirtless to each event to pitch his “Take Control Fitness Package” (making the rest of us feel like fat asses). Paul (odcasting101) remains alive with his YouTube Gathering ning. There’s a San Antonio, Texas YouTube gathering planned in June 17-June 19). While YouTube’s Creator blog has gone dry, it points to 488 YouTube gatherings listed on Meetup.com (mostly tiny ones). I just discovered YTGatherings on Twitter too, and it alerts us to such events like Jake & Amir’s Toronto event on Jan. 27, 2011. I’d be surprised if a YouTube event doesn’t spring up as part of the popular Austin, Texas SouthBySouthwest event March 11-20. After all, there are several YouTube and online-video sessions as part of the programing and Felicia Day is keynoting.

4. Video Search Will Suck Less Get Better. Sure we’ve been saying that for years, but ThinkJose’s Jose Castillo explains why video search sucks: “The internet was never designed as a platform for video… the basic structure and platform we are using to consume visual data is an outdated system originally used for sending text messages between universities.” Castillo reminded me that Blinkx.com is still around, and that Microsoft’s Bing search has a mouse-over playback (and don’t tell YouTube, but I think Bing is curating better with a homepage of videos that I regard as more relevant than what I’m finding on YouTube). He also points to CastTV, which provides blended results from YouTube, CNN, Amazon and other sites. See also Clicker.com (point one).

5. Video Greetings Will Get More Awkward in 2011: Cheesy Christmas video greetings were hot, with some being fabulous and others being downright painful. They didn’t stop, as evidenced by Profnet’s stunningly awkward 2011 New Years video. I hate to say this, but I think we’ve only begun to see how low corporate video-greeting cards can go. Sure this isn’t an “industry shaker,” but it sure will be fun to watch.

6. Video Destinations Rival YouTube: When I pop into a few well curated online-video sites, I increasingly believe YouTube, while still growing in views, will lose share in 2011. Check out Bing’s site and you’ll find a piece about Mona Lisa’s eye codes by NBC (saw it on TV last night), the “No” baby (that has viralinated), and how to break your soda habit via Howcast. That’s far more relevant than what I’m finding when I browse YouTube’s inhumanely edited topic areas, or surf my bloated subscription box. Yahoo Video is still luke warm, but I’d expect it to steal share with the shift away from consumer-generated content in March. AOL Video is still Revverish (insert tumbleweed and sound of crickets) but getting better. While YouTube focuses on being a platform, being relevant on television and mobile, and hopefully searching video better.

7. Damn We Need Curators. It’s simply not possible to “browse” for good videos on YouTube anymore, although perhaps Google will consider some of my unsolicited New Years Resolutions for YouTube. Ultimately I’m not likely to find good content surfing the “most viewed” on YouTube (now dominated by a few niche “web stars” that appear to be “crowd sourced” by a tiny segment of apparently stoned teenage video enthusiasts). Instead, we’re more likely to find it via curators like eGuiders. Why aren’t we seeing more curators (see NYTimes blog on subject from last year). For instance, ReelSEO’s Jeremy Scott carefully selected some fantastic viral highlights from last year. That was more helpful to me than combing through YouTube. I wrote a lot about curating in Beyond Viral; go buy that dang book so I’m not the laughing stock of Wiley. Hitwise’s Bill Tancer saw the migration of early YouTubers to curated content sites a year ago, but it’s been oddly quiet.

8. Online Video Gets More Social. I didn’t hit that hard enough in my 2011 predictions, so let me point to Hitwise’s report about Facebook driving the social engine of the Internet. Basically Facebook’s growth hasn’t slowed down, and MySpace and Bebo are crumbling. YouTube, surprisingly, is flat relative to Facebook. I’m telling you… watch for Facebook offering revenue sharing and see if the YouTube community shifts over to Facebook. Daneboe’s cracked Facebook via the insanely popular Annoying Orange with nearly 7 million “likes” (compared to only 1.5 million YouTube subscribers despite his 423 million views). Currently Daneboe uses Facebook to alert fans to a video, then streams it on YouTube where he generates a percentage of income. How easy would it be for him to start using Facebook if the company revenue shared? Most of us YouTubers haven’t cracked Facebook yet, and it’s high time for that. NYTimes Tech Blogger, Miguel Helft, also points to Clicker.com (someone’s doing good PR) for socializing video.

9. You’re Going to Pay More for Broadband: Video will soon dominate the percent of Internet traffic (see 2011 “Year Ahead In IT,” point 6). You .o5 percent of cable snippers are draining the economic system like illegitimate welfare recipients or those pesky entitled Boomers looking for social security payouts. Sure maybe there will be a poor-man’s broadband solution, but the rest of us are going to pay. With broadband suckers like Netflix and the new Skype iPhone Video one-to-one apps, do you honestly think telecommunication firms and broadband providers aren’t going to get wise? The U.S. is 18th in the world for speed, and we can bet that’s going to get some attention despite the historical year-over-year flat cost of broadband.

10. Google Going Beyond YouTube. Despite the GoogleTV Sony/Logitech launch running into a mix of praise and hiccupsreworking software and media-company resistance, we can expect Google to go beyond YouTube in 2011. Check out Information Week’s predictions on what Google will do this year. Among them: going Hollywood. That appears a difficult but inevitable play for Google to “organize the world’s information,” when you recognize “big media” as a large, sustainable chunk of it.

Finally take note of NewTeeVee’s Liz Shannon Miller’s poll about what force will really impact the space. Most votes are not for Hulu, Netflix, TV Everywhere, Apple or Google… most of us believe the real “shake up” or transformation will be driven by… something else. If YouTube and Facebook’s relative overnight success taught us anything about this still-maturing market, it’s that where there are problems and unmet consumer needs, there’s always something sudden and new that can keep it interesting.

What Will Matter About Online Video in 2011: Top 10 List

The space called “online video” is as broad as its players: online-advertisers, mobile technology, content creators, media properties, networks, cable-television providers, startups and individual YouTube “weblebrities.” But let’s not miss the fact that while I’ve been writing about “online video” for 5 plus years, I don’t likely have 5 more to go. As I mentioned in Beyond Viral’s chapter 18 (The Future of Online Video), we’ll soon return to calling video simply “video,” whether it’s on our computer, HDTV, mobile device or whatever else comes along.

Presumably my blog will migrate too, just as it has in the past. First it was “Revverberation” focusing strictly on the only 2005 revenue-sharing video property (Revver) to a site for amateur video creators looking to make a buck. Now it’s a blog I hope is relevant to a wider audience, such as online-video networks, digital agencies, online-advertising buyers and fellow marketers.

We “futurists” (dare I call myself one) typically fail by overestimating short-term changes but underestimating long-term ones. For instance most of my 2006 predictions came true… just not in 2007. I’ll crack out my annual crystal ball without reading Alex Rowland’s 2011 online-video predictions or any others. But when I’m done, I’ll add their links at the bottom and perhaps to substantiate or evolve my countdown of 2011 game changers.

So here’s not just what will happen in 2011, but what it means and why it matters.

1) Here Comes the Money. Until 2009, marketers were concerned about placing ads anywhere near “consumer generated content.” In 2010, online-video advertising was the fastest-growing portion of a marketer’s mix. Advertisers are still scrutinizing reach (scale), targeting, and impact. But online-video ad spending forecasts are very positive, and it remains a “buyer’s market” for those media buyers willing to divert ad budgets into online video units. YouTube commands a ridiculously small CPM (cost per thousand views) relative to most properties, and demo-accuracy aside, is driving ROI for most brand pioneers (as measured by attention scores, direct response or “CPC,” recall, intent-to-purchase lifts and ultimately sales, where accurately tracked). Advertisers took many years to migrate dollars from offline to online, but most analyst reports are bullish on ad spending moving to online video (at the expense of offline media and lower-performing banners). So content creators (and media sites) who hold constant on monthly views will receive bigger checks. As an example, when I reluctantly turned on “pre-rolls” to my Nalts videos I saw my income increase significantly with no change to total views (still 4-6 million per month).

2) Bold New Online-Video Advertising Models: InStream or InVideo formats (small overlays on the bottom 20% of the online-video screen) was certainly more effective than adjacent banners, and a smart compromise to avoid charging for content. But the market is artificially depressed for these ads, and pre-rolls have become dangerously pervasive alternatives. I hope and trust that creators, advertisers and (quite importantly) video platforms will provide new formats that a) respect the viewer, b) complement the content, and c) ensure that ad message gets sufficient attention to command a fair price. Most importantly, the most innovative approaches will weave ad messages into the creative, and target with greater precision for a better return on advertising investments.

3) Experimentation With Ad-Free, Microcharge Pay-Per-View: Given how little ad-revenue generates per active view, I would expect some online-video creators (if platforms cooperate) to experiment with a token fee-based subscription models. If it was easy, I’d pay a small fixed or variable fee to avoid cursed pre-rolls before viewing online-videos by YouTube Partners. As long as an annoying preroll generates a fraction of a penny to YouTube and the Partner, it wouldn’t cost a viewer much to purchase immunity from them (while still keep the platform and creator “whole” on income). Imagine if YouTube offered viewers the ability to effectively self fund the content he/she consumes for a modest monthly fee based on the quantity of videos consumed. I realize 70-90% of online-video viewers would resent whipping out their wallets because they feel entitled to free content. So I wouldn’t expect this to explode, nor would I propose an “either/or” scenario. That said, I trust I’m not alone in saying that I’d rather pay $5 a month to enjoy all of my YouTube videos without interruption, and that’s all it would take to offset the ad revenue YouTube and its partners might otherwise generate. This has been proven on certain websites and apps (free with ads, small fee for ad-free) and could work in this medium… but it does require a PayPal or Google Checkouts to make this incredibly easy. Mac cracked the code with me and others by simply making the purchase/rent option so incredibly easy that pirating content is no longer worth it.

4) The Video “Screen” Becomes Less Important: For years we’ve anticipated the great collision of “lean forward” (computer) and “lean back” (television). It was going to fundamentally change the ecosystem and democratize content creation. Finally in 2010 you didn’t need an MIT PhD to enjoy digital video content without an antenna or a cable-television subscription. Of course this convergence, despite dramatic improvements in the past year, is still being enjoyed by fewer than 10% of Americans. Now we have three discreet segments of video consumers:

  • Early adopters (we’re using home-rigged media centers, TiVo, GoogleTV, Roku, Boxee, AppleTV, and clumsy ethernet-enabled televisions.
  • The lagging but vibrant “cable snipping” generation, which had a sudden epiphany during the past solar orbit, and believes Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner are “The Walking Dead” because content will forever remain free.
  • The laggards who will enjoy subscribed, licensed, stolen or ala cart (on demand) video content via television, computer and mobile… only when their cable-TV provider makes it incredibly easy.

None of this matters terribly by itself. Sure our content via YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Cable “On Demand,” Amazon and other providers) is increasingly portable, and we’ll eventually carry our subscriptions on our primary mobile device (aka phone). Hooray! We’ll have the luxury of watching rented, purchased or “borrowed” Avatar film or Modern Family episodes continuously whether we’re on the couch, commuter train or our desktop (example: Xfinity or Dish Network’s “TV Everywhere“).

More importantly, we’ll prefer to consume different types of content via different screens, and that poses a challenge to content creators. For the most part, we’ll subscribe (free or paid) to most content that’s popular within our social networks (real or virtual). But we’ll search (usually in laptop-like mode) for “just in time” content, which may include quick “how to” videos or a clip we’ve heard is “going viral.” Demographics (age, region) and psychographics (behavioral) will dictate viewer preferences, so Paw Paw may watch Fox and CNN on her cable box, mom may surf her cable lineup, young urban adults may binge The Onion and College Humor on computers using HDTV as a monitor, and the teens and tweens can gorge semi-pro content like Barely Political and Annoying Orange from the privacy of their Smart Phones.

So what does this mean to the people who depend on audiences? Creators and advertisers will need to know their audiences better, and leverage different mediums and form factors (length of content and distribution strategy) to reach and satisfy them. We won’t see the end of niche creators with niche audiences whose needs can’t be met via more mainstream content (hot music, top comedy, the quirky clip that taps our collective consciousness). However these creators should take caution in mimicking the habits of the top talent, and instead focus on depth not breadth.

5) Transmedia Storytelling Grows Up: At September’s New York Television Festival (NYTVF) Digital Day, panelists discussed the challenge of “transmedia” storytelling. For these media executives, directors, creative types and writers, “online video” was one element of a storyline. Their challenge, unlike a web series like The Guild, is to leverage online-video to complement a story that is powered by a television show, but offers short-form web video as an optional “add on” to the experience. Previous television “webisodes” (like those of The Office, which were well promoted during the weekly television episodes) were largely isolated events. One could enjoy The Office without the webisodes, but hardcore viewers enjoyed the extra, independent plots. As more people are conveniently able to dive into a webisode from their television, it’s likely these previously “stand-alone” pieces of entertainment will serve a richer role in the narrative.

6) Independent Webisodes Get Second Chance. In the early days of online-video, there wasn’t a sufficient revenue model for well-produced webisodes that were fairly expensive to produce, but had trouble attracting audiences. Look for aggregators snatching some of the quality content at a low cost, and forging distribution deals to give them new life. Currently there are dozens of popular YouTube channels that meet the definition of “webisodes” (see a Mashable list of popular ones in 2010). But what about all the Streamy nominees featuring well-produced but sometimes starving comedic, drama or reality-show “webisodes”? Could the mercurial content from “Funny or Die” find a new and broader audience via well-promoted subscriptions via new devices? This provides new income to the show owners, unique content for audiences, and a powerful differentiator for the distribution platform. Roku, by example, provides easy access to Revision3 content, and that’s a free “value add” for Roku users that gives Revision3 shows (Film Riot, Scam School) a larger audience to attract advertisers.

7) The Amateur-Creator “Thinning of the Hurd.” The “amateur” talent pyramid has transformed from flat to tall, and almost no YouTube star has jolted into mainstream. Still, hundreds of lean amateurs have developed comfortable full-time jobs (six figures plus) as YouTube Partners in the past 18 months. The “weblebrity” lifecycle is shrinking (rapid rise and fall), with just a few dozen channels dominating the vast majority of views. This is no different from the maturing of any previous medium (radio, television, blogs, Indie music) because society can’t handle radical fragmentation of content. Shared media/entertainment is a social glue that forgets a common vocabulary, so it’s “survival of the fittest.” Even with occasional “overnight successes” (from Justin Bieber to the relatively small Shaycarls, iJustines and Wheezywaiters), we collective viewers struggle focusing on more than 20-50 different webstars or channels, and eventually the best 10% will own 90% of the views on YouTube — or emerging “democratic” mediums with relatively low barriers to entry. It happened with music, and it’s happening on YouTube, where the same 7-20 people are routinely dominating the daily “most popular” charts, and the “one-hit wonder” viral videos are celebrated and forgotten like a fad.

Now let’s look at some other online-video 2011 predictions to nail the final 3:

8) Social-Viewing and Curation. VidCompare invited some industry experts and platform owners to speculate on some coming trends. It’s a beefy list of predictions, but I’m summarizing two related predictions I found especially important (where italics are my own reactions to the assertions).

  • Dramatic increase in social viewership drives innovation in social sharing techniques and measurement (Jeff Whatcott – SVP Marketing, Brightcove). An absolute in my opinion. Look no further than how Daneboe has used Annoying Orange’s popular Facebook identity to increase views on his YouTube videos.
  • 2011 is the year we curate. The result of this massive explosion of content creation is that we are increasingly overwhelmed with choice. Too much content makes finding useful and relevant material increasingly difficult. In a world of unlimited choice, search fails. What we’ll see is a growing category of content curators – individuals, brands, and publishers. (Steve Rosenbaum – CEO, Magnify.net). Steve has always been ahead of the market, and curation is logical and desirable. I became introduced to the concept of video curation while writing my book, and see it as a natural and healthy progression of the medium.
  • See more technology-oriented predictions on VidCompare, as well as observations on what geographic markets will drive growth, what major players (Amazon, NBC) will dominate, and how ad networks will face a squeeze.

9) Cost Per Engagements: Speaking of ad networks, see what the leading providers are anticipating in 2011 (AdExchanger), including some interesting thoughts on CPE (cost per engagement) by Tremor Media’s CEO Bill Day. I like CPE better than CPM because I feel that impressions is a poor judge of online-video performance. What matters is how the viewer engaged, and what they did as a result of the video… even though that’s often missed by CPE.

10) Standard Wars, and Everyone’s a Media Company: Brightcove’s Jeremy Allaire wrote a nice TechCrunch article about standard wars, connected TVs and social recommendations.Well worth a read, as Allaire is standing in the middle of a separate part of this ecosystem that I don’t see first-hand.

Okay now your turn. What’d I miss? What did I call wrong? Let’s crowd-source our psychic powers and make the first 100% accurate technology predictions, shall we?

    Make Your Own CNN News: Nancy Grace Competition?

    Looking for a DIY (do it yourself) news site to show TSA (transportation security administration) “pat downs” that are TMI (two much information)? Well put down your acronyms, and get out your cameras…

    I’m not sure how long this has been around, but I find this consumer-generate “breaking news” site interesting. CNN has a consumer-generated news section.

    fake cnn news girls box nancy grace
    Move over, Nancy Grace. CNN has "make your own news" website. Live executions coming soon?

    People are uploading photos of car wrecks, notes for missing children, and (most importantly) videos about the latest TSA agent who looked at them funny (Parenthetically I saw a guy snapping a photo of his mom getting a perfectly appropriate TSA pat-down, and he was politely told to put the camera away… there’s some saucy Nancy-Grace like news).

    • The bad news: the “most viewed” videos or photos have been seen only a dozen times or so. It’s not popular, and akin to setting up your own VHS camera and showing your homemade “news report” to your friends.
    • The good news: it has a high perceptual value of importance and credibility despite the “not vetted by CNN news” disclaimer. It’s on CNN.com and listed as “breaking news.” So if it was produced well… it would be hard for someone to internalize the disclaimer.

    How long before people start packaging up fake “product reviews” and using CNN to distribute them? I gather someone at CNN has the sad task of seeking and killing spam, but it seems like a spammer or infomercial’s playground… or at least a few Nancy Grace impersonators. I wonder if CNN would pull the content if someone took the “Nancy Grace model” just one step further and actually performed a live execution of the victim of the news report. Or at least a lynch mob.

    You Don’t Have to Be CableTV’s Bitch. Options Abound!

    The poor television networks and cable. In one of the seminal points of the evolution of online-video-to-television and mobile, the networks are putting legitimate near-term business desires and needs above consumer demand and innovation. You could view recent moves — like blocking GoogleTV and Hulu’s paid app with ads — as strength and discipline. Avoiding threats to their lucrative cable TV partnerships. Or you could view all of this as a tragic flaw — not dissimilar to the music industry’s early failures in the dawn of digital distribution.

    CableTV and networks are preserving their cash cows. But not for long.

    It’s the perilous curse of any comfy industries that is reticent to let high-potential new revenue streams and consumer demand cannibalize their cash cows … and it’s the cart blanche for startups that produce new models to meet consumer needs.

    But guess what? You have a choice (see options below). Ironically, I have Verizon FIOS servicing my home as I write this blog entry, and the company is updating its offering to provide more for less (less expensive additions, faster broadband and soon web-via-TV). Still, the cable-TV box is quickly dying (see WSJ). The FTC is making it harder for CableTV companies to force its own boxes on people, yet most of the “unwashed masses” don’t know they have other options. It amazes me that most people are oblivious to the fact that the CableTV box and the DVD player are the least interesting things that can feed their HDTV.

    Meanwhile, Hulu is also slipping: yesterday I was about to download the Hulu app on my iPad, until I saw that it had one of the worst ratings I’ve yet seen on iPhone/iPad apps! Apparently the “Generation I” isn’t keen on the subscription charge plus commercials, and Hulu is missing the opportunity to develop an ad-supported wide “anytime, anywhere” distribution of network content without intermediaries. In a similar flub, Google TV is being blocked by networks and Hulu, because they’re no doubt rooting for a network-friendly cable alternative that will take forever and suck. But they’re counting on it stopping a “great migration” away from monthly cable.

    You can’t blame the networks for wanting to charge for content, which is the very basis of a very fair $99 AppleTV model (where consumers pay “ala cart” to rent specific television shows, and it’s commercial free HD content without a subscription). But the “one to watch,” in my opinion and others, is Netflix’s evolving model, a fixed-price (as low as $8) “all you can eat” movie rental service which is becoming much more generous and easy, as viewing options rapidly expand from DVDs by mail to desktop, Roku, AppleTV, Netflix, some DVR and DVD players, and iPhone. We don’t even bother with those red Netflix envelopes by mail, and our days of visiting Blockbuster are completely over. Sometimes we accidentally pay $5 for Verizon’s “on demand” movies, only to discover they’re part of the free Netflix library to which we subscribe!

    Hulu’s bi-polar approach, driven surely by networks and not by Jason Kilar, the company’s smart, flexible and customer-oriented CEO. Kilar has created a site designed first for viewers, and offers advertisers novel ad options (like allowing viewers to view one trailer instead of multiple in-stream ads, or giving consumers the choice of what ad they view). But Hulu also has to protect its content partners, who aren’t keen on anything that threatens the addictive income they fetch from cable providers.

    Just like smart phones exploded in the past 18 months, the online-video & television merger is just entering “the tipping point.” It appears the emergence of GoogleTV has everyone innovating in desperation. So what should you do?

    Like the boys from Prison Break, set yourself free. You have options to escape the restrictions of your cableTV provider.
    1. Join Netflix for if you watch more than 2-3 movies a month. It’s the most cost-efficient and easiest way to watch movies because it’s “all you can eat” on a fairly decent library. To enjoy it beyond the laptop, you’ll want a $99 AppleTV or $80 Roku. The quality is fantastic, and it’s easy to use.
    2. Google TV has folks scared. And scared industries innovate.
    3. Unless you don’t mind the horribly slow and counter-intuitive cable boxes, you may still want a TiVo. It’s frustrating to pay TiVo a monthly subscription (around $15)  and still pay your cable provider maybe $5 for a card allowing TiVo to read the signal. But TiVo is the gold-standard for easy interface, and sells refurbished boxes. Even better, there’s one you can rent, which helps you avoid the one-two pain punch of a purchased unit plus subscription. TiVo, like most new Blueray DVDs and retail DVRs, also offers Netflix and other services (like Amazon and Blockbuster, for when Netflix doesn’t stock the latest movies).
    4. Keep your eye on CableTV box alternatives: AppleTV, GoogleTV and all of the new BlueRay DVDs with advanced options. You’ll find there’s far more for your HDTV to enjoy when it’s not plugged into that archaic cable box, but most of us accept these dumb boxes without question. As I learned recently from Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Sears, the manufacturers of these boxes will attest the fact that the cable providers “dumb them down” for various reasons, not the least of which is preservation of a dying business model.
    5. Finally, if you hate watching television via a hot laptop, you may be a candidate for an iPad. It’s small, it streams Netflix well, and it’s a good bed/couch option if your spouse is watching Nancy Grace and you want to avoid getting a TV lobotomy.
    My wife watches Nancy Grace, and I'd rather hear our pet pig squeal (or watch something smart and funny on my iPad with scream-canceling headphones)

    Apple’s iTV: Using Evil Powers to Help The Little Guy?

    My A-Team friends and I used to use our special ops training to build cabbage-tossing machines to protect the little guy. And after every car crash, you knew nobody got hurt.

    What do Apple’s iTV, the A-Team, Leverage and Burn Notice have in common? Read on…

    It’s been rumored that a $99 iTV may soon launched, and Bloomberg is reporting Apple “has a few content deals in the works that will allow iTunes users to rent TV shows for 99 cents” (via Technolog). Most Applephilaholics are fussing about the potential of a new iTouch that offers a camera and other features from the iPhone 4 (it’d be like an iPhone5 without the inconvenience of calls to drop). We at WillVideoForFood are not amused by incremental advancements on these products.

    The prospects of iTV is wayyyyy more exciting. AppleTV, despite its strengths, is the red-headed step child of Apple. It’s still a bit expensive ($150 refurbished and $229 for 160GB), and is a conceptual leap for those in love with

    • high cable bills
    • road trips to Blockbusters
    • complicated DVRs
    • and the caveman-like posture from watching video on a laptop
    My "Burn Notice" friends and I use our espionage and spy skills to help the little guy

    Will a $99 price point change that? Yes if it’s fast and loaded with options. Hulu is cool, but I’ll pay $1.99 for 40-minutes of a cool TV-show to avoid slow streams, buffer problems, cheesy ads, and redirects to the network player. Of course most studios won’t want to piss off their primary revenue stream via cable providers — on the prospects of picking up some uncertain income from the 10’s of thousands of people that pick these up. However if adoption of the iTV doesn’t require a device and becomes pervasive as iTunes then we’ll see a radical improvement of the video space that will remind us of what Steve Jobs did to the music industry.

    I’m not saying Jobs isn’t a black-shirt douche bag, and Apple does use its clout to pull a lot of dick moves (Flash-retardant). But iTV could help out the little guy, at the expense of Big Bad Cable.

    Here’s what we like:

    1. This could make it increasingly mainstream to enjoy network ‘TV” shows on any device (television, laptop, smart phone/iPhone/iTouch) without the hassle of a damned app for every network.
    2. It will legitimize a pay-per-show model instead of ad-supported networks that are bundled with crap you don’t need. For example, I’ve become a USANetwork junkie (hanging out weekly with my friends on Burn Notice, where we use our skills of espionage to help the little people). I’m also watching a lot of TNT (hanging out weekly with my friends from Leverage, where we use our skills of con, grifting, cyberhacking to help the little people). And sometimes I want to catch up on classic episodes from vintage NBC (where I could revisit my old teenage friends from A-Team, where we use our special ops experience to help the little people). I buy an assload of television shows (despite having a minimalist cable bill), and my consumption would increase if I could rent for 99 cents instead of owning for $1.99 — I rarely watch the show again anyway… and if I miss it on the DVR/TiVO I buy it.

      My Leverage friends and I use our skills to help the little guy. The grifter, thief, hack, con artist... and me.
    3. You and I can pay for what we want. I’ve spent 100 times more on “TV” buying ala cart via AppleTV but I’m okay with that — because I don’t like monthly subscriptions that entitle me to crap I don’t need. My AppleTV is loaded with hundreds and hundreds of television shows… for instance, previous seasons of shows I now love. Force me to the “all you can eat buffet” cable bill and I’m just going to get sick while I eat sub-par food with 400-pound losers. It’s like receiving the stupid newspaper each day… it’s not the cost as much as the feeling of continual waste.
    4. By facilitating ala-cart options for viewers, studios will benefit from a new revenue stream independent of the abusively negotiated cable packages and suppressed ad income… and enjoy going direct to consumers, where they can upsell other shows and even develop sole sponsorships instead of cheap-ass GRP ads. I’ve never paid for HBO in my life, but there are shows I’d buy ala cart including Sopranos (a family who uses its mobster experience to torture the little guys).
    5. The biggest interim beneficiary will be “The New Establishment” (Next New Network, Revision3) who will gladly offer gratis its myriad of semi-pro content (Barely Political, Scam School, Film Riot) to gain vital new eyeballs and audiences. These players are aggressively marketing their content as “value adds” on Roku and TiVo. If we don’t see the Disneys and HBOs willing to adjust their cable-centric models, iTV would want to introduce this free and fresh content instead of old episodes of Alf (an alien who used his little-guy sarcasm for no apparent purpose).
    Hi. It's Craig. Remember me? You used to pick on me in grade school. Now I work for a large cable company. So suck my Alf, baby. You'll use my shit-ass device, and buy what I tell you to buy.

    Cable Faces Imminent Threat. But Unwashed Masses Too Lazy To Care.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a 100-person Utah company, led by CEO Roxanne Austib, has raised more than $67 million from some prominent backers that include Microsoft Corp., Comcast Corp. and Walt Disney Co.’s venture-capital arm. The goal? Bring television video to homes via the Internet. I know. Crazy, right? What next? A computer in every home?

    Move Internet Television: But Moving is Scary. I Like it Here.

    If the company pulls it off, you could watch programs via the web, your television-shaped monitor (via a converter box unless it already has an Internet jack or wireless receiver), or via your stupid iPhone or iPad (which some bastard called “the fourth screen” today at a conference, and made my omelette travel back up my throat).

    But you won’t.

    “…Move isn’t laying cable or launching satellites (so it says it)… can charge consumers far less than traditional pay-television operators for a comparable suite of channels. Move hopes to undercut those operators further by offering a pared-down lineup-perhaps as few as 80 to 100 channels.”

    Here’s where it gets interesting. Comcast just launched a service called TV Everywhere that, um, uses Move software to provide its paying prisoners free on-demand access via the web. So will Comcast keep Mmmmoving? Or drop Move like Time Warner dropped its retarded older stepbrother AOL?  I’d expect a bloodbath, and I will enjoy every moment. As the WSJ acknowledged, this “could turn cable providers into little more than utilities, maintaining thousands of miles of dumb pipe-pipe through which Move’s snazzily repackaged TV programming would be flowing.” Say what you will about Comcast, but I don’t think it will become a dumb pipe without a fight.

    Would you like to know the very sad “secret weapon” cable maintains? We’re change-adverse, lazy idiots.

    He looks like we behave under the trance of lame utility companies.

    We take don’t like breaking up with important service providers even when they suck (how many excuses have you used to avoid adopting voice-over-IP?) We default to whatever damned boxes our cable/fiber/phone providers install. The model T Ford comes in black and black. We are statistically proven to prefer the burger with the McDonalds wrapper against the exact same burger wrapped in white paper.

    We don’t trust new companies- especially on something important like a utility. What? Clear? Saw them at BestBuy and in lots of newspapers and billboards. But who are they? Verizon’s my phone company. It’s the only one I’m allowed to use. Just like the US Post Office is the only way I can send a letter. Groceries delivered via web order? No I like to smell my canned food before I buy it.

    But the TRS-80 Comes With a Tape Recorder AND Basic.

    Take TiVo for example. It’s better, but few Comcast or Verizon customers realize they don’t have to put up with the TRS80-like machines the cable/telecom companies issue like obligatory military uniforms. Even better, the AppleTV (for $200) will give you every damned television show or movie you could ever want for a couple bucks and 2 clicks… with no stupid monthly obligation.  Do we buy them? Nope. We’re saving up for an iPad as big as a goitre.

    But the Unwashed Masses DO Need Their Fashion Accessories.

    So perhaps Move soars over every hurdle and obstacle that cable and telcom companies can lobby into its way. Then it manages to (with a nervous and tempered endorsement from big media and tech players) launch a less expensive, easier, high-quality offering that effectively makes Comcast/Verizon a giant Bill-Murray wielding hose… Some early adopters try it and love it. They tell all their pretend virtual friends. But unless 100% of that $67 million is going into mass advertising, we unwashed masses remain confused, and stick with our drunk & swearing spouses we call cable/telecom. It’s our fault they abuse us.

    It's our fault he drinks so much.

    Yes, we unwashed masses continue overpaying for never-used cable channels, ignoring the blinking 12:00 on the Betamax, and continue our 45th year of renting standard-issue 30-pound rotary phones for $5 a month from Ma Bell. We unwashed masses already tried your fancy microwave machines and facsimile phones, and that will be enough for now.

    The only phone that works with your telcom company. It's not so bad.

    YouTube is Hot, But Watch Out for Over the Top

    Welcome WVFF Guest Blogger
    Jim Louderback

    dead-tvSure, you think the TV is dead. But it’s not. The act of lazing about in front of a big screen TV watching, laughing and enjoying video content is going to be even bigger than ever. But here’s the rub. It’ll be less about cable and broadcast, and much more about internet video.

    It boils down to this: If you’re not creating video with the big screen in mind, you’re going to miss one of the biggest developments in 2010.

    We’ve already seen great success with Revision3‘s content on Roku; the tiny box that streams Netflix, baseball, Amazon, and now us. Along with Twitter, Pandora, Flickr and more all on the big screen.

    We at Revision3 were up nearly 15% in the first two weeks that our channel launched – and that was during the traditional down weeks of Thanksgiving.

    Next year TV will get smart.

    Vizio, the biggest TV vendor in the US, will bring real connectivity to every TV it sells that’s larger than 45 inches. Many other TVs will do the same.

    Boxee’s box will ship.

    Cable set top boxes will connect to web video.

    It’s a brand new outlet and it can’t be ignored.

    youtube-tvUnfortunately, YouTube seems to be asleep at the wheel. I asked them recently if they were going to play in over the top, they said they prefer to be browser-based rather than having separate interfaces. Sure, having multiple and separate interfaces can be tough, but their approach is wrong. Consider mobile – websites are terrible on that screen. The same goes for the big screen at 10 feet away.

    But, let’s imagine I was led to speculation with my YouTube contacts, perhaps they were being… coy. We could very well find Android or Chrome jumping in and powering TVs by 2011.

    We’ll see…

    In the mean time, you can do a few things to ensure you don’t miss the boat in 2010.

    First, produce and distribute in HD. If and when YouTube is available on the big screen, the better looking videos will win. Quality will always be more important in this world.

    Second, think about an alternate channel for over the top. Try hooking up with Xbox, glom onto Roku with Mediafly or Blip.TV.

    Most importantly, find ways to get your stuff into that world.

    Oh, and keep an eye on Revision3 in early January. We’ll be covering the heck out of the annual Consumer Electronic Show, posting on our site, and on our popular YouTube Channel. We’ll be bringing you the latest over the top devices and provide commentary on how this brave new world of internet video is evolving.

    Jim Louderback
    Jim’s Web Blog
    Revisisons3
    Revisisones3’s YouTube Channel
    Follow Jim On Twitter

    Cable’s Fate as FCC Pushes for Internet-TV Access: Impact of Comcast/NBC

    David Lazarus of the LA Times writes about the FCC’s role in shaping broadband enabled television (remember that computers are in 74% of homes, but televisions in 99%). In the wake of Comcast’s impending takeover of NBC Unviersal, Lazarus writes:

    If federal regulators have their way, the next big thing on the tech horizon will be a brave new world of Internet-ready, work-with-any-network set-top boxes, offering consumers unprecedented multimedia options through their TVs, not just their computers. And if this plays out as the Federal Communications Commission envisions, the world as cable companies know it will radically change, making the potential synergies of the Comcast-NBC deal all but obsolete.

    Mind you, I’m no fan of bloated “synergy” deals like AOL Time Warner, but that “all but obsolete” statement sounded to me like an incredible generalization. Given Comcast’s legitimate concerns about its sustainability as an intermediary between content and customers, it seems like Comcast’s ownership of a network would make it far from obsolete… regardless of an FCC move.

    Comcast NBC Universal logo

    Most of us who watch this space are more progressive about our technology, but I won’t soon forget a conversation I had with a Verizon employee who I asked to install a card into my TiVo. He was struggling with this process, and explained to me that almost all Verizon employees use Verizon’s horrible box. It’s partially because it’s easier and less expensive, but I’m willing to bet few know they have other options.

    So if the cable-subscribing masses passively use the box Comcast provides, then Comcast can effectively advantage NBC content… giving it the premier stations and placement. Consider when you’re in a hotel, that before you can channel surf you’re forced invited to watch one of the $15 movie rentals (a price at which you could buy a DVD anywhere else). An analogy would be if YouTube owned two-dozen partner channels and gave them top billing on YouTube’s homepage and “related videos.”

    Done right, vertical integration produces some advantages to the company and lower costs to the consumer (by eliminating the middle-man and reducing overlap between players in a supply chain)… think Walmart. Done wrong, it’s a price-gauging monopoly that abuses its power by, for instance, requiring a Comcast subscription to access NBC content (unlikely). The NY Times covers this scenario in an editorial. Indeed many attempts at synergy result in customers getting screwed and a remarkably unfocused company. I worked for a web-strategy group acquired by Qwest (the Denver-based telcom) and saw no advantage to a telcom owning a web-services group.

    Back to the consumer and what he/she experiences… if Comcast installs a device that makes television-viewing and web-surfing easy, then it has a non-trivial advantage. It can run ads around television web-viewing so it capitalizes wherever  the consumer is going (free or paid). It can make Hulu a pain in the ass to watch. It also has the ability to prompt viewers to purchase on-demand NBC content or provide upsell offerings as subscriptions (with the click of a mouse).

    Conclusion: Comcast/NBC strikes me as far more powerful than Vertizon or a stand-alone ISP/cable company. If you own the technology and content then you can profit from ads or upselling content. It’s kinda like the kid in the neighborhood that owns the only football. He’s probably going to get invited to each game, and the game is temporarily over if he decides to go home because he’s mad. Of course if he abuses this role, at some point the other kids will purchase their own football and tell that kid to piss off forever.

    football

    Can The Mutant-Child of Cable & Web Video Survive? Seven Magic Tricks.

    shark that wants to eat daisy whitney's poodle violet

    Television networks have had no more luck spawning, popularizing, or learning from online-video content than newspapers have had increasing circulation in recent years. But Fox 15 Gig has caught some online-video gurus’ attention, and UncleNalts has 7 magic tricks for you television and cable mavens who dare enter the shark-infested viral online-video watery… thing.

    The people have chosen. We are magnetically polarized to opposite ends of the content-duration spectrum: short-form content by amateur solo-acts or a lucky few over-produced television series. The mutated child of this man-beast marriage is not socializing well at school. But I’m here to help.

    Seems Daisy Whitney (in this week’s New Media Minute) thinks Fox’s 15 Gigs (which launched quietly in the summer) has a fighting chance. Watch her video to find out why. Or trust me for a summary. Or just shut-up and watch last week’s episode because she had a totally hawt guest).

    Daisy Whitney's Killer French Poodle

    1. She digs Black20, the creators of “Easter Bunny Hates You” (which I shamelessly plagiarized in my Mad Turkey, but resisted rerunning this season).
    2. She believes 15 Gigs is “learning from the mistakes” and has an advantage of not being a first-mover like ABC and HBO’s failed attempts.
    3. Most importantly, she likes the concept of testing low-cost production online (sometimes less expensive than a script) before investing in television.
    4. She loves violet her French poodle Violet and is uncomfortable with its photo so close to that shark.

    Adam Right of TubeFilter.tv has some additional positive thoughts on 15 Giga (the studio was named, perhaps, with either homage or dis to the phrase “15 minutes of fame”). 15 Giga is spawned from Fox’s cable production arm, Fox Television Studios, which is best known for The Shield and Burn Notice (which I purchased in its entirety on iTunes). Adam Right, like Whitney and her poodle, sees this as a “different approach to creating a new media branch with 15 Gigs.” The difference, says Adam, is:

    • going edgier than television (see puppets using cocaine and smoking)
    • giving producers room
    • looking at ways to leverage interactivity of web
    • focusing on moving web series to television (which seems somewhat in conflict to point one)
    • keeping production costs down ($5-$20K per series)

    Thank you, Daisy and Adam. You’ve tasted the Kool-aid and I’ll watch to see if you die before I have a sip. Now it’s UncleNalts’ turn… Web series aren’t working yet. Maybe 15 Gigs will crack the code, but it’s a dry market, girlfriend. Do you mind if I call you that? It doesn’t sound gay does it?

    monkey and manAs I’ve said: In something that’s perhaps counter intuitive, people magnetically shift to opposite ends of the content-duration spectrum. The hybrid mutation is neither as satisfying as a 30-60 minute show or as personalized as a virtual-BFF (best friend forever) on YouTube. (Man I should get paid to blog… this is poetry). I loved The Guild but I forget about it during gaps… and for reasons I can’t explain I haven’t caught up. I watch maybe 6-12 shows television shows weekly and countless online-videos… but almost no web series. You can’t argue that they’re not part of our media-consumption habit yet (but in the tips below, I’ll tell you when that will change… so stay alert despite the snow falling over my words).

    So here’s some free advice — step right up and taste the magic potion — for those cable/network peeps brave enough to dare to tap into serialized web shows. These magical seven tips will help you with your mutant content or your money back the next time I pass through Passamaquati.

    1. Speed up your editing cadence to border-line mania. Those music-laden dramatic television transitions and rack focuses of NYC cabs are begging the audience to ditch when they’re “leaning forward” watching web content. Think Fawlty Towers, Basil-like speed. Take a 10 minute script and force it into 5 minutes. Then the pregnant pauses will have ball-busting impact. The first 10 seconds must grab them, and suck them in. Hold onto their attention like they’re an over-caffeinated Chihuahua with ADHD. Because we, I mean “they,” are.
    2. Hedge your bets and hyper-niche. Go for volume… lots of shows so many can fail. Fail, fail, fail. I’ve done it 800 times. A few stuck. More importantly, instead of marketing them widely appeal to audiences, focus on really niche audiences who will share them. For instance, a well-produced show about a restaurant staff will probably travel among those who are working (or have worked) at a restaurant… Go super narrow. You’ll need a rabid inner circle of fans to survive the next tip.
    3. BFF the ardent fans. Web series simply lack the personal interaction that is felt when someone watches a favorite vlogger talk to them, pull a stunt or even do a skit. The characters in web series often talk at each other, and forget me. Hey- I’m watching… are you an actor or a real person? So please add some interactivity via technology, but more importantly break the wall down between the actors and the hardcore fans. No I’m not talking about a f’ing scripted character Twitter profile. I’m not talking about interactive “chose your own adventure.” I’m talking about the actual actors (sorry- not the writers) engaging with the fans directly in comments. I promise you this: one personal touch between a creator/actor and a single audience member and you’ve got a loyal fan who will tell 21.2-52.7 people about the show. I promise.
    4. snake oil naltsSuffer through Routinely Popular Online-Video Personalities or YouTube Partners. I know it makes you insane to see amateurs gain huge audiences for videos that are significantly worse than yours. But endure it and learn from it. Watch the most popular people and daily videos and rather than groan, ask “what is this clown doing that we can replicate.” Be selective about what you mimic, of course, because most of my crap has no business on television. But a lot can be learned from watching what’s gathering a crowd today. Don’t get distracted by one-hit wonders… watch the people that keep an active fan base over time.
    5. Collaborate. Get the characters of a web series into other popular shows (and give prominent web personalities cameos). That’s how YouTube stars are discovered, and it’s how many classic television shows were spawned. iChannel did this with me, and The Retarded Policeman exploded when it started giving cameos to the most-subscribed talent on YouTube. I want to see someone from Glee show up in The Office… I’ll get chills.
    6. Drink Your Prune Juice. You’ve got to be regular. I’ve fallen recently on YouTube because I’m not posting videos as frequently. People gravitate toward content that has daily uploads… they build it into their day. If you can be predictable as posting at a specific hour, it’s even better. Remember when we’d all wait for ZeFrank to post? Yeah neither do I. Sorry but a week is simply too long for web series… daily is ideal and not more than 2 days.
    7. Persist. This is going to get a whole lot easier when we can conveniently stream web content from our televisions, and that’s happening as we speak. I believe this transition will remove the biggest barrier to serialized web content — because we have fundamentally different expectations of storytelling in various mediums. Soon our nightly ritual might be trading 30 minutes of television-viewing for 5 niche mini-shows. And if the people and stories of each episode cross over into another show… that’s drama, friends.

    Now go print this out on your Ink Jet, and Scotch tape it to your wall or someone else’s. Because we both know that everything that happens to you in the next 6 months will make you forget this list.