Breaking the Broadband?

Everywhere you look, it seems another online video channel or property is popping up, featuring content that’s oftentimes exclusive to the Web. Much of the content is animation or lower-budget fare that can be produced on a small scale. Every so often, one piece of content breaks out and becomes a temporary hit, noticed by audiences and big media.

Sound familiar? The paragraph above could have been written in 1999.

It’s almost 2007, and there are some major differences, but the underlying principle remains the same. Past efforts failed or didn’t break through to masses (or profitability) due to fundamental flaws. Many of these flaws weren’t the creators’ fault but technological limitations. Many were simply mistakes that needed to be made to get us where we are today.

Let’s take a look at some evolved properties of 2006-07 and what they are (or will be) doing better than their predecessors.

1999: IFILM
2006: YouTube

I know, IFILM is still around. But look closer at the property, and you’ll see it’s far from where it was in 1999. Back then, the site promoted content editorially, much as it does now, but audiences had to keep returning to check out the content (or click on a link someone sent them). The concept was noble, however, because if you’re building a Web property, you want to keep people coming back.

Yet as the years advanced, people wanted a say in what was and wasn’t worth watching. When YouTube hit, it hit big. Apparently it’s what everyone was waiting for. No group of editors could curate the volume of videos on YouTube. The democratic identification of good content amidst lots of bad content is what sets YouTube apart from IFILM of 1999.

Look at IFILM in 2006, and you’ll notice lots of similarities to YouTube’s functionality with one major difference — the advertising is unavoidable. Once you’ve gone YouTube, sitting through pre-roll advertising is a gamble. Granted, IFILM is monetizing its content, but something tells me Google will help it figure that out.

1999: Icebox, Pop.com
2007: Super Deluxe

Remember Icebox? You know, home of Mr. Wong, Queer Duck, and Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln? How about DreamWorks-backed Pop.com? They were two of the great flameouts of the early Internet. Icebox promised great, edgy content and wanted to act as an incubator for TV and film. Advertising would pay the bills. The problem was that no matter how inexpensive the content was to produce or acquire, successes were always too few and far between. And finding advertisers to sponsor a Mr. Wong episode called “Urine Trouble” (filled with more politically incorrect language than a “South Park” episode) may have proven a bit too tough a sell. It announced a production deal with Fox in 2000, and the next day laid off half its employees.

Fast-forward to 2007. Super Deluxe hasn’t even launched yet, but I’ve got a good feeling about this one. It’s from Turner, the company that gave the world Adult Swim. The online destination will feature animated content from scouted talent, live performances from standup comics, and other viral content.

At first, it doesn’t sound too different from what we’ve seen before. But Super Deluxe will also deliver community features, including blogs that will allow content fans to directly interact with its creators. Individuals will also be able to upload their own content to profiles they create.

Maybe this is what Icebox could have been. But with Turner’s network exposure and ad sales behind it, community features, and most entry barriers for content creators removed (e.g., inexpensive animation/video tools), this one’s got a shot (Turner’s already experienced success with VeryFunnyAds.com).

(Full disclosure: TBS is one of our clients, but I know as little about Super Deluxe as the rest of the industry.)

1999: Real Networks
2006: Brightcove

There was a time when Real Networks owned the streaming video space. Its player was ubiquitous and was distributed with nearly every PC. It had signed deals (and to its credit, maintained them) with major sports leagues for exclusive content delivery and created a revenue model that worked.

Problem was, Real.com and RealPlayer were gateways to content. Their content aggregation was the opposite of where consumer behavior was going. Media usage was becoming fragmented, as were online habits. Video was becoming part of what audiences expected on any site, and as broadband speeds increased they didn’t want to wait for buffering or loading. Flash video was increasing its market share, and Real Networks was forced to become (mainly) a provider of rights-managed, streaming content (e.g., MLB.tv and Rhapsody). Still, not too shabby.

Enter Brightcove. Though fundamentally it doesn’t compete with Real Networks, it proves there’s a market for white-labeled media players and that a decentralized distribution model for content can work — and generate revenue in the process.

Recent deals to power broadband experiences for major cable networks and distribute ad-supported content on a revenue-share basis for record labels have shown that a distributed ad revenue model addresses two challenges: content distribution and revenue generation. By building a network for both, Brightcove (and others, such as Broadband Enterprises and even Google) is learning aggregation may not be the answer to reaching the masses.

Conclusion

We’ve obviously come a long way since 1999. Not only has consumer behavior evolved, but so have business platforms. This doesn’t mean we aren’t still making mistakes.

The industry still has a long way to go. Much of what we’re doing, we’re doing for the first time. Comparisons to past companies should continue to be made. Scary as it sounds, they may reveal similarities that should be improved upon. Just because Web 1.0 was experimental, doesn’t mean it was wrong. It also doesn’t mean Web 2.0 is the answer. We still have a ways to go. In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly be awaiting Web 3.0, Web Vista, Longhorn, Jaguar, Antelope, or whatever the media chooses to call it.

Vote for your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 30 through close of business (5 pm EST) on November 8. Winners will be announced on November 13.

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