Friday, December 7, 2007

Attack of the Web Video Destinations

I try to make sense of the ever expanding world of web video…

Last night, I decided to kick back on the lazyboy, fire up the laptop, and enjoy some good old fashioned web video. I quickly got confused. I was soon bombarded by Veoh, Vimeo and Viddler…Metacafe, Megavideo and Motionbox. And those are just the M’s and the V’s. How to differentiate between all these richly VC funded start-ups? An even tougher question if I’m an investor, or worse yet, an advertiser. Just to sort it all out, I created my own rudimentary segmentation model. Here’s what I found:

Slick, big media financed entertainment sites: This is video content for users that want their favorite TV shows online, preferably provided by Big Media. The most famous example is probably iTunes, which first offered full episodes of your favorite shows online. Now Hulu, (co-owned by Newscorp and Fox) is offering a kind of streaming version of iTunes TV, with full episodes of about 100 TV shows from Fox, MGM, and Sony Television. And, you can always hit the major network sites (,, etc.) for a fix of your favorite sitcom –they all offer streams of their most popular shows.

Pure UGC sites: These are the Wild West of web video, containing mostly random user generated content. Started by YouTube, there are now a great many competitors, such as veoh, metacafe, etc. There’s plenty of illegal copywrited content here, and plenty of unwatchable amateur attempts at entertainment. The main advantage of these guys seems to be quantity vs. quality. For example, you can type in the name of virtually any band into YouTube, and pull up a wide selection of their music videos. Virtually any current movie trailer you can think of will be there too.

Niche oriented video: somewhere between these two extremes are the equivalent of independent film studios: sites that feature professionally produced content on microscopic budgets, but with a distinct point of view. For example, is 60 minutes for the “Maxim” audience. aspires to be a kind of aspiriational “E” channel, with segments on fashion and celebrity.

So who will win in this cacophony of new content? There are, of course, a lot of people thinking about this question, but here’s my point of view: it’s entirely possible to go up against the slick Big Media sites - but your product needs to be supported by a distinct brand and point of view. Cable television was a wasteland of miscellanea until the niche networks finally found their voice, a la FX (edgy, HBO like drama for free), MTV (youth lifestyle and music), or even Spike (mindless entertainment for young men). In addition to giving viewers a specific reason to tune in, cable’s evolution also let advertisers finally figure out who they were reaching, and even gave them a relevant brand with which to associate themselves.

That’s why I find the niche trend so interesting. They might not always be successful, but at least the vbs’s and the ego’s of the world are trying to differentiate themselves, to their audience and their sponsors. I’d keep an eye out for this relatively new subcategory.

There also seems to be a movement towards more professionally produced content. Sites like Crackle, for example, are offering budgets to budding auteurs to produce their concepts. In this respect, there appears to be some real convergence happening between studio content like “The Office” and the pure UGC chaos of YouTube.
Which brings me to my final point: whether it’s generated by a geek with a camcorder or a production team at a major studio, all content is ultimately user generated.
And frankly, audiences won’t care – they just want what every consumer wants: something that’s unique, better, and offers an alternative to what’s been available on their 500 TV channels.

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