War of the Video Sites

It looks like video is really starting to become the next battlefield online. With YouTube becoming the next MySpace, and Google pushing out their video site, the war has started.

I haven’t yet contributed video to the Web, although I plan to, but I have gone through and looked at a lot of videos. I used to visit Break.com (formally Big-Boys.com). But my new Macbook Pro cannot support WMV yet, and that’s just about all Break.com offers. So, I started checking out YouTube a lot more. YouTube has a definite edge when it comes to the video sites. They encode everything in Flash video, which means that every browser, on just about every OS can view the video content.

Yahoo has of course come to the party, and they are as usual a day late and dollar short. Their video site is is not only not in Flash (you have to load up whatever the native file format is), but the file is also served from a third party server, which has already opened up the floodgates for Spam.

What I find most interesting about this is the way things are moving in entertainment. There are already some great segments on YouTube, and some video directors are already starting to stand out and become known, at least in the YouTube community. It has become clear that very soon someone will make something in very high quality for very little money and publish it through YouTube. Much like digital filmmaking, this is exciting become it’s really going to come down to talent. No one watches The Office, or John Stewart, or any Kevin Smith movie for the impressive special effects or high end filming. It’s just talent (mostly writing) that makes these shows or movies entertaining.

Wired also just has a great article on Crowdsourcing. Soon you will be able to shoot a scene with a mid-level camera with a decent microphone, and digitally send that footage to a group of people who will filter the sound, correct the color, and even add the special effects. How the first shows may be like a The Office, within a couple of years you should see shows the quality level of a 24 or Sopranos. Sound like I’m delusional? Maybe I am, we’ll see. But check out Soup of the Day and tell me if you see this slowly happening.

I think the big question that will need to be answered is “who is going to pay for this?”. Paid content is not going to do well on the Web. I know many people want that to work, but it simply will not work long term. It’s going to have to be add based. The problem with ad based video content on the Web is the perception of value. For some reason when Ford advertises on “24”, they don’t really track the hits to their website (at least not with any great interest), and they don’t expect to see instant gratification. With online advertising, clients have gotten spoiled in the ROI abilities of the Web, as well as the analytics. Companies will have to learn to accept the idea of ads having a branding value, not an ROI on Web videos. But just like the early days of cable, it will be the direct marketers that will fund the initial push of content. Direct marketers are usually better with taking calculated risks with more manageable budgets.

This may also be a great time for a company to start putting together some video ideas for their own branding. How about a home repair realty show from Home Depot? Or maybe a weight loss (Biggest Loser style) show from Nutrisystem? Or a dating show from Match.com? Companies have a short window of opportunity to become the content, not just advertise on it.

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