This week I was pleased to take part in my first Brightcove PLAY Conference in Boston. The event attracts a tremendous group of people dedicated to excellence in online video streaming and webcasting. Online video is growing exponentially, and I’ve already written that online video will wreck television’s business model. The truth today is that online video is becoming the go-to technology for both fun and profit.
During the event, I sat down to watch a panel discussion on Optimizing Your Online Video Content Strategy with Frank Besteiro, Head of Business Development at The AOL On Network; Shaun Flagg, who is Online Video Product Manager at Cox Media Group; Dan Scherer, Vice President of Content Commercialization at Digital Broadcasting Group; and Alison Provost, Founder and CEO of branded video distributor Touchstorm. One major point about this discussion really grabbed me – that while practices for monetizing online video are really taking shape, the prominence of online video has yet to really fulfill its potential.
According to panel moderator Chris Johnston of Brightcove, the time people spent watching TV in 2011 were 32-34 hours per week, while they spent 7 minutes per week watching video on a smartphone (not including tablets). That’s insane! I would have thought that smartphones were much closer in video views, but the difference is in the way television is used vs. smartphones. Tablets introduce another wrinkle altogether.
Paul Sagan, CEO of Akamai, stated during the Day 1 Keynote that growth in online video will require his company to grow by a factor of 100 over the next five years. This made me think about the reasons that online video is still has a way to go before it reaches the saturation point enjoyed by television today. Are we two years out? Five years? Ten?
What Does Not Hold Online Video Back?
What is holding online video back is definitely not technology, since smartphones are everywhere and tablets are becoming widely used, online video streaming and playback capabilities are faster than they’ve ever been, and it isn’t hard to find a wireless connection in most cities. Numerous streaming services are also directly connected to most home computers and set-top boxes.
It also isn’t a lack of great content. I read a great post by Lisa Galarneau on Jeff Bullas’ blog, 10 Things You May Not Know About YouTube, about the incredible array of things you can learn and do with online video today. Video content is optimized for search engines, and Google Panda and Penguin both elevate the importance of video in SERPs. Today’s web design and site hosting practices are also highly compatible with video as a primary display.
What Will Drive The Growth Of Online Video?
With all of the roadblocks out of the way, the only thing that prevents widespread online video adoption is behavior. It’s up to the audience to start using streaming and webcasting as a go-to technology. There are a few things that are required for this to happen:
- The Television Programming Assist - The main difference between television and online video is that TV is still a ‘lean-back’ activity, in which a viewer does nothing else, and simply intakes programming. Online video is more active, where a viewer is expected to click around, search for more material, and read or watch complementary and related content. We’ve already seen TV networks and programs that encouraged viewers to log in to a companion site or visit certain links. It isn’t yet the normal behavior to send people to related online content while viewing, with the possible exception of ‘reality’ programs that ask for votes by cell phone. If more television programmers catch on that viewers are using tablets while they watch TV, and begin making it easier to find and interact with related content while viewing, the behavior that will drive growth in online video will increase exponentially.
- Device Ease Of Use - Can an iPhone or iPad possibly get easier to use? How about the Android? And how easily will people take to Microsoft Windows 8 for their new Surface Tablet? And never mind the operating systems, which browsers will they prefer to use? And if there are any apps involved, which app store will people choose, and will the apps all work the same way across devices? See where I’m going with this? A bunch of technology professionals at a trade show can stand on the floor and figure out different devices pretty quickly, but what about mainstream viewers sitting at home? These are the people who need clarity of design and procedures when it comes to on-device viewing. After all, televisions have all worked the same way for decades.
- The Streamlining of Monetization - Pre-roll? Overlay? Surround? Banners? It’s already proven that viewers will tolerate ads in, around, and over their videos. It’s also proven that they will subscribe to webcasting services as long as the quality is consistent and even if ads are still part of the experience. What is not settled yet is how creators and channels charge and get paid for creating and hosting videos. Ad networks will eventually settle into a pattern that creators and hosting sites expect. Then the end users will begin to see familiar patterns in how what they view is monetized, which will raise their adoption.
- Simplified Publishing Tools - How many content creators have developed videos for a few different formats and devices, only to find that there are still people out there who can’t see it because they’re using yet another device or setting? Online video is already settling into a series of standard sizes for fullscreen and window viewing, but the technology and required applications can still be a little confusing for viewers. With video publishing tools that make it easier for content creators to deliver their material in the most likely viewed formats and filetypes, adoption will become easier on the viewer end.
- Standardized Licensing - Let’s face it, it’s annoying to find that some streaming services have certain content while others don’t. Different service providers all carry different content, because these businesses are all at different stages of growth, and the control between content creation and delivery is always shifting. Smaller upstarts can’t demand terms like entrenched companies, but adoption happens so fast that their negotiation power changes by the month. The result is widely varied contract terms that refuse to settle into a pattern. If the terms of licensing contracts begin to take a similar shape across the industry, more content will be available to more channels, at similar performance standards, and viewers will know better what to expect.
When do we finally declare that a technology has really arrived? Whatever the criteria, that moment for streaming and webcasting will be here before very long. The stage is set for massive growth, and online video just needs to settle into a few patterns, and only partially, to catch on with a mainstream audience. Then it’s on.