The Coming Video Wars

13 Sep ’06

Lots of stink today over the NBC announcement of its new broadband video distribution marketplace, NBBC. The basic concept is that NBC and others’ video is to be paired with advertising and then made available by NBBC to sites for viewing through an NBBC viewer. The site either pays for the video and sets its own ad rates, or takes a share of the advertising placed by NBBC. While Fred Wilson is generally positive, Jeff Jarvis tears into the idea with a straight razor.

The effort, while a start, strikes me as pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an established media company in peek-a-boo mode – a timid effort designed to test the waters and make sure no VP’s get fired. And as Jeff notes, the 50% take that NBBC seems to be queued up to keep (for what, exactly – a video player, bandwidth and the syndication tools in the site?) seems completely out of touch.

Still and all, video is coming in an awful hurry, and the obvious big question is going to be how consumers and publishers are going to find content and how efficiently it can be monetized and delivered. (And next, what kind of a piece are the bandwidth providers going to control, especially the cableco’s). In the long run, I have to think that no content producers are going to be dominant enough to wall off their content entirely (the new iTunes video store will be a test of that theory), and the spoils will go to those who build the marketplaces to which producers, advertisers and customers will go to sell, syndicate and consume media. While some fragmentation in distribution is of course a good thing, I don’t want to go to 20 different sites to find video any more than I want to visit multiple sites to find anything else. Nor do most people; this is presumably one of the lessons of iTunes. To me the real question is shaping up to be who will have the brands and the technology best positioned to power syndication, search and distribution as inexpensively and effectively as possible (Jeff Jarvis covers this ground today from Pulver’s Video on the Net). They don’t need to be different players, obviously – Google for example.

Here’s an idea – pair your video directory with a preferences engine related to what I watch and my demographic profile – I’ll give it to you if it helps you tell me what you think I’d like to watch (both content and advertising). Let me vote on content and ‘watch’ what I watch to help you tune the preferences. (You can even give me choices to gauge my appetite for advertising and price accordingly.) Let me join groups – a la Flickr – and ‘watch’ what they watch. Then use the data to design a channel for me personally, perhaps one that you feed to me via RSS. Tivo, but much, much more so. Design that system, and content developers will be falling over each other to give you 50% of the advertising revenue.

A side note – what seems extraordinary to me now, a decade after Microsoft fought a pitched battle for the browser market, seen at the time as the portal to the internet and all that it was then thought the internet might someday deliver, and years after the creation of MSNBC, is that it is effectively nowhere in this battle. Ditto Real Networks, its early friend (then foe) in the original online media distribution wars. Before the web became the brawny, broadband-ed experience it is now, the battle was of course over codecs and platforms. I’m inclined to think MS and Real are nowhere now precisely because they focused so much on developing control systems to protect the media and their tools, rather than looking to technology as a tool to virally distribute the media. YouTube has presumably now taught everyone a lesson about what is possible, and MS and Real perhaps stand as object lessons in how much can be lost by focusing on control instead of the customer. Perhaps this was inevitable – perhaps the copyright wars had to be fought for content to clue into the opportunity.

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