Getting a branded video to go hugely viral is like catching lightning in a bottle - it's hard to predict and very rare. But a viral video's huge branding benefits through free, or so-called "earned media" impressions, makes it extremely appealing.
Now Visible Measures, which has been tracking video viewership across devices for years, and Publicis Groupe's VivaKi and Starcom MediaVest have developed a planning tool called CONTAGION that uses data to help brands and agencies actually plan for how viral a branded video campaign could be. CONTAGION is launching today for use by Publicis Groupe agencies for a year before becoming available to the broader market.
At the NABShow last week, NeuLion and Deluxe Digital Distribution announced a partnership creating the "NeuLion TVE Platform with Deluxe OnDemand" which enables customers to deliver branded online movie stores. Targeted customers include retailers, service providers and content owners who can tap into Deluxe's catalog of 50K movie and TV show titles.
At NABShow I did a video interview with Chris Wagner, NeuLion's EVP and co-founder, who explains the deal and its potential.
HealthiNation, which produces and syndicates health and lifestyle video across multiple platforms, is getting a big boost to its library via an exclusive distribution deal with PumpOne, which has the largest collection of fitness and workout videos and images. PumpOne offers content such as step-by-step workout plans and hour-long exercise classes yoga, bootcamp and other areas.
HealthiNation separately announced that Seth Solomons has joined its board of directors. Solomons is currently Global CEO of CRM365, a CRM agency that's part of Publicis' VivaKi unit, and is also the former global CMO of Digitas.
Amid all of the attention Netflix has been receiving for embedding its streaming software in one consumer electronics device after another (the Wii just yesterday) and its recent Warner Bros. deal, it's been easy to overlook the fact that Blockbuster has been getting some online traction itself. One announcement at CES last week, by ActiveVideo Networks, caught my attention as it has the potential to leapfrog Blockbuster On Demand's user experience past Netflix's Watch Instantly.
Much as I'm a big fan of Netflix's Watch Instantly streaming feature, one of its limitations is that the user experience is very segregated between computer and TV. You browse and search online for titles - just as you would for DVDs - and then when you've made your choices, they show up in your Instant Queue online and on your connected TV (via Roku, Blu-ray, Xbox or other device). While it's a perfectly functional approach, wouldn't it be nice if you could do the entire process of search, discovery, previewing, selection and viewing on the TV itself?
The requirements are that ActiveVideo's thin client has been integrated with the device, and that Blockbuster has its own deal with to distribute through the specific device manufacturer. Navigation is via the remote control using an on-screen keypad (see example screen shots below from last week's CES demos).
Similarly, ActiveVideo is also focused both on CE (currently through a partnership with middleware provider Videon Central) and on cable. It has deployed on set-top boxes with Cablevision and Oceanic Time Warner Cable in Hawaii, reaching an audience of 5 million homes. Content providers that have developed apps include Showtime, HSN and Fox, among others. No doubt ActiveVideo and Blockbuster will synch up their biz dev activities to proliferate the Blockbuster on Demand app as widely as possible.
I have to admit that I haven't been paying too much attention to Blockbuster, as it has worked to re-position itself, aiming to close another 1,000 stores by the end of the year and installing more kiosks to compete with Redbox. Of course, it can ill afford to allow Netflix to get too far out in front of it in digital delivery as DVD rentals are poised to be supplanted by streaming down the road.
But Blockbuster has an ubiquitous, if somewhat dated, brand that could be skillfully leveraged into the digital era, provided it has the right services in its arsenal. In this respect, the potential to bring a converged user experience between online and connected TVs is a meaningful differentiator. No initial joint customers have yet been announced by Blockbuster and ActiveVideo, though I expect that soon. And, as online video and TV continue to converge, ActiveVideo is likely to find itself in the middle of a lot of action. All of this is worth keeping an eye on.
Update: Looks like I'm 1 step behind on Netflix's Xbox implementation. Apparently in Aug '09 it was updated to allow full browsing and search for the Watch Instantly catalog. I'm used to the Roku and Blu-ray experiences. Hat tip to Brian Fitzgerald for bringing to my attention.
(Note - ActiveVideo Networks is a VideoNuze sponsor)
Online video platform provider Ooyala unveiled a partnership yesterday with NTT SMARTCONNECT that expands the company into Japan. Under the non-exclusive deal, the two companies will collaborate to create a localized and co-branded version of Ooyala's Backlot platform. Marketing and sales are set to begin in February.
As part of the announcement Ooyala also provided some 2009 updates: contracted customers grew from 30 to 300, self-serve customers grew five-fold, the Ooyala player now delivers hundreds of millions of streams/mo to 50 million unique users/mo, it transcodes 60K hours of video/mo and the company now has 70+ employees.
Ooyala also said that 50% of its customers are marketers, and outside of the traditional media space. The company cited Electronic Arts, for which it powers video on 30 different properties, General Mills and Cerner. The non-media focus parallels what Brightcove recently told me, that over half its business now comes from non-media customers (e.g. business, government and education).
As I wrote recently, despite all the growth in the online video platform space, it's still relatively early days. To be in the top tier as the market matures will require providers to scale their operations, including international expansion and serving customers outside the core media market. It looks like Ooyala understands this as well.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Another building block for delivering video applications to the home through broadband connections is being announced this morning by ActiveVideo Networks and Videon Central. The companies are unveiling a partnership in which AVN's client software will be embedded in Videon's middleware stack used in millions of CE devices. I talked to AVN's SVP of Marketing Edgar Villalpando and Videon's VP of Business Development Michael Daulerio last week to learn more.
For those not familiar with AVN, it is a cloud-based provider of interactive video applications, with customers like Showtime, Fox Reality, HSN and others. AVN initially focused on delivering apps to service providers' set-top boxes, but has also expanded into the Internet-connected CE space. Videon provides middleware to semiconductor and CE manufacturers, driving user interface and navigation in various devices. As an example, its middleware can be found in over 2M Blu-ray players from Samsung, LG, Insignia and others.
As Edgar and Michael explained, the goal of the partnership is to enable content providers and others to deliver up-to-date video apps to the growing universe of connected-CE homes. In some ways this is comparable to what Intel and Yahoo are doing with the Widget Channel and other industry initiatives.
To understand how this works, think of a consumer who rents The Dark Knight Blu-ray disc. The disc itself has additional content like Director's cuts, etc. The problem is that the disc's content is fixed, whereas there's always new Dark Knight-related content being produced (e.g. branded entertainment, product-tie ins, games, user-generated content, etc.). Simply using a bumper to promote the Dark Knight's URL on the disc is a start, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of specific promotion. Given the amount of money now involved in ancillary revenue streams, Warner Bros, the Dark Knight's distributor, is highly motivated to drive stronger engagement.
There is much speculation about how convergence between broadband and TVs is going to unfold. A big sticking point is how the convergence device gets into the home and who pays for it - consumer, content provider or both. From my perspective, building blocks like AVN-Videon are important because they open up new revenue opportunities for content providers and others to help offset the cost of the device. I expect these kinds of initiatives throughout the ecosystem will only accelerate, bringing the convergence era ever closer.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
In its release, thePlatform notes that its "role is to make online video publishing a seamless process for our customers...." That's a commonly-shared goal among video platform companies, yet I continue to hear from various content providers that stitching together the various pieces they require into a total solution can be difficult. That's why these kinds of programs, where partner products are pre-integrated, add a lot of value for customers.
Among the many companies thePlatform cites as new partners are quite a few I've written about previously on VideoNuze (click to see each write-up): Aspera, Azuki Systems, BrightRoll, EveryZing, Transpera, Visible Measures, YuMe and others.
(Note: thePlatform is a VideoNuze sponsor)
Brightcove and Qik are announcing a partnership this morning that further fuses the broadband and mobile video worlds. Under the partnership Qik users will be able to distribute their mobile-recorded video through Brightcove players if they have a Brightcove account. For Brightcove customers the deal will enables mobile recording as a new source of video into their catalogs.
Qik's client is one of a number of options for mobile video recording and uploading. As I wrote yesterday regarding the iPhone's new video recording capabilities, mobile video capture (and eventually full-featured editing) is poised to become a big activity, implying that few spontaneous significant live events will go unrecorded. We will see additional partnerships like Qik-Brightcove as mobile recording becomes a key source for content providers distributing video over both broadband and mobile.
The ad management company Adap.tv has taken the wraps off its new "Player Partner Program" this morning. Initial partners include Brightcove, thePlatform, Mogulus, VMIX, Twistage and Kaltura. All are now integrated with Adap.tv's "OneSource" ad management system.
Yesterday, Dakota Sullivan, Adap.tv's VP of Marketing told me that though the company has been working with Brightcove and thePlatform informally to date, the new program will provide more structure to partners. Included are a central location on the Adap.tv web site for partners for promotional purposes along with other co-marketing and technology updates. No cash is changing hands with partners though, as Adap.tv tries to maintain neutrality.
These types of partnership programs are springing up all around the broadband video ecosystem, as companies continue to carve out their specific niches, and seek to benefit from partners' marketing efforts in a resource-constrained environment. I expect we'll continue to see them get rolled out.
Late yesterday's announcement that Disney-ABC and ESPN would launch a number of ad-supported channels focused on short-form content was yet another meaningful step in broadband video's maturation process. Here are 6 reasons why I think the deal matters:
1. It validates YouTube as a must-have promotional and distribution partner
For many content providers it's long since become standard practice to distribute clips, and often full-length content, on YouTube. Yet aside from CBS, no broadcast TV network has seriously leveraged YouTube. That's been a key missed opportunity, as YouTube is simply too big to ignore. It's not just that YouTube notched 100M unique viewers in Feb. '09 according to comScore, it's that the site has achieved dramatically more market share momentum over the past 2 years than anyone else, increasing from 16.2% of all streams to 41% of all streams.
Increasingly, YouTube is not the 800 pound gorilla of the broadband video market; it's the 8,000 pound gorilla. Disney has acknowledged what has long been tacitly understood - as a video content provider, it's impossible to succeed fully without a YouTube relationship.
2. It creates a path for full-length Disney-ABC programming to appear on YouTube and elsewhere
While this deal only contemplates short-form video, and more than likely, mostly promotional clips, it almost certainly creates a path for full-length episodes to appear as well, as the partners build trust in each other and learn how to monetize. Full-length content is most likely to come from ABC, not ESPN (the release pointedly states no long-form content from ESPN's linear networks is included) as part of a newly expanded distribution approach.
For YouTube, which has been aggressively evolving from its UGC roots in its quest to generate revenues, the current clip deal alone is a big win; gaining distribution rights to full-length programs would be an even more significant step. Underscoring YouTube's flexibility, the current deal allows ESPN's player to be embedded, and for Disney-ABC to retain ad sales. YouTube's reported redesign, which places more emphasis on premium content, is yet another way it is getting its house in order for premium content deals.
3. It opens up a new opportunity for original short-form video to flourish
When you think about broadcast TV networks and studios, you immediately think of conventional long-form content. Yet all of these companies have been producing short-form content that either augments their broadcast programs, or is originally produced for broadband, as Disney's own Stage 9 is pursuing. The levels of success of this content have been all over the board.
With YouTube as a formal partner, Disney can aggressively leverage it as its primary distribution platform, gaining more direct access to this vast audience. Facing unremitting market pressures on many fronts, broadcast TV networks themselves need to reinvent their business models. Short-form original content married to strong distribution from YouTube would be a whole new strategic opportunity.
4. It puts pressure on Hulu and other aggregators
It's hard not to see YouTube's gain as Hulu's - and other aggregators' - loss. For sure nothing's exclusive here, and as PaidContent has reported, discussions about Disney distributing full-length programs on Hulu (as well as YouTube) are also underway. But the Disney deal underscores something important that differentiates YouTube from Hulu: YouTube is both a massive promotional vehicle and a potential long-form distributor, while Hulu is really only the latter.
YouTube's benefit derives from its first-mover status. Hulu has done a tremendous job building traffic and credibility in its short life, but it is still distant to YouTube in terms of reach. I continue to believe it is far easier for YouTube to evolve from its UGC roots to become also become a premium outlet than it is for Hulu - or anyone else - to ever compete with YouTube's reach.
5. It raises threat warning to incumbent service providers by another notch
It's also hard not to see the Disney deal moving YouTube's threat level to incumbent video service providers (cable/satellite/telco) up another notch. We discussed YouTube's importance to these companies at the Broadband Video Leadership Evening 2 weeks ago (video here), and I thought the panelists generally did not give YouTube much credit as it deserves.
I continue to believe that of all the various "over-the-top" threats to the current world-order, YouTube is the most meaningful ad-supported one. It has massive audience, a potent monetization engine in Google's AdWords, and with the Disney deal, increased credibility with premium content providers. Especially for younger audiences, the YouTube brand means a lot more than any incumbent service provider's. If I were at Comcast, Verizon or DirecTV, I'd be keeping very close tabs on YouTube's evolution.
6. It exposes the absurdity of the ongoing Viacom-Google litigation
Two weeks ago at the Media Summit I listened to Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman describe the status of his company's $1 billion lawsuit against Google and YouTube. As he talked of mounds of data and reams of documentation being collected and reviewed, I found myself slumping in my chair, thinking about how well all the lawyers involved in the case must be doing, and yet how pointless it all seems.
The old adage "2 wrongs don't make a right" fits this situation perfectly. There is no question that in the past YouTube was lax about enforcing copyright protection on its site and cavalier about how it responded publicly to the concerns of rights-holders. But it has made much progress with its Content ID system and a good faith effort to become a trusted partner. All of this is evidenced by the fact that Disney wouldn't even be talking to YouTube, much less cutting a deal, if it didn't view YouTube as reformed. While the media world is moving on, adapting itself to the new rules of video creation, promotion and distribution, Viacom continues to waste resources and executive attention pursuing this case. To be sure, Viacom has been plenty active on the digital front, but it is long overdue that these companies figure out how to resolve their differences and instead focus on how to work together to generate profits for themselves, not their lawyers.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Blockbuster and TiVo have announced that Blockbuster OnDemand movies will be available on TiVo devices. Though I'm all for creating more choice for viewers to gain access to the content they seek, in this case I don't see the deal creating a ton of new value in the market, as it comes 6 months after Netflix and TiVo announced that Netflix's Watch Instantly service would be available on TiVo devices and nearly 2 years after Amazon and TiVo made Amazon's Unbox titles available for purchase and download to TiVo users. It looks like the main differentiator here is that Blockbuster will begin selling TiVos in their network of physical stores.
The deal underscores the flurry of partnership activity now underway (which I think will accelerate) between aggregators/content providers and companies with some kind of device enabling broadband access to TVs. I believe the key to these deals actually succeeding rests on 2 main factors: the content offering some new consumer value (selection, price, convenience, exclusivity, etc.) and the access device gaining a sufficiently large footprint. Absent both of these, the new deals will likely find only limited success.
Consumers now have no shortage of options to download or stream movies, meaning that announcements along the lines of Blockbuster-TiVo break little new ground. To me, a far more fertile area to create new consumer value is offering online access to cable networks' full-length programs. As I survey the landscape of how premium quality video content has or has not moved online, this is the category that has made the least progress so far. That's one of the reasons I think the recent Comcast/Time Warner Cable plans are so exciting.
With these plans in the works, but no timetables yet announced, non-cable operators need to be thinking about how they too can gain select distribution rights. There's still a lot of new consumer value to be created in this space. Given lucrative existing affiliate deals between cable networks and cable/satellite/telco operators, I admit this won't be easy. However, Hulu's access to Comedy Central's "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report" does prove it's possible.
We're well into the phase where premium video content is delivered to TVs via broadband. Those that bring distinctive content to large numbers of consumers as easily as possible will be the winners.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
The NY Times reported this week that YouTube is in talks with the William Morris talent agency about a possible deal to have some of its clients create videos especially for YouTube.
Nothing's confirmed at this point and who knows if an actual deal will result. However, if one does it would be a major strategy change for YouTube and I believe would create lots of new issues for the company to deal with. YouTube has always insisted that it is not a content creator; rather its goal has been to be a platform partner for premium video providers seeking to get the most out of the broadband medium.
The company has made significant progress on this front while recognizing that its vast collection of user-generated video will always be valued by its users but will be largely unmonetizable. Still, YouTube has been viewed cautiously by large media companies wary of its reach and disruptive potential. There's still lingering concern about why it took so long to get its Content ID system in place to protect its partners' copyrights (lest we forget the residual of that delay is the Viacom lawsuit that still looms).
From my perspective YouTube risks its credibility with its premium partners if the Morris deal happens. It is going to reopen the debate about what YouTube wants to be when it grows up: distribution partner or content creator. Other questions abound: Will the YouTube-Morris content compete directly with certain premium partners? Will the Morris content receive preferential promotional treatment? And how about the risk that data YouTube keeps about its premium partners' channels could be shared with Morris to help guide its content strategy? The questions go on. YouTube may feel it can finesse these questions and/or that its 40% video market share gives it leeway to push the envelope.
I've long thought that YouTube would find it irresistible to eventually get into the content business itself. The logic flows from precedent. For example, in the cable TV world, TCI was once the largest cable operator. It recognized the enormous financial leverage it enjoyed if it evolved beyond simply being packager of others' channels. As partner in channels in which it owned equity, it guaranteed them distribution, which in turn created viewership, ad and affiliate revenues and big-time value. In fact, TCI's content activities were so successful that it ultimately spawned a whole new company, Liberty Media, to manage its programming investments.
Similarly for YouTube, its access to millions of eyeballs creates a lot of temptation to have its own content properties, all the more so as broadband finds its way to the TV. No doubt YouTube has been pitched on this idea repeatedly over the years. But if it chooses to proceed this time it will no doubt hear concerns raised from its partners. Can it be a neutral, committed distribution partner while it also tries to build up its own content portfolio?
Further, there's the specter of Google and its potent monetization engine backing YouTube's content properties, which could also be viewed as competitive with its partners' ad sales efforts. Put all of this together and the potential Morris deal creates lots of new issues. If it comes to fruition it will be interesting to see how YouTube navigates them.
The deal suggests that the Hollywood community continues to think innovatively about how top tier talent can get involved with broadband video. In this case, Morris has a roster of big-name clients and relationships that could be married to the Google Content Network for widespread distribution. No doubt further deals will follow as the model gets further baked. More on this deal and its implications coming soon.)
Adap.tv and EyeWonder, two key players in the broadband video and rich media ad space are announcing a partnership today, meant to further streamline ad sales and monetization for video content providers. The partnership follows on the deal I wrote about last week between Panache and MTV also highlighting these points.
Particularly given the tough economy, video content providers are focused more than ever on maximizing the value of their inventory with the least possible amount of effort and cost. On the flip side, ad technology companies are trying to figure out how to cover more customer ground more cost-effectively. Inevitably these forces will lead to more partnerships, and likely some industry consolidation. Panache, Adap.tv, Tremor Media and others are among the companies driving the broadband ad market forward. I'll have more news on this front in the coming days.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Brightcove is unveiling "Brightcove Alliance" today, a wide-ranging ecosystem of technology, distribution and solution partners who have integrated with and/or are building applications on the the company's platform. Jeremy Allaire, Brightcove's CEO briefed me last week.
As he explained it, Brightcove 3, the recently released, latest generation of the company's platform, represented a new push on openness and extensibility which are the key requirements for building out an ecosystem. Alliance partner benefits include platform APIs, training, support and improved access to Brightcove's long list of content provider customers through pre-built integrations.
The company is announcing more than 80 partners today, covering just about every aspect of the broadband world. The press release includes supporting quotes from a dozen partners and customers and Jeremy added that many others expressed interest and will be included subsequently.
The only other large and formalized industry ecosystem I'm aware of is thePlatform's Framework program, which was announced last February and added to in September. It now totals over 60 companies and includes some overlapping names with Brightcove.
Having been involved in several alliance programs in the past, my take has always been that the litmus test for their success is whether they generate real revenue for partners. Too often what you get is the initial "Barney" press releases (i.e. "I love you, you love me") but little more in the way of actual new business.
Brightcove has two advantages to help it avoid a similar trap: (1) a lengthy list of existing customers who will likely welcome pre-integrated partner products and services that can be easily and inexpensively accessed and (2) a large group of partners, who, given the lousy economy, will be aggressive in pursuing Brightcove to identify customer opportunities. Brightcove should capitalize on both to expand its market position.
What do you think? Post a comment now.