1Cast, an aggregator of short-form news-oriented video clips from premium content providers, is announcing its commercial launch today, joining others in the personalized video news category like Voxant, ClipSyndicate, RedLasso (for local news), plus other online news aggregators. Following its year-long private beta test, 1Cast is also announcing today a redesigned UI, distribution partnerships with boxee and Clearwire, the WiMax wireless provider, and a new entertainment category anchored by E! Entertainment and Style. Yesterday I caught up with Anthony Bontrager, 1Cast's CEO to learn more.
Anthony explained that 1Cast users are now consuming 3.5 million video clips/mo, contributing to average session lengths of 14 minutes on the desktop and 36 minutes on mobile devices. With average clips running 2-3 minutes apiece, that means users are watching a series of clips back-to-back when checking the site. 1Cast gives users the ability to set up their own "casts" selecting from preset categories and networks. The casts are automatically updated each time new content is added by 1Cast. I've played around with the site and have found it very straightforward to find and organize content. My only knock is that sometimes content is not that current. For example, even though the Red Sox played until Oct 11th when they lost the ALDS to the Angels, a search for "Boston Red Sox" on 1Cast listed the first video result from Aug 26th.
1Cast obtains clips from news providers like AFP, Barron's, BBC, MarketWatch and Reuters. For these providers 1Cast represents additional distribution and revenue. 1Cast is completely ad-supported, and Anthony said that it is selling 80% of its own ads, with YuMe selling the rest. CPMs are in the $25 range. Ads are primarily 15 second mid-rolls and post-rolls, with bumpers at the beginning of sessions. 1cast revenue shares with its content partners, but Anthony wouldn't disclose what percentage. He did point to a recent 6 figure campaign Infinity ran on the site as a major validation of 1Cast's model.
1Cast and the other personalized video aggregators play well to the short-form consumption behavior of online video users. This is even more so the case with mobile consumption. The distribution deals with boxee and Clearwire will help 1Cast gain more visibility and usage.
As I said when I first covered 1Cast in Aug '08, I think personalized video news is a very compelling concept, but my concern with 1Cast and the others specializing in this area is whether they can build sufficiently large audiences and scale their businesses.
I think the issue is that most heavy Internet users have long since decided on their preferred news aggregator and customized their content feeds. Portals especially have also been beefing up their video news content offered as well. And since users have integrated their email, RSS feeds, stock quotes and other custom touches, getting them to switch, or even add another news aggregator - even if it does offer real differentiation with video updates - is not a trivial challenge. There's also YouTube to worry about which seems well-positioned to focus on video news if it chose to. And as Anthony pointed out, there are also many sites that scrape and aggregate video content illegally. All of this leads me to think that distribution partnerships are the main way for personalized video news providers to grow their reach.
Still, I'm a huge believer that a superior user experience can quickly build attention and loyalty. And most content providers are very willing to add new distribution outlets as long as they're legitimate and offer further potential reach and revenue. So I'm open-minded on 1Cast and the others and am eager to see how they continue to grow and evolve.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Welcome to September. Before looking ahead, here's a quick recap of 3 key topics from August:
1. Advertising model remains in flux
Broadband video advertising was a key story line in August, as it seems to be every month. The industry is rightly focused on the ad model's continued evolution as more and more players in the value chain are increasingly dependent on it. This month, in "Pre-Roll Video Advertising Gets a Boost from 3 Research Studies," I noted how recent research is showing that user acceptance and engagement with the omnipresent pre-roll format is already high and is improving. However, as many readers correctly noted, research from industry participants must be discounted, and some of the metrics cited are not necessarily the best ones to use. I expect we'll see plenty more research - on both sides of pre-roll's efficacy - yet to come.
Meanwhile, comScore added to the confusion around the ad model by first highly ranking YuMe, a large ad network, very high in its reach statistics, only to then reverse itself by downgrading YuMe, before regrouping entirely by introducing a whole new metric for measuring reach. In this post, "comScore Gets Its Act Together on Ad Network Traffic Reporting," I tried to unravel some of this mini-saga. Needless to say, without trustworthy and universally accepted traffic reporting, broadband video is going to have a tough slog ahead.
2. Broadband Olympics are triumphant, but accomplishments are overshadowed
And speaking of a tough slog, the first "Broadband Olympics" were a huge triumph for both NBC and all of its technology partners, yet their accomplishments were overshadowed by a post-mortem revenue estimate by eMarketer suggesting NBC actually made very little money for its efforts. This appeared to knock broadband video advertising back on its heels, yet again, as outsiders pondered whether broadband is being overhyped.
The Olympics became a hobbyhorse of mine in the last 2 weeks as I tried to clarify things in 2 posts, "Why NBCOlympics.com's Video Ad Revenues Don't Matter" part 1 and part 2. These posts triggered a pretty interesting debate about whether technology/operational achievements are noteworthy, if substantial revenues are absent. My answer remains a resounding yes. But having exhausted all my arguments in these prior posts, I'll leave it to you to dig in there if you'd like to learn more about why I feel this way.
3. Broadband's impact is wide-ranging
VideoNuze readers know that another favorite topic of mine is how widespread broadband's impact is poised to become, and in fact already is. A number of August's posts illustrated how broadband's influence is already being felt across a diverse landscape.
Here's a brief sampling: "Vogue.TV's Model.Live: A Magazine Bets Big on Broadband" (magazines), "Tanglewood and BSO Pioneer Broadband Use for Arts/Cultural Organizations," (arts/culture), "American Political Conventions are Next Up to Get Broadband Video Treatment," (politics), "Citysearch Offering Local Merchants Video Enhancement," (local advertising) and "1Cast: A Legit Redlasso Has Tall Mountain to Climb" (local news).
I expect this trend will only accelerate, as more and more industries begin to recognize broadband video's potential benefits.
That's it for August and for the busy summer of '08. Lots more action to coming this fall!
Personalized online news is as old as the web itself. But personalized online video news is a nut that has yet to be fully cracked - although by all rights it should be. This was Redlasso's goal, until broadcasters, which hadn't given permission for their content to be ingested and shared, put an end to the young company last month.
Now comes 1Cast, a company seeking to be a legitimate Redlasso successor. Today it is announcing first round funding from wireless king Craig McCaw's Eagle River Holdings. Yesterday I got more details from 1Cast CEO Anthony Bontrager.
Anthony has correctly realized that gaining deals with video news partners is an absolute prerequisite to success. To that end he says the company will have "no shortage" of content, and also has a particular focus on "repatriating international content." Though for now he's not disclosing any details, based on conversations I've had with broadcasters, my sense is that credible companies, even when early stage, can get deals done.
Yet there are other key success factors for a personalized news aggregator like 1Cast to succeed. Three that are high on my list are user experience, audience growth and revenue generation. Miss on any of these three and I think the model fails.
From a user experience standpoint, Anthony says creating a new personalized "micro-cast" is a simple three step process. That sounds promising, though since the beta won't open till later month (with full launch late in '08), I can't judge the specifics yet. And the wildcard is how content providers will ultimately react to having their videos mashed together with competitors' videos in a single micro-cast.
Growing an audience is a more daunting. As we all know, the web is incredibly noisy, and users have well-entrenched news-gathering habits. Yet there is white space in personalized video news. Anthony said that while 1Cast will be a central hub, he's focused on "channel partners" as well, and portals in particular, to grow traffic. Deals with majors like Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and others would be a huge win, but are notoriously hard to clinch for startups.
Last, but not least is revenue. Even assuming an audience can be built, optimally monetizing it is a challenge. Anthony said they're working with an undisclosed ad network and will also build their own sales team. Direct sales are important as living primarily off an ad network's splits will not produce sufficient revenue for 1Cast.
Yet even a direct sales team isn't a panacea; Anthony mentioned that some content providers want to sell any new impressions 1Cast generates. That's consistent with how I understand other Syndicated Video Economy deals like these work as well. But like other aggregators, that leaves 1Cast with a swiss cheese inventory situation that is complex to sell. Then factor in that some inventory will be essentially local in nature (i.e. generated from local video news) - which really requires a local sales orientation to fully monetize - and complexity grows still further.
Add it all up and 1Cast has a tall mountain to climb to succeed. Not insurmountable, but definitely challenging. From a consumer standpoint, personalized video news is very compelling; I just wonder whether a 6-person startup has the necessary mojo or if it requires a larger player with deep resources and content relationships. Meanwhile broadcasters are pursuing their own video initiatives and others like Voxant, WorldNow and Critical Media have been circling these waters for a while. 1Cast has an ambitious story; how it unfolds will be worth watching.
What do you think? Post a comment!
I am ever mindful of the old adage about "missing the forest for the trees" as I try daily to understand the often minor feature differences between competing vendors or the nuances of startups' market positioning. As we all know, when you get too close to something, it's quite easy to lose the larger perspective. So periodically I think it's essential to take a huge step back to try to identify the larger patterns or trends that crystallize from the daily frenzy of deals and announcements.
As a result, I've come to believe that recent industry activity points to an emerging and significant trend: the early formation of what I would term the "syndicated video economy." By this I mean to suggest that I'm seeing more and more industry participants' strategies - in both media and technology - start from the proposition that the broadband video industry will only succeed if video assets are widely dispersed and revenue creatively apportioned.
For content providers the notion of widespread video syndication big change in their business approach. In the past year I think we've observed content providers of all stripes transition from "aggregating eyeballs", to "accessing eyeballs," wherever they may live now or in the future: portals, social networks, portable devices, game consoles, etc. Underlying this shift is the realization that advertising-based revenues are going to fuel the broadband video industry for the foreseeable future. The ad model requires scale and syndication is the best way to deliver it.
This shift by content providers has been accompanied by a loosening of traditional tightly-controlled, scarcity-driven distribution strategies, an acknowledgement that fighting newly-empowered consumers is a futile exercise. The evidence of this shift abounds. Consider the broadcasters like CBS, NBC and Fox, which through their affiliates (Hulu, CBS Audience Network) are syndicating programming to many portals/aggregators (e.g. Yahoo, MSN, AOL, YouTube), social networks (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, Bebo) and others. And Disney's Stage 9 digital studio, which premiered with YouTube and explicitly plans to tap into broadband video hubs. And cable networks like MTV Networks, which is pursuing a plethora of distribution deals. And traditional news-gatherers like local TV stations, newspapers and news services (e.g. Reuters, AP) which have stepped up their activity to scatter their video clips to the Internet's nooks and crannies. And the list goes on and on.
Taking their cue from the media companies' strategy shift, technology entrepreneurs and investors have ramped up their focus on this market opportunity. The prospect of the syndicated video economy blossoming drives news/information distributors such as Voxant, ClipSyndicate, Mochilla, TheNewsMarket and RedLasso, an ad manager such as FreeWheel, and a content accelerator such as Signiant, plus many others. Then there are more established companies guiding areas of their product development process by the prospect of the syndicated video economy's growth: Google, WorldNow, Akamai, thePlatform, Anystream, Maven Networks, Brightcove, PermissionTV and plenty of others (apologies to those I've left out!)
All of this suggests that the eventual "value chain" of the broadband video industry will look quite different than the traditional one (for more on this, I've posted some my slides from late '07 here.) As with all economies, in the nascent syndicated video economy there is vast interdependence among the various players, not to mention shifting market positions and degrees of pricing power and negotiating leverage. It is far too early to gauge who will emerge as the syndicated video economy's winners and losers. But make no mistake, lots of energy and investment will be expended trying to nurture its growth and exploit its opportunities.
Do you see the syndicated video economy forming as well? Post a comment and let us all know!