• 5 Conclusions About the Bad Economy's Effect on Broadband Video

    If you're like me - and millions of other Americans - this past weekend likely found you involved in conversations with family or friends about the dismal state of the U.S. economy and where things go from here.

    Of course nobody really knows. I've been spending time trying to get my head around what the economy's implications are for the broadband video industry. I've sought out reactions from industry colleagues, read up on what the "experts" say about a typical down economy's impact and considered my own past experiences. I concede my conclusions are anything but rock solid, but here they are for your consideration:

    Broadband access is a now a utility, so addressable video universe remains strong - I was heartened by a new study out last week from Jupiter finding that only 2% of survey respondents would cut off their Internet service to reduce expenses in tough times. That affirms two assumptions I've held since helping launch broadband Internet access service for Continental Cablevision back in the mid-90's: once you're online, you're not going to go offline, and once you're on broadband, you're not going back to dialup. A stable universe of broadband homes means plenty of people to target broadband video to.

    Free video beats paid video - With experts suggesting consumer spending is going off a cliff, the free, ad-supported video model becomes even more attractive. Some will counter that advertising spending always contracts in tough times, so relying on ads is no sanctuary. True enough, but my sense is that in this downturn, with the cost of so many essential goods (food, gas, health care, etc.) going up, any ad spending downturn may seem modest compared to the downturn in consumer discretionary spending. Another X factor: if you're paying $45-60/month for broadband Internet access, the more you use it, especially for high-quality experiences, the better value it is.

    Advertising on broadband video is less affected than in other media sectors - I heard a widely respected industry analyst say last week that broadband ads will get hammered in this downturn, because most broadband spending is still experimental, and these budgets get eliminated first in a downturn. Yet video ad network executives I've spoken to say that while it's still early days for broadband spending, for many we're beyond experimentation. Plus several other fundamentals suggest broadband ads could hold up decently well: tight inventory for premium video, continued audience shifting to online viewing, better targeting and interactivity, relatively small total broadband spending, etc.

    Tough holiday season for broadband devices - I see a tough holiday season coming for all discretionary broadband devices meant to bridge broadband to the TV or enable portable viewing. While they may be cool, for all but the least economically-impacted consumers these devices will fail the "Honey, do we really need this now?" test. That means we're likely to see some shaking out in the broadband device space post-Christmas.

    Early stage/indie broadband video providers tighten their belts a bit - While major media companies have existing revenues to support their online initiatives, broadband-only players don't have this luxury. I see early stage/indie providers becoming extra judicious in their spending, likely cutting back on their production plans until the ad climate clears up.

    That's all that I have for now. The good news is that broadband video's fundamentals are extremely strong. For all of us in the industry, be thankful you're not in autos, home construction, finance, retail or other hard-hit sectors. Still, there are difficult times ahead for everyone, no question about it. Try to remember the old saying: "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.'

    What do you think? Post a comment now.