Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 9:38 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
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.