Inevitably, the explosion of broadband video programming has led to the problem of how to keep viewers' favorites organized and receive updates when new episodes appear. Recognizing this problem and believing it is likely to become even more acute as more mainstream users adopt video and choices continue to grow, Channels.com is launching today, positioning itself as "your web video DVR." Last week, Sean Doherty, Channels.com's CEO and founder gave me an overview.
I've known Sean since our cable days in the mid-'90s, and he's been tweaking Channels for a couple of years, providing me periodic sneak peeks. The best way to think of Channels is analogously: Channels is for video what RSS readers are for text. Sean's insight was that most serialized video is now published with MRSS, RSS 2.0 or iTunes feeds which can be collected and then presented well in a central viewing environment. Channels is like a feed reader that is optimized for video.
Importantly, Channels doesn't touch the source video or the accompanying ads; everything is passed through as is. That means for content providers Channels increases reach and ad inventory without disrupting the experience. Channels also doesn't actually record web shows, making its "DVR" tagline and references to "recording" somewhat misnomers. More accurately Channels is a "network DVR" since it's simply organizing feeds that exist in the cloud. Channels' secret sauce is how it crawls the web searching for feeds that may contain video "enclosures" or files. Those that do are then incorporated into the Channels directory with searchable metadata. Sean reports that Channels now includes 160K+ shows, including 400+ TV shows.
I've been playing around with Channels and my experience has been mostly positive. I was quickly able to find and view recent episodes of some of my favorite shows like David Pogue from the NY Times, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "Barely Political" and a couple Revision 3 shows I dip in and out of like "AppJudgment." On the flip side, it was hard to find shows like "Heroes" and "Lost" although Sean says they're still in the process of loading up all the content.Though a display advertising model is readily at hand, Sean says he has no immediate plan to monetize Channels. For now he's focused on building traffic, optimizing the user experience and seeing how the video landscape unfolds. Once past its development phase, Channels is a pretty low-burn rate operation, self-funded by Sean and other angels. A key part of building its distribution and use is by incenting video providers to place a Channels "chicklet" on their sites, so video can be instantly added to users' Channels playlists.
Valuable as Channels and others trying to organize the web video user experience are for computer-based viewing, where they will really resonate is when web video moves to the TV. A significant navigation challenge lies ahead in the living room, compounded by lack of keyboards and mice there. In fact after using Netflix's Watch Instantly feature to send content to my Roku, I'm becoming more convinced that the convergence paradigm may be that you organize/choose content on your computer and navigate/consume on your TV.
All of these issues still lie ahead. For now Channels has introduced a neat new way of making the most of the broadband video viewing experience.
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