• The Video Industry's Winners and Losers 10 Years from Now: 5 Factors to Consider

    Last week a publicly-traded communications-equipment company invited me to speak to a group of investment analysts it had assembled for its annual "investor day." In the Q&A session following my presentation I took a question that I'm not often asked, nor do I give much thought to: "10 years from now, who will be the video industry's winners and losers?"

    It's a far-reaching question that doesn't lend itself well to an impromptu answer. Also, while it's great fun to prognosticate about the long run, I've found that it's also a complete crapshoot, which is why my focus is much shorter-term. I've long-believed there are just too many variables in play to predict with any sort of certainty what might unfold 10 years into the future.

    Still, as I've thought more about the question, it seems to me that there are at least 5 main factors that will influence the video industry's winners and losers over the next 10 years:

    1. Penetration rate of broadband-connected TVs -There's a lot of energy being directed to "convergence" technologies and devices which connect broadband to the TV. Broadband to the TV is a big opportunity for video providers outside the traditional video distribution value chain. It's also a minefield for those who have dominated the traditional model, such as broadcasters. The Hulu-Boxee spat demonstrates this. A high rate of adoption of broadband to the TV technologies will result in more openness and choice for consumers. That's a good or a bad thing depending on where you currently sit.

    2. The effectiveness of the broadband video ad model - A large swath of broadband-delivered video is and will be ad-supported. But key parts of the broadband ad model such as standards, reporting and the buying process are still not mature. There's a lot of work going into these elements which is promising. The extent to which the ad model matures (and the economy rebounds) will have a huge influence on how viable broadband delivery is. Producers need to get paid to do good work or it won't get done. The imploding newspaper industry offers ample evidence. Those with robust online ad models like Google are likely to play a key role in helping distribute and monetize premium content.

    3. How well the broadcast industry adapts to broadband delivery - The broadcast TV industry generates about $70 billion of ad revenue annually. But both broadcast networks and local stations are on the front lines of broadband's change and disruption, putting a chunk of that ad revenue up for grabs. With broadband-to-the-TV coming, broadcast networks must figure out how to make broadband-only viewership of their programs profitable on a stand-alone basis (i.e. when the online viewing is the sole viewing proposition). Local stations face bigger challenges. As the Internet was to newspapers, broadband delivery is to local stations. They face a slew of new competitors for ad dollars and audiences, while losing their exclusive access to network programming. To what extent they're able to reinvent themselves will determine how much share they hold on to and how much others peel off.

    4. How aggressively today's video providers (cable/telco/satellite) and new paid aggregators pursue broadband video delivery - While anecdotes about "cord-cutting" will no doubt only intensify, the reality is that if today's video providers adapt themselves to broadband realities, they are likely to be as strong or stronger 10 years from now. The recent moves from Comcast and Time Warner are encouraging signs that the cable industry gets that being ostriches about the importance of broadband delivery is a road to nowhere. Consumers expect more flexibility and value; incumbents are in a tremendous position to deliver. Ownership of local broadband access networks that serve consumers' unquenchable bandwidth demands is going to be a very good business to be in. That all said, new paid aggregators like Netflix, Amazon and Apple could well steal some share if they aggressively beef up their content, offer a competitive user experience and deliver a better value. They could have a major impact on online movie distribution in particular.

    5. The level of investment in startups - The venture capital industry, crucial to the funding of early-stage innovative technology companies, is going through its own turmoil. The industry's limited partners have been wounded by the market's drop, causing VCs to raise smaller funds (if they're even able to do this), limit the number of investments they make, and shy away from betting on big transformational startups. Plenty of strong video technology companies are still successfully raising money, but it's harder than ever. Lots of potentially promising ideas are going begging. The length and severity of the economic slowdown will have a big effect on just how much funding new technologies that can potentially reshape the video landscape over the next 10 years.

    So there are 5 factors to consider in how the video landscape shapes up over the next 10 years. Now back to the here and now..

    What's your crystal ball say? Post a comment now.