Last Friday, in "Broadcasters in Transition at NAB Show. But to What?" I painted a pretty downbeat picture of local broadcast TV stations' prospects in the broadband era. Coincidentally this week I had briefings with Syndicaster and Grab Networks, two companies offering technology solutions that could set local stations on the path to reinventing themselves and capitalizing on the Syndicated Video Economy.
Though quite different in the scale and scope of their product offerings, Syndicaster and Grab share a common starting point: local stations need to learn how to better leverage and distribute their video content into the broadband ecosystem. Doing so means local stations must have the right tools to ingest, prepare, distribute, track and monetize their content - all steps that go far beyond their traditional and well-understood broadcast work flows.
For its part, Syndicaster capitalizes on its parent company's (Critical Media) position of capturing and digitizing hundreds of local stations' broadcast signals. Syndicaster providers a web interface to transcripts of each on-air segment, which an editor is then able to easily edit into clips, generate metadata and distribute online. The process is very straightforward, and in the demo I saw, clips from various stations already using Syndicaster were being added in real-time.
More recently Syndicaster has added the ability to upload video directly from the field to further compress the time required to get video up online. It has also integrated with Brightcove, YouTube, Yahoo and others for one click 3rd party syndication. It plans for user-captured video to be incorporated into the video catalog and a widget distribution model. Yesterday the company announced Journal Interactive is using the platform, along with other customers Bloomberg Television, LIN TV and Bonneville.
Separately, Grab Networks, a company that was formed from the merger of Anystream and Voxant last Fall has in the last 60 days begun taking the wraps off its integrated solution, with plans for a formal announcement later this quarter.
Grab too, begins with multiple ingestion options. But a key difference is that Grab auto-generates clips from the video feeds, assigning metadata to them and indexing them for editorial review or straight publication. This process, which Anystream has been working on for a long while, uses its own algorithms to analyze 40 different "tracks" of information about the video (e.g. speech-to-text, scene detection, facial recognition, close captioning, etc.). It then statistically distills the information gathered to generate the clips, metadata and index.
Grab believes this core proprietary process is the heart of its value proposition and persuading broadcasters of its efficacy has been a key part of its early sales efforts. Grab executives explained that many customers are initially skeptical that all of this can be done by without human intervention, but upon seeing the results have become believers. (I only saw a limited demo, but it looked pretty darn good). Recognizing that some producers will want to refine clips further, Grab offers an editing module. It's important to understand this process doesn't just make publishing clips more efficient, it also creates more inherent value in each clip as the greater intelligence each clip now has enhances its discovery and monetization potential.
Beyond clip generation, Grab's solution encompasses capabilities that many other companies offer as their primary business (transcoding, video CMS and player, ad insertion, DRM and rights control, pre-integrated syndication to multiple 3rd party distributors, etc.) And via the Voxant deal, Grab also offers a large (Feb comScore rank #26, 6M uniques) built-in syndication network for broadcasters to distribute into and obtain rights-cleared content from. Grab's executives said its comprehensive approach is a response to customers' requests for all-in-one solutions.
Grab is in trials with 5 large station groups and anticipates announcing its first deal for the solution in the next 30 days (remember though that Anystream is building off a core transcoding business that has 700+ customers). Beyond local broadcasters, Grab thinks it will be appealing to other media segments like newspapers, cable networks, magazines, etc. - basically anyone that needs a full solution to power their video efforts ("an operating system for the syndicated video economy" as Grab CEO Fred Singer puts it)
A bold vision indeed. But for local stations ready to acknowledge the urgency of their situations, quite possibly a technology lifeline.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Pixsy, a white label video search provider made an interesting announcement yesterday about the launch of its new "Premium Feed" service, which I think is another example of the Syndicated Video Economy that I've been talking about for a while now. I talked to Pixsy CEO Chase Norlin about Premium Feed to learn more.
For those of you not familiar with Pixsy, it has been quietly building one of the largest video indexes since its founding in 2005. To date it has mainly focused on licensing the index to partner sites which wanted to offer easy video discovery to their users. As more content providers have offered embedding, Pixsy also enabled found videos to be played right on its partners' sites. Even though activity has grown well, Chase is pretty candid about monetization to date being difficult.
Premium Feed takes embedding to the next level by creating a subset of Pixsy's video index that is both higher-than-average quality and has accompanying pre-roll and overlay ads. Then Pixsy is developing an economic relationship between the content provider and its publisher network by signing redistribution and revenue-sharing deals with both. Chase says that to date the publisher network has 45 million unique visitors/mo and that 1-2 million videos are in the Premium Feed.
One of those publishers is EgoTV, and I chatted with founder/president Jimmy Hutcheson to find out how they're implementing Premium Feed. If you look in the lower right corner of their home page you'll see 3 new "channels," Ego Cars, Ego Comedy and Ego Travel. Each of these are constructed solely of Pixsy Premium Feed videos that are curated by an EgoTV editor. In another example at Ego People, the 300x250 ad in the right column is now populated with the Premium Feed. This is a simple "highest-and-best-use" real estate decision: Jimmy explained that Premium Feed is yielding 2-4x as much net revenue for EgoTV as it would receive if it sold rich media ads in this position.
The concept of bundling content with ads (or vice versa?) and distributing them to sites seeking video and extra monetization is of course at the heart of the syndicated video economy. Much of what Pixsy is doing with Premium Feed is conceptually familiar to Google Content Network, Adconion TV, Voxant (now Grab Networks), Syndicaster, Jambo, Magnify.net, 1Cast and others.
Yet each of these initiatives has its own somewhat differentiated value proposition and underlying technology approach. As syndication grows in importance, sites with strong traffic and an interest in incorporating video will have many choices. As to how they'll decide, Chase makes a good point: simplicity and one-stop shopping are always valued by resource-constrained sites. Providers that can address as many of these sites' potential needs will be in a strong position.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
If ever there was a year for giving thanks - and for trying to keep perspective - this is surely it. For the last several months or more, all of us have been buffeted by the economic meltdown to one extent or another. It isn't fun for anyone, and regrettably, if you believe the experts, things aren't going to turn around anytime soon.
Still, as I mentioned in last week's "Deflation's Risks to the Broadband Video's Ecosystem," for those of us who make our living focused in one way or another on broadband video, there are reasons to remain optimistic. Consumers continue to shift their behavior toward on demand, broadband-delivered alternatives. Clever entrepreneurs are introducing ever-more innovative technology-based products and services. Large pools of existing revenues are shifting around, in search of better, higher ROI ways to be allocated. And investors recognize all of this, motivating them to continue funding companies throughout the broadband ecosystem.
These are all things to be thankful for, and hopefully allow us to keep a little perspective. For those of us old enough to remember past downturns, it is also important to keep in mind that there have been difficult times in the past, and fortunately, eventually, things do correct. That doesn't relieve the current pain, but at least gives us a measure of hope for better days ahead.
Speaking of giving thanks, I want to give a shout out to the 30 companies that sponsored VideoNuze or its events in 2008. VideoNuze is just over a year old now, and I've been truly gratified by the support its received from both sponsors and the community of readers and participants.
VideoNuze is not immune from the economic meltdown, so I'd like to also mention that we're offering some great sponsorship specials going into '09. If you're interested in reaching a highly-targeted, broadband-centric group of senior decision-makers, VideoNuze is an outstanding value. I welcome your calls or emails.
Thanks to our '08 sponsors below. Happy Thanksgiving and see you on Monday.
ActiveVideo Networks, Adap.tv, Adobe, Akamai, Atlas Venture, Anystream (Grab Networks), Brightcove, ChoiceStream, Critical Media (Syndicaster), Digitalsmiths, ExtendMedia, EyeWonder, FAST Search & Transfer, Flybridge Capital Partners, Goodwin Procter, Gotuit, Jambo Media, KickApps, Kiptronic, Macrovision, Move Networks, Multicast Media, PermissionTV, Signiant, Silicon Valley Bank, thePlatform, Tremor Media, VMIX, WorldNow and Yahoo
I've been very intrigued by two recent announcements from Adconion, which bills itself as the largest independent online advertising network.
First, in early October, it announced "AMG-TV," a video content syndication network now called "Adconion.TV" as well as its first deal, to distribute Vuguru's "Back on Topps." Then last week it acquired KTV Digital Media, a production studio and syndicator, to become a wholly-owned subsidiary called RedLever. Late last week I got a briefing from Adconion CEO/founder Tyler Moebius and Reeve Collins, CEO RedLever to learn more.
My take is that Adconion.TV/RedLever is emulating the same model as Google Content Network, except with a couple of interesting twists (for more on GCN, see "Google Content Network Has Lots of Potential, Implications"). Nevertheless, both are classic Syndicated Video Economy plays, which could have a huge impact on the fundamentals of broadband video's future business model.
For those not familiar with Adconion, it says it reaches 260M unique visitors/month, second only to Google. Traffic is about evenly split between the U.S. and the rest of the world. It has 800+ publishers in its network, including 60-70 that it represents exclusively, primarily for international sales. The company made a big splash earlier this year when it raised a monster $80M round led by Index Ventures (the lead investor in Skype among others). It has grown from 30 employees in '06 to 285 in '08.
The similarities between Adconion.TV and GCN are as follows: both believe their vast network of publisher web sites - which were initially built to serve ads - can now be modified to also accept high-quality syndicated video content. Each leverages the same algorithms it used to optimize which ads to insert, so that video too will only be served to the most appropriate sites. One might think of both these companies as being in the real estate business. Each has colonized vast tracts of web property and is now trying to identify, as real estate pros would say, the "highest and best use" of its inventory: ads, video or some combination of the two.
At the core of both Adconion.TV and GCN is the conviction that content should be brought to users wherever they may live, as opposed to attempting to drive them to a destination site, a la the "must-see TV" model of old. This has been a key tenet of the Syndicated Video Economy concept I've been fleshing out in '08. With the fragmentation of users over the web, social networks, mobile devices, gaming consoles, etc. the way to build a franchise is to propagate video into all of the web's nooks and crannies. Note others like Grab Networks, Syndicaster, 1Cast, Jambo and others are also heavily pursuing the syndication opportunity, each with their own competitive angle.
In both initiatives content-distribution-brand advertising are the three legs of the business model stool. Consider: in Adconion.TV's launch deal it was a package of Vuguru/Back On Topps (content) - Adconion.TV (distribution) and Skype (brand), while GCN's was Seth MacFarlane/Cavalcade of Comedy (content) - GCN (distribution) - Burger King (brand). I asked Tyler whether this three-legged stool is the model for independent broadband content (whose nascent studios have been slammed by the down economy) to be funded in the future, he emphatically replied "yes."
This highlights one key difference between GCN and Adconion.TV. Google of course has been very clear in steering away from content creation, consistently declaring it's "not a content company." Adconion, on the other hand, specifically intends to custom produce brand-infused broadband video programming. That's where the KTV acquisition comes in. Tyler explained that it is deep into talks with numerous agencies and brands about creating programs that showcase the brand sponsors. Two deals are expected to be announced soon.
Another difference is that GCN tried to drive traffic back to YouTube to incent users to subscribe to ongoing program updates and get exposed to other related programs. In my GCN post, I wrote enthusiastically that the marriage of AdSense-powered video distribution as the "spokes" with YouTube as the "hub" was formidable because it gives GCN a mechanism to build ongoing viewership beyond the first exposure at the publisher site.
Today Adconion lacks a comparable destination site. Tyler doesn't think that's important since it offers ways to subscribe, get email alerts and share within the player itself. Plus he's not hearing demand for it from brands. Still I think as this story unfolds and Adconion.TV finds itself competing with GCN for the highest-potential content, a destination site compliment will become essential. Should it agree, an acquisition would make sense to fill this hole (Metacafe? DailyMotion?).
For now though, Adconion has an aggressive plan to build Adconion.TV as an exciting new entry on the Syndicated Video Economy landscape. With its resources, reach and new production capabilities, this is clearly one to keep an eye on.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
CM is offering Syndicaster free for 2 main reasons, first because they want to incent broadcasters to use it widely, in turn helping CM's Clip Syndicate unit build a gigantic library of clips to syndicate around the web (as Sean says "to lubricate the digital broadcast syndication market"), and second, because they can. How? Because Critical Mention already takes video feeds from 240+ broadcasters covering 85%+ of the U.S. population, digitizing them for its CriticalTV search and monitoring system. I'm assuming that beyond development, there's little incremental cost in running Syndicaster.
Sound a little confusing? To simplify, there's a web of product offerings, all powered from the same underlying infrastructure. Actually, it's a very cool example of the scale opportunities in digital media. Once you've collected the data (in this case video, which is also transcribed into text), there are multiple products, markets and customers to serve. And it also shows that traditional hardware/software solutions continue to be at risk in the Internet age.
Syndicaster's now being offered to 450 initial broadcasters. Soon, others can sign up too. Sean and Sharon also gave me a sneak peek into some other upcoming stuff. All very interesting. Keep an eye out for more soon.