Surely one of the most enduring questions I and others who watch the online video industry are asked (and in fact often ask ourselves) is: How can video management and publishing platform companies continue to launch, even as the space already seems so crowded?
Personally I've been hearing this question for at least 6 years, going back to when I consulted with Maven Networks, whose acquisition by Yahoo was one of the few industry exits (and likely the best from an investor ROI perspective, regardless of the fact that it was shut down little more than a year later as part of Yahoo's retrenching. With yesterday's launch of Episodic and the recent launch of Unicorn Media, plus last week's $10M Series C round by Ooyala, it's timely to once again try to make sense of all the activity in the platform space.
The best explanation I offer traces from my Econ 101 class: supply is expanding to meet demand. Over the past 10 years, there has been an enormous surge of interest in publishing online video by an incredible diversity of content providers. Importantly, interest by content providers has intensified in the last few years. I can vividly recall 2003 and 2004, trying to explain to leading content providers why online video was an important initiative to pursue. Still, their projects were often experimental and non-revenue producing. Contrast this with today, where every media company on earth now recognizes online video as a strategic priority.
But even as online video's prioritization has grown, many media companies don't have all the strategic technology building blocks in place. In fact, many continue to use home-brewed technology developed a while back. The range of video features needed continues to grow and evolve rapidly. Consider how requirements have expanded recently: live, as well as on-demand video; long-form programs as well as clips; paid, as well as ad-supported business models; mobile, as well broadband distribution; multiple bit rate, as well as single stream encoding; in-depth analytics as well as top-line metrics; widespread syndication as well as destination-site publishing; off-site, as well as on-site ad management. The list goes on and on.
As media company interest has grown, technology executives and investors have taken note. Venture capital firms continue to see online video as a high-growth industry (even if the revenue model for content providers is still developing, as are many of the platforms' own revenue models), with significant macro trends (e.g. changing consumer behavior, proliferation of devices, improved video quality, etc.) as fueling customer interest. Another important factor for platforms is rapidly declining development costs. As Noam Lovinsky, CEO of Episodic told me last week, open source and other development tools has made it cheaper than ever to enter the market with a solid product. With ever lower capital needs, a new video platform entrant that can grab its fair share of the market has the potential to produce an attractive ROI.
Of course all the noise in the platform space means media executives need to do their homework more rigorously than ever. I'm a strong believer that the only way to really understand how a video platform works, how well-supported it is and how well-matched it is to the content provider's needs is to vigorously test drive it. Hands-on use reveals how comprehensive a platform really is, or how comfortable its work flow is, or how well its APIs work. While I get a lot of exposure to the various platforms through the demos I experience and the questions I ask, I'll readily concede this is not the same as actually living with a platform day-in and day-out.
Another complicating factor is that while there are some companies purely focused on video management and publishing, there are many others who offer some of these features, while positioning themselves in adjacent or larger markets. When I add these companies in, then the list of participants that most often hits my radar would include thePlatform, Brightcove, Ooyala, Twistage, Digitalsmiths, Delve, KickApps, VMIX, Grab Networks, ExtendMedia, Cisco EOS, Irdeto, KIT Digital, Kaltura, blip.tv, Magnify.net, Fliqz, Gotuit, Move Networks, Multicast Media, WorldNow, Kyte, Endavo, Joost, Unicorn Media and Episodic (apologies to anyone I forgot). Again though, this list combines apples and oranges; some of these companies are direct competitors, some are partners with each other, some have a degree of overlap and so on.
There's a long list of platforms to choose from, yet I suspect the list will only get longer as online and mobile video continues to grow and mature. At the end of the day, who survives and succeeds will depend on having the best products, pricing the most attractively and actually winning profitable business.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
The ad management company Adap.tv has taken the wraps off its new "Player Partner Program" this morning. Initial partners include Brightcove, thePlatform, Mogulus, VMIX, Twistage and Kaltura. All are now integrated with Adap.tv's "OneSource" ad management system.
Yesterday, Dakota Sullivan, Adap.tv's VP of Marketing told me that though the company has been working with Brightcove and thePlatform informally to date, the new program will provide more structure to partners. Included are a central location on the Adap.tv web site for partners for promotional purposes along with other co-marketing and technology updates. No cash is changing hands with partners though, as Adap.tv tries to maintain neutrality.
These types of partnership programs are springing up all around the broadband video ecosystem, as companies continue to carve out their specific niches, and seek to benefit from partners' marketing efforts in a resource-constrained environment. I expect we'll continue to see them get rolled out.
Yesterday Fast Company magazine officially launched its previously announced FastCompany.TV initiative as "a new kind of business video network." It is another indicator of how broadband is raising the competitive bar in the today's video business.
FC hired Robert Scoble, who ran Scobleizer, an extremely popular technology blog, to be the venture's managing editor. The first programs announced yesterday were "Scobleizer TV," mainly interviews with technology and innovation leaders shot in HD, and "Fast Company Live," which is being shot with a cell phone (yes, a cell phone) and presented in a rough-and-raw, "you're in the front row" experimental style.
I asked Robert if he had considered aligning his brand to a broadcast or cable network instead of Fast Company. Though he said he had some conversations, he quickly realized that their approaches were not congruent with his. He saw that traditional networks produce very expensively, with multiple cameras, lights, sets, makeup, etc, all of which creates the lavish look we see on TV. Robert points out that all of this means networks spend a lot of money and time to create just a relatively small amount of actual video (he offered one example he knew of where it took 10 hours to create 2 minutes of video). All of this creates a culture in which executives have a hard time relating to his innovative, low overhead approach.
Conversely, he believes that broadband video must be shot economically, efficiently and creatively, with an eye toward maximizing the ratio of video shot to video aired. As he put it, in a "Google-powered trillion channel world, where each channel may only have 50 or 500 or 5,000 viewers, building media at a low-enough cost enables you to do very well. And the Internet offers the chance to present video that never would have been made in the traditional world."
These sentiments perfectly capture what I see as broadband video's ultimate impact: providing a different consumer experience unencumbered by traditional yardsticks and technologies, with the results being a proliferation of consumer choices and real competition to incumbent players.
Another interesting aspect of FC.TV is that it uses Twistage, a relatively new video publishing and management platform. I had spoken to their CEO David Wadler a couple of weeks ago, and he explained that Twistage is a highly flexible, API-rich platform that he believes is much cheaper than competitors. Robert said he likes Twistage's turnkey ASP approach, which allows FC.TV to outsource just about everything, eliminating a lot of what he called the "drudge work." Wadler told me there are other media customers to be announced soon, so Twistage looks to be an emerging player in this already quite crowded space.
Taken together, FastCompany.TV shows how aggressive magazines can use broadband video to significantly expand the scope of the businesses.
What do you think? Post a comment and let everyone know!