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Analysis for 'Veoh'

  • VideoNuze Report Podcast #69 - July 23, 2010

    Daisy Whitney and I are pleased to present the 69th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for July 23, 2010.

    In this podcast I lead off by discussing some further details of Qlipso integrating with Veoh. Daisy weighs in on whether linking virtual economies to online video through social viewing experiences makes sense. I continue to think of Qlipso-Veoh as a fresh approach worth watching.

    On an unrelated topic, Daisy then discusses the Old Spice man ad campaign which has taken the online world by storm over the past few weeks, generating 40 million views, 40,000 comments and 100,000 tweets. Daisy is among those impressed with how well Old Spice harnessed social media, but notes that the campaign has been active for months, dating back to the last Super Bowl. Daisy has some additional insight based on an article she's preparing for AdAge next week for which she interviewed the campaign's creative masterminds at the Wieden+Kennedy ad agency. Daisy's conclusion: social media campaigns succeed after lots of preparation and often with the tailwind that traditional media creates. Listen in to learn more.

    Click here to listen to the podcast (16 minutes, 12 seconds)


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  • Qlipso is Now Integrated With Veoh

    A few months ago the assets of Veoh, the well-funded, but ultimately unsuccessful online video aggregator, were sold to a tiny company named Qlipso, which is backed by Jerusalem Venture Partners. It was a highly unconventional deal and the rationale Qlipso provided at the time seemed vague to me. However, Qlipso has now done its initial integration with Veoh and after seeing it and talking with Qlipso CEO Jon Goldman last week, I have a better sense of what's going on and what's ahead.

    When you visit Veoh.com now and select any video to watch, you'll see an invitation above the video window to "Share live with friends." Clicking that link invokes the Qlipso social platform, in which the video plays. When you sign in to Qlipso you're then able to create your own avatar or insert webcam video of yourself, either of which is displayed alongside others in the room. You're also able to communicate with others through text and audio chat.

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  • Veoh Throws in the Towel After $70 Million Invested

    Veoh declared bankruptcy yesterday and laid off the last of its employees. For those of us who follow the online video industry closely, it wasn't a huge surprise, as Veoh has struggled for a while to find a business model while facing Universal Music Group's relentless copyright challenge (in which Veoh ultimately prevailed). Veoh's failure is a cautionary tale that even an early start, $70 million invested from blue-chip backers and strong user support aren't necessarily enough for success.

    Veoh lived in YouTube's shadow from day one, and as it became apparent that UGC was a winner-take-all market which YouTube had won, Veoh scrambled for a new opportunity. It discontinued support for adult content, which alienated a core group of its users. It pushed to be an aggregator for premium video, sealing partnerships with CBS, MTV, Lionsgate, PBS and others, while continuing to attract independent content. But it got squeezed when Hulu appeared on the scene, which quickly became the de facto destination for premium programming. Veoh's last stand was promoting its "Video Compass" browser plug-in offering enhanced video discovery. A neat feature, but clearly not enough to build a company around. R.I.P. Veoh.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).

     
  • Scoring My 2009 Predictions

    As 2009 winds down, in the spirit of accountability, it's time to take a look back at my 5 predictions for the year and see how they fared. As when I made them, they're listed below in the order of most likely to least likely to pan out.

    1. The Syndicated Video Economy Accelerates

    My least controversial prediction for 2009 was that video would continue to flow freely among content providers numerous third parties, in what I labeled the "Syndicated Video Economy" back in early 2008. The idea of the SVE is that "destination" sites for online audiences are waning; instead audiences are fragmenting to social networks, mobile devices, micro-blogging sites, etc. As a result, the SVE compels content providers to reach eyeballs wherever they may be, rather than trying to continue driving them to one particular site.

    Video syndication continued to gain ground in '09, with a number of the critical building blocks firming up. Participants across the ecosystem such as FreeWheel, 5Min, RAMP, YouTube, Visible Measures, Magnify.net, Grab Networks, blip.TV, Hulu and others were all active in distributing, monetizing and measuring video across the SVE. I heard from many content executives during the year that syndication was now driving their businesses, and that they only expected that to increase in the future. So do I.

    2. Mobile Video Takes Off, Finally

    When the history of mobile video is written, 2009 will be identified as the year the medium achieved critical mass. I was bullish on mobile video at the end of 2008 primarily due to the iPhone's success and my expectation that other smartphones coming to market would challenge it with ever more innovation. The iPhone has continued its amazing run in '09, on track to sell 20 million+ units. Late in the year the Droid, which Verizon has relentlessly promoted, began making inroads. It also benefitted from Verizon highlighting AT&T's inadequate 3G network. Elsewhere, 4G carrier Clearwire continued its nationwide expansion.

    While still behind online video in its development, mobile video is benefiting from comparable characteristics. Handsets are increasingly video capable, just as were computers. Mobile content is flowing freely, leaving the closed "on-deck" only model behind and emulating the open Internet. Carriers are making significant network investments, just as broadband ISPs did. A range of monetization companies have emerged. And so on. As I noted recently, the mobile video ecosystem is healthy and growing. The mobile video story is still in its earliest stages, we'll see much more action in 2010.

    3. Net Neutrality Remains Dormant

    Given all the problems the Obama administration was inheriting as it prepared to take office a year ago, I predicted that it would not expend energy and political capital trying to restart the net neutrality regulatory process. With broadband ISP misbehavior not factually proven, I also thought Obama's predilection for data in determining government action would prevail. However, I cautioned that politics is a tough business to predict, and so anything can happen.

    And indeed, what turned out is that in September, new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski launched a vigorous net neutrality initiative, despite the fact that there was still little data supporting it. With backwards logic, Genachowski said the FCC would be guided by data it would be collecting, though he was already determined to proceed. In "Why the FCC's Net Neutrality Plan Should Go Nowhere" I argued, among other things, that the FCC is way off the mark, and that in the midst of the gripping recession, to risk the unintended consequences that preemptive regulation carries, was foolhardy. Now, with Comcast set to acquire a controlling interest in NBCU, net neutrality advocates will say there's even more to be worried about. It looks like we can expect action in 2010.

    4. Ad-Supported Premium Video Aggregators Shakeout

    The well-funded category of ad-supported premium video aggregators was due for a shakeout in '09 and sure enough it happened. Players were challenged by little differentiation, hardly any exclusive content and difficulty attracting audiences. The year's biggest casualty was highflying Joost, which made a last ditch attempt to become a white label video platform before being quietly acquired by Adconion. Veoh, another heavily funded player, cut staff and changed its model. TidalTV barely dipped its toe in the aggregation waters before it became an ad network.

    On the positive side, Hulu, YouTube and TV.com continued their growth in '09. Hulu benefited from Disney coming on board as both an investor and content partner, while YouTube improved its appeal to premium content partners and brought on Univision and PBS, among others. Aside from these, Fancast and nichier sites like Dailymotion and Babelgum, there isn't much left to the aggregator category. With TV Everywhere services starting to launch, the opportunity for aggregators to get access to cable programming is less likely than ever. And despite their massive traffic, Hulu and YouTube have significant unresolved business model issues.

    5. Microsoft Will Acquire Netflix

    This was my long ball prediction for '09, and unless something happens in the waning days of the year, I'll have to concede I got this one wrong. Netflix has remained independent and is charging along with its own streaming "Watch Instantly" feature, now used by over half its subscribers, according to recent research. Netflix has also broadened its penetration of 3rd party devices, adding PS3, Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players, Insignia Blu-ray players this year, in addition to Roku, XBox and others. Netflix is quickly becoming the most sought-after content partner for "over-the-top" device makers.

    But as I've previously pointed out, Netflix's number 1 challenge with Watch Instantly is growing its content selection. Though it has a deal with Starz, it is largely boxed out of distributing recent hit movies via Watch Instantly by the premium channels HBO, Showtime and Epix. My rationale for the Microsoft acquisition is that Netflix will need far deeper pockets than it has on its own to crack open the Hollywood-premium channel ecosystem to gain access to prime movies. For its part, Microsoft, locked in a pitched battle with Google and Apple on numerous fronts, could gain advantage with a Netflix deal, positioning it to be the leader in the convergence era. Meanwhile, others like Amazon and YouTube continue to circle this space.

    The two big countervailing forces for how premium video gets distributed in the future are TV Everywhere, which seeks to maintain the traditional, closed ecosystem, and the over-the-top consumer device-led approach, which seeks to open it up. It's hard not to see both Netflix and Microsoft playing a major role.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

     
  • 4 Items Worth Noting from the Week of September 14th

    Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of Sept. 14th:

    1. Ad spending slowdown continues - TNS Media Intelligence reported that 1st half '09 U.S. ad spending declined 14.3% vs. a year ago, to $60.87 billion. Spending in Q2 '09 alone was down 13.9% vs. a year ago, the 5th straight declining quarter. The only bright spots TNS reported were Internet display ads (up 6.5%) and Free Standing Inserts (up 4.6%).

    Rupert Murdoch and others in the industry have lately been suggesting that advertising is starting to improve and that the worst is behind us. But TNS SVP Research Jon Swallen was less sanguine, saying only that "Early data from third quarter hint at possible improvements for some media due to easy comparisons against distressed levels of year ago expenditures." While the online video ad sector has held up far better than most, the ad spending crash has caused many in the industry to re-evaluate whether ad-only models are viable, particularly for long-form premium content online. Subscription-oriented initiatives will only intensify the longer the ad slowdown lasts.

    2. Veoh's court victory is important for all in the industry - I'd be remiss not to note the significance of U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz's granting of Veoh's motion for summary judgment, effectively throwing out Universal Music's suit alleging Veoh had infringed UMG's copyrights. Judge Matz articulated the specific reasons he believed Veoh operated within the "safe harbor" provisions of the DMCA.

    As a content producer myself (albeit at a completely different level than a music publisher or film studio!), I've generally been a huge advocate of copyright protection. But the fact is that DMCA - for better or worse - set out the rules for digital copyright use and they must be enforced clearly and forcefully. Anything less leaves the market in a state of confusion, with industry participants wary of inviting costly, time-consuming legal action (Veoh has said the UMG suit cost it millions of dollars in legal fees). For online video to thrive the rules of the road need to be well-understood; Judge Matz's ruling made an important contribution toward that goal.

    3. Digitalsmiths announces new senior level hires - This week Digitalsmiths announced that it has brought on board Josh Wiggins as its new VP, Business Development, West Coast and two others, who will collectively be the company's first L.A.-based presence. They'll report in to Bob Bryson, SVP of Sales and Business Development.

    I caught up with Digitalsmiths' CEO Ben Weinberger briefly, who explained that with tier 1 film/TV studios and other content owners (news, sports, etc.) the company's major focus, it was essential to have a full-time presence there staffed with people who know the industry cold. Ben reported that the company has honed in on target customers who have very large files, have video as their core business/revenue center, require sophisticated metadata management and often need a rapid video capture, processing and playout workflow. Digitalsmiths is proving a solid example of how to effectively differentiate through product and customer focus in a very crowded space. Announced customers include Warner Bros., Telepictures and TMZ.com, others are in the hopper (note Digitalsmiths is a VideoNuze sponsor).

    4. New EmmyTVLegends.org site is a worth its weight in gold - On a somewhat lighter note, this week the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation unveiled EmmyTVLegends.org, which offers thoughtful, introspective video interviews with a wide range of TV's most influential personalities. If you have nostalgia for the classic TV shows from your youth, or just appreciate the amazing talent that has made the medium what it is, this site is for you. It is remarkably well-organized and accessible and brilliant proof of online video's power in presenting invaluable material that was previously available only to a lucky few.

    I happily got lost in the site listening to Alan Alda talk about the fabulous writers of M*A*S*H and Steven Bochco describing the magic of "Hill Street Blues." I searched by "Happy Days" and quickly found the exact clips of Ron Howard talking about the role of his "Richie Cunningham" character in the show's arc and Henry Winkler revealing the influence of Sylvester Stallone on how he developed the voice of "Fonzie." Mary Tyler Moore is irresistible discussing specific scenes of the Mary Tyler Moore show and her poignant memories of Mary Richards navigating the working world. Kudos to the Academy, the site is a gem.

    Enjoy the weekend and L'shanah tova (Happy New Year) to those of you, who like me, will be observing Rosh Hashanah this weekend!

     
  • 2009 Prediction #4: Ad-Supported Premium Video Aggregators Shakeout

    "Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won't be here next year."

    - Professor Charles Kingsfield, The Paper Chase

    Professor Kingsfield's famous admonition to incoming Harvard Law School students applies equally well in 2009 to the ad-supported aggregators of premium video. My prediction #4 for the new year is that a shakeout is coming to this space.

    As I wrote last summer in "Video Aggregators Have Raised $366+ Million to Date," there has been a lot of enthusiasm around broadband-only aggregators, especially those that focus on premium-quality video. Part of the excitement is based on the idea that they could eventually snatch a chunk of the $100 billion/year that today's cable, satellite and telco video distributors generate. This vision is enhanced by the inevitability of broadband connecting seamlessly to millions of consumers' TVs, enabling a pure on-demand, a-la-carte experience. The result has been many well-funded startups (e.g. Joost, Veoh, Vuze, etc.) as well as offensive/defensive initiatives backed by large media companies (e.g. Hulu, Fancast, portal sites, etc.).

    However, ad-supported video aggregators face multiple challenges. First and most is that as their ranks have grown, the audience they're commonly targeting fragments. Not only does this make it hard to achieve scale, it makes it hard to identify meaningful audience differences that advertisers seek when allocating their budgets. The recent economic collapse and ad spending slowdown only exacerbate these audience-related issues.

    The next big problem is that it is very difficult for aggregators to differentiate themselves. As with most web sites, there are really two main drivers of differentiation: content and user experience. On the content side, there is a finite amount of premium video available for ad-supported online distribution and there's no such thing as exclusivity (except to some extent with Hulu and its rights to NBC and Fox shows).

    Increasingly broadcast programs are available in lots of places online, (starting with the broadcasters' own sites), while cable programs are in short supply (more on why that's the case and why it will stay that way in "The Cable Industry Closes Ranks"). Though there is lots of other quality video being produced, the reality is that once you get away from hit TV shows and recently-released movies (which themselves are not available except as paid downloads), little else has the same audience-driving appeal.

    User experience is certainly a bona fide differentiator, and as I have spent time at all these sites, it's evident which sites are better and easier to use than others. But user experience differences are hard to maintain; it's all too easy for one site to emulate what another one does, and with cheap, open technology there are few barriers to doing so. Over time, most of the really important differences melt away (ample evidence of this is found in the ecommerce world, where checkout processes have long since gravitated to a set of best practices).

    Another problem is customer acquisition and retention, which is a particular issue for the independent aggregators, who don't have incumbent advantages to leverage. With premium video only coming online relatively recently, users' video search processes are not yet well understood. Suppose someone is looking for a missed episode of Lost and don't want to pay for it. Do they start with a Google search for "Lost?" Or for "ABC?" Or do they reflexively go to ABC.com? Or maybe they're a heavy YouTube user, so they start by heading over to YouTube.com? Still others no doubt start by going to video search sites like blinkx or Truveo. Video aggregators need to insert themselves in the flow of an online user's video search process. But doing effectively is not yet anywhere close to the reasonably well-understood world of web-based optimization techniques.

    I believe all of this leads to the inevitable result that not all of today's video aggregators are going to make it to the end of '09. Some will be bought or merged, others will simply close down. You're no doubt wondering which ones I think will fall into these categories. Though I have my hunches, for now I just can't offer an informed answer. There are just too many variables in play: actual performance (which only the sites themselves know), cash burn rates, strength of commitment by investors/owners, etc. What I will say though is that the list of survivors will include at least Hulu and Fancast. Both are highly strategic to their parent companies, have significant financial backing, and enjoy content or feature differentiation that is hard to replicate and/or is valued by users.

    The landscape for video aggregators is still pretty wide open, so some winners will emerge. But there are just too many entrants chasing the same prize. I'll be keeping close track of the aggregator space on VideoNuze as '09 unfolds, and will keep you apprised of all developments.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

    2009 Prediction #1:The Syndicated Video Economy Accelerates

    2009 Prediction #2:Mobile Video Takes Off, Finally

    2009 Prediction #3:Net Neutrality Remains Dormant

    Tomorrow, 2009 Prediction #5

     
  • The Incredibly Growing YouTube

    Closing out the week, I missed this blurb from Information Week yesterday reporting YouTube's staggering dominance of broadband video traffic. New numbers out from Hitwise show that in May '08 YouTube garnered 75% of the 10 million visits to 63 video sites that Hitwise is tracking. That's 9 times the traffic of #2 MySpaceTV and more than 20 times that of the #3 site which is Google's other video property (remember it?)

    According to Hitwise YouTube's share rose 26% from a year ago compared with drops by all the others in the top 5 sites except Veoh, which rose by 32% from a year ago.

    It's just mind-boggling to think that one site could have such market share, particularly when a lot of the networks' programs cannot be found there. I think it speaks to how strong users' appetites are for UGC and viral content remain, how YouTube has become a de facto video platform for lots of smaller players in the industry (and consumers) and how the company is likely beginning to enjoy some early success with its partners' channels.

    A few months ago, in "YouTube: Over-the-Top's Best Friend" I wrote that YouTube is quickly becoming the perfect ally for all those makers of new broadband-to-the-TV devices. These companies desperately need content and credible brands to help pull through consumer demand. YouTube offers both. In this sense, YouTube has huge value yet to be tapped (of course demonstrating that it can monetize its massive audience wouldn't hurt its partnership value...)

    However, looked at another way, YouTube's success should be very encouraging to other players. To start with, YouTube is doing a marvelous job educating the world about the virtues of broadband video. And while YouTube is the market's 800 pound gorilla, it is still leaving key opportunities open for other players to differentiate themselves. Potential areas include high-quality delivery, ad-based and paid monetization and offering content that YouTube simply doesn't have (examples: Comedy Central programs like "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report")

    Volumes are yet to be written about YouTube. Whether it turns its market-leading traffic into a financially-explosive franchise or forever remains a red-ink spewing blip on Google's P&L is yet to be seen. Either way, when the history of broadband video is written, YouTube will be featured prominently.

     
  • Disney/ABC - Veoh Syndication Deal Provides More Clues About Market's Future

    More evidence this morning of the Syndicated Video Economy playing out, as Disney is announcing it will distribute both ABC and ESPN programming to Veoh, the broadband video aggregator. This follows ESPN's first and recent syndication deal with AOL.

    Last week in "Disney/ABC's Cheng is Confident About Broadband Video Advertising," I explained how Disney places a huge emphasis on its video player, so that it can present a consistent user experience and also control advertising. The Veoh deal is aligned with that thinking. Veoh users are exposed to Disney programming, but once they want to view, the Disney video player launches.

    In fact it's interesting, if you compare what's been implemented so far at Veoh vs. how ABC shows come up at Hulu (an aggregator that Disney does not have a deal with), there's not that much difference. Recall that Hulu is just taking a feed of Disney's program-related metadata, but again, if you actually want to view, you'll launch the Disney video player.

    I'm guessing the major difference here, and why some money changes hands with Veoh, but not Hulu, is that Veoh must be making some kind of commitment to promote Disney programs. Though you never want to judge a deal by how it's implemented on day 1, for now Disney doesn't seem to getting much visibility. I noticed a Jimmy Kimmel thumbnail rotate through the Veoh home page, but when I drilled down through the "TV Shows" and "Channel" tabs, I didn't see any extra promotion of ABC programs. In fact the only ABC program even listed in Veoh's generic alphabetized directory was "Ugly Betty." I found a few full-length episodes when I drilled down through an "ABC" link I found with the Kimmel video, but couldn't find that link anywhere else.

    All of this is a reminder that there's a very interesting minuet going on between established networks looking to broaden their online reach and the big video aggregators that have grown dramatically and raised lots of money, but are still unprofitable. The Disney-Veoh deal shows that aggregators may be willing to agree to networks' desires for online control in exchange for the potential to generate high-margin promotion-based revenue (remember they're not hosting or delivering the Disney video, so for Veoh in this case there's very little expense involved) and incremental on-page ad revenue. Of course too many of these kinds of implementations and the aggregator's user experience will look quite inconsistent.

    No doubt there will be many more network-aggregator deals yet to be done, demonstrating how this market will eventually shape up.

     
  • Key Themes from My 2 Panel Discussions Last Week

    Last week I moderated 2 panel discussions, one for Streaming Media East in New York, and the other for MITX, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, in Boston. In the former, "Reinventing the Ad Model Through Discovery and Targeting" and the latter, "Driving Audiences to Your Online Video Content: Strategies for Success in a Crowded Market" panelists discussed many of the key themes I continue observing in the broadband video market.

    Early adopters are heaviest broadband users
    Despite research that continues to show broadening adoption of broadband video usage (11.5 billion videos viewed in March, according to comScore), at SME, Nielsen's Jon Gibs confirmed that the vast majority of the market is still very casual users, with only 5-8% of overall users showing more habitual and long-form viewing. For many today, the viewing experience is still limited to watching a YouTube clip emailed to them or found in a friend's MySpace or Facebook page. Plus user attention spans remain short. At MITX, Visible Measures' Brian Shin showed how viewership drops off a cliff following the climactic moment of a hilarious user-generated clip. Broadband is driving significant behavioral change for a segment of the market, but transitioning to a heavily-used mainstream medium will take years.
     
    Video proliferates
    Nonetheless, the number and range of video producers continues to expand, as all kinds of organizations recognize that video is a totally new opportunity to connect with their audiences, whoever that may be. At the MITX event, panelists showed examples from politicians, cultural organizations, small businesses, schools, brands and users themselves. I've said for a while that we're entering a "golden age" of video, with a massive proliferation of the quantity and range of sources. The market is already well into this phase.
     
    Discovery is a huge problem
    With this massive proliferation comes the huge problem of how users will actually find what they're looking for. At SME, Mike Henry from Veoh discussed promising results of Veoh's proprietary behavioral recommendation engine. At MITX, Tom Wilde from EveryZing showed how it can surface video for search engine discovery by using its speech-to-text engine; while Murali Aravamudan from Veveo explained how its algrorithms can quickly distinguish the video users are truly searching for. All of these approaches improve the users' experience. Yet what's equally clear is that, having never experienced the explosion of video choices we're now witnessing, it's impossible to know what will ultimately end up working. Discovery is an ongoing problem to be solved.
     
    Ad market still immature
    Last but not least, for the many fledgling and established video providers relying on advertising, the good news is that there's a lot of buyer interest, but the bad news is that it's still a very immature market. At SME we discussed how many media buyers look at broadband video through their traditional TV lenses, leading to a focus on TV's "Gross Rating Points" or GRPs model. But this undervalues the real engagement opportunities that broadband enables. At MITX, Bob Lentz of PermissionTV discussed how broadband is changing the role of ad agencies, traditional stewards of the creative process, allowing them to now do much more. Advertising is the primary business model for content providers, yet the shift of dollars the medium is anything but straightforward.

    These were four of the key themes from these two sessions. There was plenty more information exchanged, if you're interested, drop me a line and I'll be happy to discuss.

     
  • Brightcove Partners for Enhanced Video Syndication

    The broadband video market's focus on content syndication continued this morning as Brightcove, a leading video management platform, announced partnerships with Bebo, Meebo, RockYou, Slide and Veoh.

    Enabling managed syndication is becoming an imperative for video management platforms like Brightcove as customers increasingly seek to proliferate their content to multiple distributors. In particular, social networks like Bebo and others are prime syndication targets. They have huge and highly engaged users who can drive huge volumes of video streams.

    However, syndication raises a host of new operational issues, which in turn creates an opportunity for companies like Brightcove to add value to their platforms. Issues include rights management, monetization, tracking/reporting, business model implementation and others. Syndication is an exciting new push for many, but is already starting to pay off. One recent example is CBS Television Stations, which now derives more than 50% of its total monthly streams just through its syndication deal with Yahoo.

    (Note: Brightcove is a VideoNuze sponsor)

     
  • TidalTV: Another Well-Funded Aggregator Goes For It

    (Note: This is the first of a series of posts with companies participating in the 2008 Media Summit, a premier industry event which will be held next week in NYC. VideoNuze has partnered with Digital Hollywood, the Media Summit's producer, to provide select news and analysis coverage.)

    Investors continue to show lots of optimism about the broadband video aggregator category. The latest data point is TidalTV, a new entrant that announced last week it has raised $15 million from NEA and Valhalla Partners. This comes on top of a crowd of well-funded startups: Joost ($45M+), Veoh ($40M+ to date), Building B ($17.5M), Vuze ($32M+), Hulu ($100M) and many others who are attacking this space in one way or another.

    To better understand how TidalTV will distinguish itself from the pack, yesterday I had a lengthy briefing with CEO Mollie Spilman. She provided her first extensive remarks about TidalTV's game plan since last week's announcement. (Thanks to my old friend Tom MacIsaac, former CEO of Lightningcast, for facilitating the introduction. Tom recently launched Cove Street Partners and is as smart a player in the broadband video ad space as anyone around.)

    The first thing to know about TidalTV is that it is pursuing mainstream users, not early adopters. This targeting pervades all its decision-making: site design is clean and approachable (Mollie said Apple is their role model), content is professional/well-branded only (no UGC), user experience incorporates a traditional linear programming sensibility combined with full on-demand access and advertising mimics traditional pods, while also integrating new broadband-only formats.

     

    In short, TidalTV's making a bet that given how nascent broadband video adoption is among mainstream users, there is ample room to become the brand/destination of choice by providing an experience that feels more similar to traditional TV than to online. Though Mollie says that Apple is TidalTV's heaviest influence, I see clear parallels to AOL from the mid-late '90s. Recall that AOL's pervasive consumer-friendly UI, content and marketing (the Steve Case mantra) enabled it to crush all the dial-up ISPs which had more techie, complicated orientations. Watching AOL's rise made me a big believer that consumer-friendliness can indeed be a meaningful competitive differentiator if executed really well.

    AOL is an interesting point of comparison because TidalTV's founder Scott Ferber was a co-founder of Advertising.com, which was sold to AOL in 2004, albeit after the Case era ended at AOL. Mollie was at Ad.com for 6 years as well. Other TidalTV executives come from Ad.com, Joost and Fox. The Ad.com lineage helps explain why TidalTV has chosen to invest significantly in optimizing its advertising capabilities rather than building a lot of its own publishing or delivery features (note TidalTV is all Flash-based streaming with no downloads and no P2P).

    TidalTV has some interesting challenges ahead. First is content. It sounds like the company has made substantial progress in deals to obtain content from the "top 50 brands" which includes not only broadcast and cable network fare, but also print, online publishers and others who produce professional video. Yet Mollie concedes that "90% of TidalTV's content at launch could probably be found somewhere on-air or online," as content providers increasingly pursue widespread syndication. TidalTV's opportunity is to pull the content together in a neat, intuitive manner that mainstream users appreciate.

    TidalTV will do so by using a "faux linear" presentation, which entails it becoming a "digital programmer," assembling its partners' shows into their own channelized formats (e.g. "The CSI Channel"), with traditional linear air times. For example, if you come to the site at 4pm, you'd see "what's on now" on multiple channels. At launch Mollie anticipates offering 10-15 channels, all on a revenue share basis with providers. This presentation approach is meant to appeal to mainstream users by providing a tangible link to a TV-oriented experience. If a user clicks to start watching, a linear "feed" will start playing, including ad breaks. However, TidalTV will also offer all programs on a full, on-demand basis as well.

    But to illustrate how complicated the content acquisition terrain is for 3rd parties like TidalTV, consider Hulu, the NBC/FOX JV. It has insisted that prospective syndication partners take the Hulu player if they're to gain access to popular shows like "Heroes" and "24." Doing so could break TidalTV's user-friendly design. Mollie acknowledged this challenge, but felt confident that in examples like these, there should be adequate incentives to work out an arrangement. Then there's ABC, which to date has not pursued syndication aggressively. If it maintains its ABC.com centric approach, simply not making its programs available to 3rd parties, that leaves aggregators with obvious holes in their offerings. This would be especially challenging for a site like TidalTV, which appeals directly to mainstream users. Speaking generically, Mollie said that TidalTV's neutral "Switzerland" approach (i.e. no investments from media companies) should help in all of its content negotiations.

    Driving traffic is another key issue. With other players in the market already, they've had a chance to build their traffic, though not necessarily in TidalTV's core target audience. For instance, Veoh alone says it's getting 20M+ unique visitors per month. To jumpstart traffic, Mollie said that TidalTV is prepared to fund an aggressive marketing plan, testing direct marketing, search, offline ads, outdoor, SEO, viral, PR and other tactics.

    TidalTV expects to offer a geo-based limited beta in the Maryland, Virginia and DC area in late March, expanding to a national beta in mid-April. I'll be getting a peek at the beta product next week, so I'll have more to say then. Though it's still far too early to make a definitive assessment of TidalTV's chances of success, I like the fact that Mollie repeatedly uses the word "experimental" in her comments. That's a recognition of how early-stage this market space is and suggests TidalTV will stay flexible and open to all approaches to find success.

    What do you think of TidalTV's chances? Post a comment and let everyone know!

     
  • Highlighting 3 Partnerships Announced at CES

    Among the many partnership announcements at CES this week, there are a number worth highlighting. Today I focus on the following three:

    Viacom syndication - Viacom announced syndication deals for MTV Networks' stable of content with five leading broadband video sites: Dailymotion, GoFish, Imeem, MeeVee and Veoh. As those of you who have been following my previous posts know, I believe syndication is a critical engine in driving the advertising business model, which itself is the key to broadband video succeeding. As a result, I follow these syndication deals closely.

    I've previously been critical of MTVN which appeared reluctant about syndicating its content when it launched its DailyShow.com destination site. However, with its recent deal with AOL, and now these five deals, it appears that MTVN does in fact believe syndication is the way to go. As one of the biggest cable network groups, MTVN is a key barometer for other networks' moves, so I view this as a real positive for the market.

    Panasonic/Google - In this deal, Google and Matsushita announced that YouTube videos and Picasa photos would be directly accessible on new model Panasonic HDTVs launching in Q2 '08. Ordinarily I wouldn't be too excited about a deal like this, a permutation of which we've seen with other TV makers such as Sony.

    Yet this one rises in potential importance because YouTube is not just the most popular video site - with 40% of all video traffic - but because Google is determined to turn YouTube into a platform for legitimate content distribution. This was underscored by the Sony mini-sode deal also announced this week, and the many partnerships YouTube has already struck with premium content providers. If successful (and there are many if's to be sure), YouTube would be far more than a scraggly collection of UGC. So, marry a broad-based premium video aggregator to HDTVs and you could see a new device/content model emerge.

    BitTorrent device deals Netgear and D-Link - In a less publicized move, BitTorrent announced expanded deals with Netgear and D-Link covering a range of home networking products, with an emphasis on HD distribution. BitTorrent, which has been steadily legitimizing itself from its P2P file-sharing roots, has launched an aggressive SDK program called BitTorrent Device Partners, intended to permeate the market with its client software. BitTorrent also integrates easy access to its digital download store with these partners as well.

    While I'm not very bullish about the market potential of bridge devices from companies like Netgear and D-Link, I do believe that P2P distribution has a real role to play in content distribution, especially for heavy HD files. I continue to see P2P as more of a "peer assist" play. To the extent that BitTorrent can continue getting its software into multiple devices, it gains validation and strengthens its potential to be a meaningful partner in the larger content distribution ecosystem.

    Share your thoughts on these deals, and suggest others you think are noteworthy from CES!

     
  • Survey Says Broadband To Lag TV in 2012. Forget About It.

    This piece in today's Hollywood Reporter about a newly-released survey ("Broadband Won't Overtake TV, Execs Say") caught my eye because it continues a highly speculative, and largely irrelevant debate pervasive throughout the industry about future video consumption patterns.

    Why's the debate highly speculative? Because truly, none of us has any idea how people will consume video in 2012. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction. Here's a point of comparison: let's say 5 years ago, in 2002, you were asked what percentage of Americans would consume broadband video in a given month? How many (or few!) of us would have predicted a whopping 75%? (the correct answer according to comScore in July '07). Better yet, how many of us would have guessed that over 25% of this consumption would be at just one site (YouTube) - a site that didn't even exist in 2002? Given these examples, who's to predict what 2012 will bring?

    And why's the debate largely irrelevant?

    Read on by clicking here...

     
  • Survey: Broadband To Lag TV in 2012. Forget It.

    This piece in today's Hollywood Reporter about a newly-released survey ("Broadband Won't Overtake TV, Execs Say") caught my eye because it continues a highly speculative, and largely irrelevant debate pervasive throughout the industry about future video consumption patterns.

    Why's the debate highly speculative? Because truly, none of us has any idea how people will consume video in 2012. There are just too many variables and too many unknowns to make an accurate prediction. Here's a point of comparison: let's say 5 years ago, in 2002, you were asked what percentage of Americans would consume broadband video in a given month? How many (or few!) of us would have predicted a whopping 75%? (the correct answer according to comScore in July '07). Better yet, how many of us would have guessed that over 25% of this consumption would be at just one site (YouTube) - a site that didn't even exist in 2002? Given these examples, who's to predict what 2012 will bring?

    And why's the debate largely irrelevant? Because, in my opinion, it presupposes a continuation of the existing paradigm: an either/or choice of TV consumption OR broadband consumption. Yet these traditional lines of demarcation are already fading. Broadband programming is starting to migrate to networks, as in the recent case of Quarterlife's move from MySpace to NBC, while at the same time network TV programming is increasingly being consumed online. Meanwhile shorter form programming, not bound by traditional advertising pods is on the rise, further confusing industry definitions. Sites like Metacafe, blip.tv, Veoh and others are driving a whole new category of video that could eventually be a more popular format than 30 or 60 minute programs.

    These days consumers themselves are driving this "broadband or TV" debate into irrelevance. They're busy accessing programming on demand - whether "broadband" or "TV" - through a host of devices and services whose popularity is only going to skyrocket in the future. These include TiVo, Xbox, Netflix, Amazon Unbox and many others. Yet traditional thinking is still pervasive. For example, just this week, the chairman of the FCC has attempted to enact new regulations governing how cable programming might be unbundled. Fortunately this initiative collapsed, but take heed, market forces will eventually cause cable operators to offer programming as consumers want it, not how tradition dictates.

    I think Jim Denney, a TiVo product management VP whom I spoke with yesterday hit the nail on the head. Jim said TiVo's philosophy is to have their users "not worry about where any particular video's coming from, but rather just have all choices easily available." That strikes me as a winning business approach for the turbulent and converging 5 years that lie ahead. In my view, those companies which think about how to deliver value to consumers on their terms, rather than being guided by increasingly artificial distinctions, will be the ones to emerge as the winners in 2012.

     
  • DailyMotion Raises $34 Million, Is Category Over-Funded?

    dailymotion.jpg

    WSJ reported today that DailyMotion, the French video sharing site, has raised $34 million in a round led by Advent Venture Partners LLP of London and AGF Private Equity. This financing adds to a wave of capital that has poured into the overall ad-supported video sharing/video aggregator platform space in the last few months.

    Companies that I think fit in this group that have recently raised big money are Joost ($45 million), Veoh ($26 million), Metacafe ($30 million) and blip.tv ($10 million). Hulu, the NBC-News Corp JV which raised $100 million could even be considered in this category. And thinking a little more broadly you could include sites like Heavy.com, Break, Vuguru, Next New Networks, DaveTV, Babelgum, BitTorrent and others which are creating and/or aggregating broadband programming.

    To be fair, each of these companies has a slightly different approach to their content strategy (pure aggregation vs. original development vs. hybrids), market positioning and technology capabilities. However, as best I can tell, they're all trying to offer distinctive video content into broadband-only delivery networks and to one extent or another, surround this programming with interactive tools. The intended result is unique viewing experiences.

    In the aggregator roles they play, they're muscling themselves into the market owned by traditional video distributors like cable and satellite operators, and more recently telcos. These new companies are all very interesting to watch because ultimately they must do at least 3 things to generate traffic and revenue: (1) differentiate themselves from each other, (2) add value to content providers/producers relative to CPs/producers relying solely on a direct-to-consumer approach and (3) shift viewing time from the traditional distributors' programming to their own.

    Any one of these would be a pretty high hurdle to get over. Doing all three will be even tougher. Yet a lot of smart money keeps backing these companies, further demonstrating how hot this overall category is -- and how quickly it could become overfunded. But I don't expect things to cool down any time soon. We can expect further funding in this space as investors clamor to get a piece of the action in broadband video.

     
  • CBS Announcement is More Great Fodder for Upcoming NAB Super Session

    Yesterday’s announcement from CBS that it has formed the CBS Interactive Audience Network, and partnered with AOL, Microsoft, CNET, Comcast, Joost, Bebo, Brightcove, Netvibes, Sling Media and Veoh provides even more discussion material for the Super Session panel I’m moderating, which is coming up on Tuesday, April 17th at NAB 2007 (“The Revolutionizing Impact of Broadband Video”).

     
    I’m always a little reluctant to use a word like “revolutionizing”, as it just feels a bit hyperbolic. Yet, what CBS announced yesterday, in combination with the NBC-News Corp JV announcement a few weeks ago sure does seem to signal that these networks themselves are willing to take new risks and be much more opportunistic with how their prized programs get to audiences’ homes. I give these companies all a lot of credit – they are demonstrating a willingness to challenge their existing (and longstanding) business models though the economics and potential of these new models are not yet clear.
     
    We’ll be getting into all of this and more at NAB – come join us!
     
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