Following are 4 news items worth noting from the week of July 27th:
New Pew research confirms online video's growth - Pew was the latest to offer statistics confirming that online video usage continues to soar. Among the noteworthy findings: Long-form consumption is growing as 35% of respondents say they have viewed a TV show or movie online (up from 16% in '07); watching video is widely popular, draw more people (62%) than social networking (46%), downloading a podcast (19%) or using Twitter (11%); usage is up across all age groups, but still skews young with 90% of 18-29 year olds reporting they watch online vs. 27% of 65+ year olds; and convergence is happening with 23% of people who have watched online reporting they have connected their computers to their TVs.
FreeWheel has a very good week - FreeWheel, the syndicated video ad management company I most recently wrote about here, had a very good week. On Monday, AdAge reported that YouTube has begun a test allowing select premium partners to bring their own ads into YouTube, served by FreeWheel. Then on Wednesday, blip.tv announced that it too had integrated with FreeWheel, so ads could be served for blip's producers across their entire syndication network. I caught up with FreeWheel's co-CEO Doug Knopper yesterday who added that more deals, especially with major content producers, are on the way. FreeWheel is riding the syndication wave in a big way.
Plenty of action with CDNs - CDNs were in the news this week, as Vusion (formerly Jittr Networks) bit the dust, after going through $11 million in VC money. Elsewhere CDN Velocix (formerly CacheLogic) was acquired by Alcatel-Lucent. ALU positioned the deal as fitting with its "Application Enablement" strategy, supporting customers' needs in a "video-centric world." Limelight announced its LimelightREACH and LimelightADS services for mobile media delivery and monetization (both are based on Kiptronic, which it acquired recently). Last but not least, bellwether Akamai reported Q2 '09 earnings, that while up 5% vs. year ago, were down sequentially from Q1. Coupled with a cautious Q3 outlook, the company's stock dropped 20%.
IAC is making big moves into online video - IAC is making no bones about its interest in online video. Last week the company unveiled Notional, a spin-out of CollegeHumor.com, to be headed by that site's former editor-in-chief Ricky Van Veen. Then this week it announced another new video venture, with NBCU's former co-entertainment head Ben Silverman. IAC chief Barry Diller seems determined to push the edge of the envelope, as IAC talks up things like multi-platform distribution and brand integration. With convergence and mobile consumption starting to take hold, the timing may finally be right for these sorts of plays. At a minimum IAC will keep things interesting for industry watchers like me.
The explosion in broadband video consumption is creating a significant and growing hairball for broadband Internet Service Providers, content providers, regulators and others. The core problem is that ISPs' networks are getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of video being consumed each day.
ISPs have several ways to address the situation, but unfortunately none are perfect. For example, Comcast's approach until recently has been to use network management tools to block or slow certain kinds of traffic, such as peer-to-peer. P2P is a particular issue for cable ISPs because it uses scarce "upstream" bandwidth. Network management is highly technical, making it hard for policy-makers to understand it, let alone legislate it. So Comcast is now facing a sanction from the FCC over its network management practices (which it says it's moving away from anyway), because the FCC didn't consider them "reasonable" by its own vague definition.
Time Warner Cable is experimenting with another approach: tiers of service carrying bandwidth caps for users. This is a little bit like today's cell phone model - you buy a package of minutes, and if you go over, you pay extra. Though that may sound reasonable, it invites all kinds of confusion for consumers (e.g. "do I watch that show on CBS.com? Maybe I'd better not, I think my kids have watched a lot of YouTube clips this week and I don't want to go over my cap."). Content providers are justifiably concerned about this potential scenario. Separately, for its part, AT&T recently tried to clarify what its users can and cannot expect from their broadband subscriptions.
Yet another route is for broadband ISPs to adopt a much more expansive technical approach to how content is hosted in their networks and delivered to their users. Equipment vendors like Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco believe that ISPs could convert the current bandwidth problem into a full-fledged business opportunity. This would involve ISPs deploying hardware and software that would enable "managed services," each to be delivered at a specified quality level and for a specified price. So rather than a consumer buying a tier, they would buy a specific service offering (e.g. unlimited Hulu, with HD delivery guaranteed).
This wouldn't be a totally unfamiliar concept. Content providers have been buying managed hosting/delivery services for years from CDNs like Akamai, Limelight, Level 3 and others which guarantee certain delivery metrics. But these CDNs' guarantees can't reach into the "last mile" the ISPs' networks serve. So as ever-more bandwidth intensive content is launched such as HD and long-form, content providers should have an increasing motivation to see last mile ISPs offer comparable managed services offerings from ISPs as well.
However, ISP managed services would require fundamental changes in how these companies currently work together, and also invites concerns from "net neutrality" advocates that ISPs could bias in favor of one content provider or another when making their deals. Though compelling in concept, there are many details to sort out in the managed services approach, making it a longer-term option.
All of this just scratches the surface of the growing bandwidth hairball. Layer on the free-speech advocates like Free Press and Public Knowledge and the politicians looking to make hay with constituents and it's evident that the debate over bandwidth is only going to intensify.
What do you think? Post a comment now.