Clearleap announces Atlantic Broadband as first public customer - Clearleap, the Internet-based technology firm I wrote about here, announced Atlantic Broadband as its first public customer. Atlantic is the 15th largest cable operator in the U.S. I spoke with David Isenberg, Atlantic's VP of Products, who explained that Clearleap was the first packaged solution he's seen that allows broadband video to be inserted into VOD menus without the need for IT resources to be involved. Atlantic initially plans to use Clearleap to insert locally-oriented videos into its local programming lineup. It also has special events planned like "Operation Mail Call." which allows veterans' families to upload videos, plus coverage of local sports, and eventually filtered UGC. By blending broadband with VOD, Isenberg thinks Clearleap gives him a "giant marketing tool" to raise VOD's visibility. As I've said in the past, VOD and broadband are close cousins which can be mutually reinforcing; Clearleap facilitates this relationship.
New Balance's "Made in USA" video - Have you seen the new 3 minute video from athletic shoemaker New Balance? Yesterday I noticed a skyscraper ad for it at NYTimes.com and a full back-page ad in the print version of the Boston Globe. New Balance's video promotes the fact that it's the only athletic shoemaker still manufacturing in the U.S. (though it says only 25% of its shoes are made here). There's also a fundraising contest to win a trip to one of its manufacturing facilities. Taking ads in online and offline media to drive viewership of a brand's original video is another way that advertising is being reimagined and customers are being engaged.
Joost - R.I.P.-in-Waiting - There's been a lot written this week about Joost's decision to switch business models from content aggregation to white label video platform provider. Regrettably, I think this is Joost's last gasp and they are in "R.I.P.-in-waiting" mode. Joost, which started off with lots of buzz and financing ($45M) by the co-founders of Skype and Kazaa, is a cautionary tale of how quickly the broadband video market is moving, and how those out of step can get shoved aside. Joost made a critical strategic blunder insisting on a client download based on P2P delivery when the market was already moving solidly in the direction of browser-based streaming. It never recovered. Given how crowded the video platform space is, I'm hard-pressed to see how Joost will carve out a substantial role.
Cablevision wins its network DVR case - Not to be missed this week was the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to refuse to hear an appeal from programmers regarding cable operator Cablevision's "network DVR" plan. The decision means Cablevision can now deploy a service that allows subscribers to record programs in a central data center, rather than in their set-top boxes. This leads to lower capex, fewer truckrolls, and more storage capacity for consumers. There's also an intersection point with "TV Everywhere," as cable subscribers will potentially have yet another remote viewing option available to them. Content is increasingly becoming untethered to any specific box.
Remember "two great tastes that taste great together," the slogan from the classic Reese's ads featuring the mixing of peanut butter and chocolate? Recent developments suggest that independently produced/made-for-broadband video and Video-on-Demand could be another Reese's-like combination, bringing together two disparate worlds that have attracted loyal audiences in an offering that could have significant consumer appeal.
Consider, last week Multichannel News reported that Verizon plans to bring over 7 million broadband video clips from providers like blip.tv, Veoh and Dailymotion to its FiOS service, which users can browse with their set-top boxes. Also last week, AnySource Media, a software company that powers broadband-connected TVs, announced content deals with TheStreet.com, Break.com, Revision3 and Next New Networks, creating hundreds of "virtual VOD channels." And yesterday, Clearleap, a startup technology platform I recently profiled, announced its own deals with blip.tv, Revision3 and Next New Networks, providing content that cable operators can meld with their VOD offerings.
This push among made-for-broadband producers, technology companies and incumbent video service providers is not coincidental. While they each have their own motivations, their alignment could signal a winning proposition for viewers.
For the indie content producers, on-demand access on TVs augments their viewing experience and access to their programming. Given how difficult the environment has become for independents (Daisy had a good piece on this topic yesterday) on-demand access is a real differentiator. For cable operators and telcos, popular indie video gives them a targeted pitch to the tech-savvy, younger audiences who have become loyal fans of indie content. Down the road this group is probably most up-for-grabs for alternative "over-the-top" services, so focusing on defending them is smart. And for technology providers, a big market opportunity looms trying to connect the previously disparate worlds of broadband and VOD.
In fact, in a conversation I had last week with Braxton Jarratt, CEO/founder of Clearleap, he explained that cable operators get all this. They're looking for quality "mid-tail" video from broadband producers, including clips and short-form programs. The company's technology is currently feeding broadband video to a couple hundred thousand cable VOD homes, with a backlog of "double digit" markets pending deployment. Braxton has a lot of content deals on Clearleap's docket, creating a menu for its cable customers to pick and choose from to incorporate into their VOD offerings. Clearleap also offers an ad insertion platform, so indie video can be monetized, not just offered as a value add.
Meanwhile, VOD has long proven itself popular with viewers. Comcast recently announced it has delivered 11B views since it launched VOD. It has continued to augment its library and add more HD titles. While VOD hasn't really been a money-maker itself, it has become a strong part of the digital value proposition and a defensive move against other viewing alternatives. By incorporating popular broadband video into its VOD choices, its appeal is only strengthened.
While the tectonic plates of "convergence" continue to shift, examples of broadband video making its way to the TV continue to happen. TiVo has been at this for a while with its "TiVoCast" service, along with technology providers like ActiveVideo Networks and others. The likelihood for independently-produced broadband video and VOD to get together seems poised to increase.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Happy Friday the 13th...
Below is the 10th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, for March 13, 2009.
This week Will adds some detail to his recent post, "Clarifying Comcast's and Time Warner's Plans to Deliver Cable Programming via Broadband to Their Subscribers." These plans are not fully locked in, but since there have been a lot of questions about them, it seemed worthwhile to provide a quick update.
Also, Daisy discusses a recent article she wrote about Clearleap, a new broadband-to-the-TV technology company that recently announced its platform. The whole broadband-to-the-TV area has been really hot recently and we expect a lot more activity to come.
Since this is the 10th edition of the VideoNuze Report podcast, we thought it would be a good time to check in with listeners and get you reactions. What do you think of the format and length? We thought the most meaningful content approach would be to provide some additional insight about what we've written recently, but does this feel fresh and substantive enough? Would it be better if we discussed recent market activities that we haven't necessarily written about yet? Or maybe answered some listener questions? Or something else?
The podcast format is very flexible and Daisy and I view the VideoNuze Report as a work in progress. We'd love to hear what listeners think and how we can change and improve. Either drop me an email (wrichmondATvideonuze.com) or leave a comment.
Click here to listen to the podcast (14 minutes, 29 seconds)
Click here for previous podcasts
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What: Clearleap has introduced a new technology platform for distributing broadband video content directly to TVs and an accompanying ad management system.
For whom: Incumbent service providers (cable/telco) and new over-the-top entrants (device makers, aggregators, etc.), content providers and advertisers
Benefits: For service providers, a flexible, cost-effective system for offering broadband content to their subscribers with minimal technology integration; for content providers a scalable system for distributing content across multiple providers and platforms; for advertisers a new method of targeting on-demand audiences.
More innovation is coming to the ongoing quest to bring broadband content to TVs as Clearleap, an Atlanta-based startup, pulled back the curtain yesterday on its ambitious technology platform. Last fall, CEO/founder Braxton Jarratt gave me a glimpse into what the company was working on and yesterday he explained it more fully.
Clearleap aims to do multiple things with its "clear|flow" and "clear|profit" products. For incumbent video service providers (cable and telco operators) and new "over-the-top" entrants (device makers, aggregators, etc.), Clearleap enables delivery of broadband and other video to the TV including integrating with existing Video-on-Demand infrastructure when present; for content providers, it improves the process of distributing of content across multiple providers and platforms; and for both service providers and content providers it offers an ad management solution that allows flexible ad insertion and business rules for ads running with Clearleap-delivered video.
That's a mouthful, so to break it down a bit, here's my interpretation. First the delivery side. Obviously there's been a lot of discussion, particularly just since CES in January, of new entrants delivering broadband content to TVs, thereby presenting potential alternatives for consumers to "cut the cord" on existing cable and telco providers. One way for incumbent to combat this is for them to offer the best of the web (like TiVo has been doing with TiVoCast for a while now) in one seamless package delivered through the existing set-top box.
To date incumbents haven't pursued this strategy much though. Braxton attributes this intransigence to lack of adequate technology, than to lack of interest. Braxton says Clearleap has a couple of small deployments active and other announcements pending. The key to success is allowing the incumbents to control the process of what content they acquire and to present it in context with other VOD offerings. clear|flow ingests video from content partners into Clearleap's data centers, transcodes it and properly formats it for target devices, adds metadata and business rules and then enables service providers to subscribe to whatever content they want. The video is either served from Clearleap's data centers or pushed to an incumbent's own hosting facility.
On the other side of the coin, another goal of clear|flow is to become the glue that allows content providers who want to distribute across all these emerging platforms to do so with minimal work. Just upload your content, specify business rules and the service providers take it from there. Of course, there's a "chicken and egg" challenge here that content providers will only take an interest when there's sufficient distribution. Braxton recognizes this issue as well and said they've been encouraged by the willingness of certain "friendlies" to get involved, which he hopes will provide validation for others to come on board soon.
Last, but not least, clear|profit allows ad avails to be created and properly divided between the content providers and service providers according to specified rules. Ad management and insertion has of course been the Achilles heel for existing VOD systems, rendering today's VOD a largely revenue-free pursuit for most service providers. Cost-effectively solving the ad insertion process for VOD alone would be a major win.
Clearleap has an ambitious vision and ordinarily I'd say it feels like a lot for any startup to bite off. But Clearleap has a veteran executive team from N2 Broadband, which was a successful VOD software provider prior to its acquisition by Tandberg Television. The Clearleap team knows its way around cable data centers, has strong industry relationships and is benefitting from pressure incumbents feel to broaden their offerings - all no doubt key factors in helping the company raise money.
Still, there's going to be plenty of competition. Others circling this space in one way or another include ActiveVideo Networks, AnySource Media, GridNetworks, Sezmi, TiVo and lots of others who all have their own approaches and systems for connecting content providers with incumbent and new service providers to bring broadband video to TVs. It's going to be an interesting space to watch as there is no shortage of energy aimed at merging broadband with the TV and vice versa.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
On Monday I wrote that a key mission of mine while attending the Digital Hollywood Fall conference in LA this week was to dig into what impact the economic crises is having on the broadband video industry. Specifically I was focused on three things: financing, staffing and customer spending effects.
I wasn't terribly surprised by what I heard; people are quite nervous. Most significantly they're nervous about financing. Many I spoke to cited the recent Sequoia Ventures presentation which offers a very harsh assessment of the landscape for financings and startups. I heard a lot of lukewarm responses like "we'll have to see what happens" from folks when asked about their ability to pursue future financings.
That said, some deals are still being done. One in particular is a new venture debt deal announced this morning by Clearleap. I caught up with their CEO Braxton Jarratt at DH, and one of my takeaways from that meeting was that venture investing may well be returning to its roots favoring technology-oriented companies that address well-understood industry pain points.
This shift would not bode well for content-oriented startups where investors are bet more on the startup's ability to create enterprise value from audience generation and ad revenue. Evidence of belt-tightening in the content world abounds, with the latest news of layoffs coming from 60Frames. All signs from DH suggest this is going to be one of the hardest hit sectors, as business models remain nascent and ROIs uncertain (one executive told me that every content startup has already eliminated at least 10-20% of their headcount, even if you haven't read about it publicly). While there's no shortage of interest in broadband content creation, the question is whether the dollars will be there to fund these ventures.
Closely tied to content's success is the video management/publishing platform space. I had a numerous conversations with folks about the large number of competitors and concern that both customer spending slowdowns and limited financing are going to force a shakeout. These companies are being advised to watch their cash carefully.
Lastly, there was lots of discussion, especially on panels, around ad spending in this climate. Optimists felt that the fundamentals of consumer behavior embracing broadband consumption would force advertisers to continue their spending in broadband. Conversely many pessimists said that friction, lack of clear ROIs, a flight to safety (i.e. a bias toward TV advertising) and the general slowdown would all conspire against broadband ad spending. It's hard to ignore the pessimists' arguments here; my hope is that any pullback is relatively shallow.
One thing that's certain: broadband is not exempt from the consequences of the financial meltdown. All businesses are assessing what they need to do to survive and succeed. Another major wrinkle has been introduced in the broadband video industry's evolution.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
(A postscript: thanks to the many of you who volunteered feedback on VideoNuze at the show. I really appreciate your comments and encourage all readers to let me know their thoughts. What can VideoNuze do differently or better to provide you more value?)