This past Saturday night's "Rumble 2012," a half-serious, half-comedic live-streaming debate between Comedy Central's Jon Stewart and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly was another great example of online video's potential, but also its peril. Here was a situation where the bustling online video medium provided two of TV's biggest stars an unfettered creative and business opportunity, only to be undermined by technical snafus.
In case you weren't following this closely, Rumble 2012 was an online-only live-streaming event staged at George Washington University. Even though many viewers registered in advance, paying the $4.95 fee to watch the live-stream - and therefore indicating to the organizers how much server capacity would be required - a last minute server crash left many viewers unable to watch. I don't quite understand why this occurred, as any high-quality CDN would likely have been able to avoid such a problem. Be that as it may, organizers haven't shared any further details.
Categories: Indie Video
However, a bigger picture question that Dailyshow.com's launch raises is how these direct-to-consumer initiatives work vis-a-vis third-party distribution deals. With media companies newly empowered to engage directly with their audiences using the Internet and broadband, many analysts have predicted the result will be diminishing relevance of third-party aggregators, including everyone from Comcast to Yahoo to Joost to you name 'em.
It's pretty apparent that MTVN/Comedy Central is coming down on the side of heavily emphasizing direct-to-consumer as its broadband video strategy when you combine Viacom's ongoing lawsuit against Google/YouTube, MTVN EVP Erik Flannigan's comment ("People should be reacting to 'The Daily Show' on its own site...God bless them for doing it everywhere else, but this should be the epicenter of it") and a company spokesman's comment ("that a few selected clips could become available on sites through syndication deals").
Count me among those who think this is both the wrong approach and one that will ultimately under-optimize the value of the Daily Show and other franchises in the broadband era. Quite simply, building out a strong direct-to-consumer presence like Dailyshow.com is NOT an either/or decision relative to also developing strong third-party distribution relationships.
In fact, the reality is that strong third-party distribution is essential in the Internet era, because Internet usage is both highly distributed among millions of web sites and also concentrated at a few large portals. Media companies' goal should be to proliferate their content (under the right deals of course) into all the nooks and crannies of the Internet while also striking deals with big portals to maximize exposure, usage and ad revenue.
But don't think distributors get a free ride in the Internet era. They need to prove they can leverage their audience devotion and traffic to drive value for content providers. Those that do will succeed. Proof of this is already emerging. One senior broadband executive recently told me that over 80% of his traffic comes from YouTube and other distribution partners, with his own site's traffic in the minority.
Not aggressively pursuing third-party distribution, as it appears is MTVN's plan, in essence requires that users reorient their behavior to come solely to one uber destination site like Dailyshow.com. To me this smacks of classic traditional media thinking where consumer convenience or preference gets short shrift in the name of what's supposedly "best" for the brand. My guess is if you asked Jon Stewart off the record what his preference is, he'd likely say, "make my stuff available everywhere!"
So kudos to the folks behind Dailyshow.com. But don't let your good works end now. Go out and find the best third-party distributors you can and let them help you extend the Daily Show franchise even further.