1Cast, an aggregator of short-form news-oriented video clips from premium content providers, is announcing its commercial launch today, joining others in the personalized video news category like Voxant, ClipSyndicate, RedLasso (for local news), plus other online news aggregators. Following its year-long private beta test, 1Cast is also announcing today a redesigned UI, distribution partnerships with boxee and Clearwire, the WiMax wireless provider, and a new entertainment category anchored by E! Entertainment and Style. Yesterday I caught up with Anthony Bontrager, 1Cast's CEO to learn more.
Anthony explained that 1Cast users are now consuming 3.5 million video clips/mo, contributing to average session lengths of 14 minutes on the desktop and 36 minutes on mobile devices. With average clips running 2-3 minutes apiece, that means users are watching a series of clips back-to-back when checking the site. 1Cast gives users the ability to set up their own "casts" selecting from preset categories and networks. The casts are automatically updated each time new content is added by 1Cast. I've played around with the site and have found it very straightforward to find and organize content. My only knock is that sometimes content is not that current. For example, even though the Red Sox played until Oct 11th when they lost the ALDS to the Angels, a search for "Boston Red Sox" on 1Cast listed the first video result from Aug 26th.
1Cast obtains clips from news providers like AFP, Barron's, BBC, MarketWatch and Reuters. For these providers 1Cast represents additional distribution and revenue. 1Cast is completely ad-supported, and Anthony said that it is selling 80% of its own ads, with YuMe selling the rest. CPMs are in the $25 range. Ads are primarily 15 second mid-rolls and post-rolls, with bumpers at the beginning of sessions. 1cast revenue shares with its content partners, but Anthony wouldn't disclose what percentage. He did point to a recent 6 figure campaign Infinity ran on the site as a major validation of 1Cast's model.
1Cast and the other personalized video aggregators play well to the short-form consumption behavior of online video users. This is even more so the case with mobile consumption. The distribution deals with boxee and Clearwire will help 1Cast gain more visibility and usage.
As I said when I first covered 1Cast in Aug '08, I think personalized video news is a very compelling concept, but my concern with 1Cast and the others specializing in this area is whether they can build sufficiently large audiences and scale their businesses.
I think the issue is that most heavy Internet users have long since decided on their preferred news aggregator and customized their content feeds. Portals especially have also been beefing up their video news content offered as well. And since users have integrated their email, RSS feeds, stock quotes and other custom touches, getting them to switch, or even add another news aggregator - even if it does offer real differentiation with video updates - is not a trivial challenge. There's also YouTube to worry about which seems well-positioned to focus on video news if it chose to. And as Anthony pointed out, there are also many sites that scrape and aggregate video content illegally. All of this leads me to think that distribution partnerships are the main way for personalized video news providers to grow their reach.
Still, I'm a huge believer that a superior user experience can quickly build attention and loyalty. And most content providers are very willing to add new distribution outlets as long as they're legitimate and offer further potential reach and revenue. So I'm open-minded on 1Cast and the others and am eager to see how they continue to grow and evolve.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Pixsy, a white label video search provider made an interesting announcement yesterday about the launch of its new "Premium Feed" service, which I think is another example of the Syndicated Video Economy that I've been talking about for a while now. I talked to Pixsy CEO Chase Norlin about Premium Feed to learn more.
For those of you not familiar with Pixsy, it has been quietly building one of the largest video indexes since its founding in 2005. To date it has mainly focused on licensing the index to partner sites which wanted to offer easy video discovery to their users. As more content providers have offered embedding, Pixsy also enabled found videos to be played right on its partners' sites. Even though activity has grown well, Chase is pretty candid about monetization to date being difficult.
Premium Feed takes embedding to the next level by creating a subset of Pixsy's video index that is both higher-than-average quality and has accompanying pre-roll and overlay ads. Then Pixsy is developing an economic relationship between the content provider and its publisher network by signing redistribution and revenue-sharing deals with both. Chase says that to date the publisher network has 45 million unique visitors/mo and that 1-2 million videos are in the Premium Feed.
One of those publishers is EgoTV, and I chatted with founder/president Jimmy Hutcheson to find out how they're implementing Premium Feed. If you look in the lower right corner of their home page you'll see 3 new "channels," Ego Cars, Ego Comedy and Ego Travel. Each of these are constructed solely of Pixsy Premium Feed videos that are curated by an EgoTV editor. In another example at Ego People, the 300x250 ad in the right column is now populated with the Premium Feed. This is a simple "highest-and-best-use" real estate decision: Jimmy explained that Premium Feed is yielding 2-4x as much net revenue for EgoTV as it would receive if it sold rich media ads in this position.
The concept of bundling content with ads (or vice versa?) and distributing them to sites seeking video and extra monetization is of course at the heart of the syndicated video economy. Much of what Pixsy is doing with Premium Feed is conceptually familiar to Google Content Network, Adconion TV, Voxant (now Grab Networks), Syndicaster, Jambo, Magnify.net, 1Cast and others.
Yet each of these initiatives has its own somewhat differentiated value proposition and underlying technology approach. As syndication grows in importance, sites with strong traffic and an interest in incorporating video will have many choices. As to how they'll decide, Chase makes a good point: simplicity and one-stop shopping are always valued by resource-constrained sites. Providers that can address as many of these sites' potential needs will be in a strong position.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
I've been very intrigued by two recent announcements from Adconion, which bills itself as the largest independent online advertising network.
First, in early October, it announced "AMG-TV," a video content syndication network now called "Adconion.TV" as well as its first deal, to distribute Vuguru's "Back on Topps." Then last week it acquired KTV Digital Media, a production studio and syndicator, to become a wholly-owned subsidiary called RedLever. Late last week I got a briefing from Adconion CEO/founder Tyler Moebius and Reeve Collins, CEO RedLever to learn more.
My take is that Adconion.TV/RedLever is emulating the same model as Google Content Network, except with a couple of interesting twists (for more on GCN, see "Google Content Network Has Lots of Potential, Implications"). Nevertheless, both are classic Syndicated Video Economy plays, which could have a huge impact on the fundamentals of broadband video's future business model.
For those not familiar with Adconion, it says it reaches 260M unique visitors/month, second only to Google. Traffic is about evenly split between the U.S. and the rest of the world. It has 800+ publishers in its network, including 60-70 that it represents exclusively, primarily for international sales. The company made a big splash earlier this year when it raised a monster $80M round led by Index Ventures (the lead investor in Skype among others). It has grown from 30 employees in '06 to 285 in '08.
The similarities between Adconion.TV and GCN are as follows: both believe their vast network of publisher web sites - which were initially built to serve ads - can now be modified to also accept high-quality syndicated video content. Each leverages the same algorithms it used to optimize which ads to insert, so that video too will only be served to the most appropriate sites. One might think of both these companies as being in the real estate business. Each has colonized vast tracts of web property and is now trying to identify, as real estate pros would say, the "highest and best use" of its inventory: ads, video or some combination of the two.
At the core of both Adconion.TV and GCN is the conviction that content should be brought to users wherever they may live, as opposed to attempting to drive them to a destination site, a la the "must-see TV" model of old. This has been a key tenet of the Syndicated Video Economy concept I've been fleshing out in '08. With the fragmentation of users over the web, social networks, mobile devices, gaming consoles, etc. the way to build a franchise is to propagate video into all of the web's nooks and crannies. Note others like Grab Networks, Syndicaster, 1Cast, Jambo and others are also heavily pursuing the syndication opportunity, each with their own competitive angle.
In both initiatives content-distribution-brand advertising are the three legs of the business model stool. Consider: in Adconion.TV's launch deal it was a package of Vuguru/Back On Topps (content) - Adconion.TV (distribution) and Skype (brand), while GCN's was Seth MacFarlane/Cavalcade of Comedy (content) - GCN (distribution) - Burger King (brand). I asked Tyler whether this three-legged stool is the model for independent broadband content (whose nascent studios have been slammed by the down economy) to be funded in the future, he emphatically replied "yes."
This highlights one key difference between GCN and Adconion.TV. Google of course has been very clear in steering away from content creation, consistently declaring it's "not a content company." Adconion, on the other hand, specifically intends to custom produce brand-infused broadband video programming. That's where the KTV acquisition comes in. Tyler explained that it is deep into talks with numerous agencies and brands about creating programs that showcase the brand sponsors. Two deals are expected to be announced soon.
Another difference is that GCN tried to drive traffic back to YouTube to incent users to subscribe to ongoing program updates and get exposed to other related programs. In my GCN post, I wrote enthusiastically that the marriage of AdSense-powered video distribution as the "spokes" with YouTube as the "hub" was formidable because it gives GCN a mechanism to build ongoing viewership beyond the first exposure at the publisher site.
Today Adconion lacks a comparable destination site. Tyler doesn't think that's important since it offers ways to subscribe, get email alerts and share within the player itself. Plus he's not hearing demand for it from brands. Still I think as this story unfolds and Adconion.TV finds itself competing with GCN for the highest-potential content, a destination site compliment will become essential. Should it agree, an acquisition would make sense to fill this hole (Metacafe? DailyMotion?).
For now though, Adconion has an aggressive plan to build Adconion.TV as an exciting new entry on the Syndicated Video Economy landscape. With its resources, reach and new production capabilities, this is clearly one to keep an eye on.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Welcome to September. Before looking ahead, here's a quick recap of 3 key topics from August:
1. Advertising model remains in flux
Broadband video advertising was a key story line in August, as it seems to be every month. The industry is rightly focused on the ad model's continued evolution as more and more players in the value chain are increasingly dependent on it. This month, in "Pre-Roll Video Advertising Gets a Boost from 3 Research Studies," I noted how recent research is showing that user acceptance and engagement with the omnipresent pre-roll format is already high and is improving. However, as many readers correctly noted, research from industry participants must be discounted, and some of the metrics cited are not necessarily the best ones to use. I expect we'll see plenty more research - on both sides of pre-roll's efficacy - yet to come.
Meanwhile, comScore added to the confusion around the ad model by first highly ranking YuMe, a large ad network, very high in its reach statistics, only to then reverse itself by downgrading YuMe, before regrouping entirely by introducing a whole new metric for measuring reach. In this post, "comScore Gets Its Act Together on Ad Network Traffic Reporting," I tried to unravel some of this mini-saga. Needless to say, without trustworthy and universally accepted traffic reporting, broadband video is going to have a tough slog ahead.
2. Broadband Olympics are triumphant, but accomplishments are overshadowed
And speaking of a tough slog, the first "Broadband Olympics" were a huge triumph for both NBC and all of its technology partners, yet their accomplishments were overshadowed by a post-mortem revenue estimate by eMarketer suggesting NBC actually made very little money for its efforts. This appeared to knock broadband video advertising back on its heels, yet again, as outsiders pondered whether broadband is being overhyped.
The Olympics became a hobbyhorse of mine in the last 2 weeks as I tried to clarify things in 2 posts, "Why NBCOlympics.com's Video Ad Revenues Don't Matter" part 1 and part 2. These posts triggered a pretty interesting debate about whether technology/operational achievements are noteworthy, if substantial revenues are absent. My answer remains a resounding yes. But having exhausted all my arguments in these prior posts, I'll leave it to you to dig in there if you'd like to learn more about why I feel this way.
3. Broadband's impact is wide-ranging
VideoNuze readers know that another favorite topic of mine is how widespread broadband's impact is poised to become, and in fact already is. A number of August's posts illustrated how broadband's influence is already being felt across a diverse landscape.
Here's a brief sampling: "Vogue.TV's Model.Live: A Magazine Bets Big on Broadband" (magazines), "Tanglewood and BSO Pioneer Broadband Use for Arts/Cultural Organizations," (arts/culture), "American Political Conventions are Next Up to Get Broadband Video Treatment," (politics), "Citysearch Offering Local Merchants Video Enhancement," (local advertising) and "1Cast: A Legit Redlasso Has Tall Mountain to Climb" (local news).
I expect this trend will only accelerate, as more and more industries begin to recognize broadband video's potential benefits.
That's it for August and for the busy summer of '08. Lots more action to coming this fall!
Personalized online news is as old as the web itself. But personalized online video news is a nut that has yet to be fully cracked - although by all rights it should be. This was Redlasso's goal, until broadcasters, which hadn't given permission for their content to be ingested and shared, put an end to the young company last month.
Now comes 1Cast, a company seeking to be a legitimate Redlasso successor. Today it is announcing first round funding from wireless king Craig McCaw's Eagle River Holdings. Yesterday I got more details from 1Cast CEO Anthony Bontrager.
Anthony has correctly realized that gaining deals with video news partners is an absolute prerequisite to success. To that end he says the company will have "no shortage" of content, and also has a particular focus on "repatriating international content." Though for now he's not disclosing any details, based on conversations I've had with broadcasters, my sense is that credible companies, even when early stage, can get deals done.
Yet there are other key success factors for a personalized news aggregator like 1Cast to succeed. Three that are high on my list are user experience, audience growth and revenue generation. Miss on any of these three and I think the model fails.
From a user experience standpoint, Anthony says creating a new personalized "micro-cast" is a simple three step process. That sounds promising, though since the beta won't open till later month (with full launch late in '08), I can't judge the specifics yet. And the wildcard is how content providers will ultimately react to having their videos mashed together with competitors' videos in a single micro-cast.
Growing an audience is a more daunting. As we all know, the web is incredibly noisy, and users have well-entrenched news-gathering habits. Yet there is white space in personalized video news. Anthony said that while 1Cast will be a central hub, he's focused on "channel partners" as well, and portals in particular, to grow traffic. Deals with majors like Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and others would be a huge win, but are notoriously hard to clinch for startups.
Last, but not least is revenue. Even assuming an audience can be built, optimally monetizing it is a challenge. Anthony said they're working with an undisclosed ad network and will also build their own sales team. Direct sales are important as living primarily off an ad network's splits will not produce sufficient revenue for 1Cast.
Yet even a direct sales team isn't a panacea; Anthony mentioned that some content providers want to sell any new impressions 1Cast generates. That's consistent with how I understand other Syndicated Video Economy deals like these work as well. But like other aggregators, that leaves 1Cast with a swiss cheese inventory situation that is complex to sell. Then factor in that some inventory will be essentially local in nature (i.e. generated from local video news) - which really requires a local sales orientation to fully monetize - and complexity grows still further.
Add it all up and 1Cast has a tall mountain to climb to succeed. Not insurmountable, but definitely challenging. From a consumer standpoint, personalized video news is very compelling; I just wonder whether a 6-person startup has the necessary mojo or if it requires a larger player with deep resources and content relationships. Meanwhile broadcasters are pursuing their own video initiatives and others like Voxant, WorldNow and Critical Media have been circling these waters for a while. 1Cast has an ambitious story; how it unfolds will be worth watching.
What do you think? Post a comment!