thePlatform, the video management/publishing company that's been a part of Comcast since early '06, had a very good day yesterday. First it jointly announced with Time Warner Cable a deal to power the #2 cable operator's Road Runner portal. And the Wall Street Journal ran a story stating that it has also signed deals with the cable industry's #3 player Cox Communications and #5 player, Cablevision Systems, which thePlatform corroborates.
Netting all this out, thePlatform will now power 4 of the top 5 cable industry's broadband portals (all except Charter Communications), with a total reach exceeding 28 million broadband homes, according to data collected by Leichtman Research Group. That also equals approximately 44% of all broadband homes in the U.S. And it's a fair bet that thePlatform's industry penetration will further grow.
I caught up with Ian Blaine, thePlatform's CEO yesterday to learn a little more about the deals and whether the industry's semi-standardization around one broadband video management platform harkens a serious, and I'd argue overdue, industry push into broadband video delivery.
Ian noted that of its various customer deals, the ones with distributors like these are particularly valuable because of their potential for "network effects." This concept means that content and application providers are more likely to also adopt thePlatform if their key distributors are already using it themselves. Ian's point is very valid, as I constantly hear from content providers about the costs of complexity in dealing with multiple distributors and their varying management platforms. Yet the potential is only realized if the distributors actually build out and promote their services, offering sizable audiences to would-be content partners.
This of course has been the aching issue in the cable industry. While they've had their portal plays for years, they've been eclipsed in the hearts and minds of users by upstarts ranging from YouTube to Hulu to Metacafe to countless others, each now drawing millions of visitors each month. While solidly utilitarian, cable's portals (with the possible exception of Comcast's Fancast) are not generally regarded as go-to places for high-quality, or even UGC video. That's been a real missed opportunity.
Ian thinks the industry is experiencing an awakening of sorts, now recognizing the massive potential it's sitting on. This includes its content relationships, network ownership and huge customer reach. Of course, all of this was plainly visible in 1998 as broadband was first taking off, yet here we are 10 years later, and it somehow seems discordant to think the industry is only now grasping its strategic strengths.
Some would explain this as the cable industry being more of a "fast follower" than a true pioneer, a posture that has helped the industry avoid hyped-up and costly opportunities others have chased to their early graves. Others would offer a less charitable explanation: the industry's executives have either been asleep at the switch, overly focused on defending traditional closed video models against open broadband's incursion, or both.
In truth, and as I've mentioned repeatedly, the broadband video industry is still very early in its development, making a "fast follower" strategy still quite viable. Semi-standardization on thePlatform gives the industry a huge potential advantage in attracting content providers. It also gives the industry a more streamlined mechanism for bridging broadband video over to the TV, an area of intense interest now being pursued by juggernauts including Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Panasonic and others.
Still, cable operators' broadband video delivery potential (and the true upside of thePlatform's omnipresence) rests more on whether cable operators are finally going to embrace broadband as an eventual complement, and possibly even successor to their traditional video business model. That would be a major leap for an industry better known for cautious, incremental steps. Time will tell how this plays out.
What do you think? Post a comment!
CES 2008 broadband video-related news wrap-up:
NETGEAR® Joins BitTorrent™ Device Partners
Categories: Advertising, Aggregators, Broadband ISPs, Broadcasters, Cable Networks, Cable TV Operators, Devices, Downloads, FIlms, Games, HD, Mobile Video, P2P, Partnerships, Sports, Technology, UGC, Video Search, Video Sharing
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!